My History with Pink

I took one of those random Internet quizzes today about what color I am, and the result was:

Your color is pink! You are a loving, kind, and generous person. You are very approachable, as people are attracted to your warmth and softness. You are also instinctively protective and tend to take care of others first.

I don’t know why I take these quizzes except to see who, if anyone, “gets” me. Deep down, we all want to be understood.

As for pink, I don’t mind it, and when I was young I considered it my favorite color. Except… I don’t think it actually was.

Let me explain. I was a child (and am a person) who very much wanted to meet and exceed expectations. And I felt like I was supposed to like pink. So I liked pink. Or thought I did. But if given a choice about things, I didn’t typically pick the pink one. I leaned more towards purple. Yet if anyone asked, I would say my favorite color was pink. Because that was the “correct” answer.

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to win approval. My parents were very lax in a lot of ways, which meant they never seemed very impressed by anything I did. For the most part I’m extremely grateful they weren’t the pushy, demanding kind of parents, but over time I’ve come to realize that the lack of praise affected me, too. I ended up looking to my teachers for approval, and I got terrific grades, so there was that at least.

“Liking” pink, then, was just another attempt to be dutiful and hopefully win some appreciation from the adults around me. (I’m an only child.) But deep down, I liked purple. That happens to be my dad’s favorite color, too, so I never wanted to admit that I liked it because in my childish mind that would be taking away from him and/or showing favoritism toward him. I even chose my first My Little Pony based on the fact that she was purple with green hair—my dad’s and mom’s favorite colors combined. I was dead set against playing favorites and hurting feelings. (The pony was Seashell, btw.)

I would even color pictures in purple, green, and pink in an effort to combine my and my parents’ “likes” and not leave anyone out.

It’s been a long, hard road in coming to understand myself and my constant search for acknowledgement. I wanted the gold stars, the stickers, the pats on the head… And I still do. I feel crushed when I don’t receive them. I wonder what went wrong, or what is wrong with me. So I struggle now to remember that my worth is inherent and that it doesn’t matter if others recognize and affirm it.

It’s okay that pink really isn’t my favorite color.

Proof of Skill

Today I read an offhanded remark on a site that said something along the lines of (paraphrasing): “Well, they’ve only ever self-published, which is fine, but it’s no proof of their skill as a writer.”

Hmm.

It made me wonder: How do we measure “proof of skill” for writers?

My guess is that we mostly measure authors by their sales, simply because that’s the easiest way. It’s quantifiable and concrete. And since publishing is a business, certainly sales matter. “Oh, So-and-So sold a bazillion copies of Bookity Book? Must be a great author!”

But there are plenty of books that sell a lot of copies that aren’t all that great. I mean, it’s subjective, of course, but just as many people seem to hate Twilight and Fifty Shades as love them. So sales aren’t necessarily proof of quality. They’re really more proof of appealing to a large (I won’t say lowest) common denominator.

How else might we figure proof of a writer’s mad skillz?

Less quantifiable is “buzz.” Which is to say, how much are you hearing about a particular book or author? (And, really, how much good are you hearing about it/them?) If many people are talking about a book, there are usually two reasons: it’s amazing or it’s offensive. It can, I suppose, even be both(?)…

So does word of mouth = proof of skill? Well, it = proof of marketing skill at least. But again, there are plenty of hyped-up books that end up being big disappointments and just as many hidden jewels gathering dust on shelves, and whatever ebooks do when they’re ignored.

Does being picked up by an agent and then a big publisher mean you’ve got amazing writing skills? Based on the comment that started this post, that still seems to be the gold standard. Even as we continue to say that self-published books are often just as good, and sometimes better, in quality, that they’re often more original because of the authors’ creative freedom . . . Deep down there’s still a sense of a need for gatekeepers to validate a book or author, an idea that books need to be “good enough” for an agent or major publisher, and books that were self-published clearly aren’t or weren’t. Never mind that self-publishing is no longer a last resort for many authors; they’ve learned they make more money and save a lot of time by doing it themselves. The stigma, alas, remains.

And I must say, of big-house books I’ve read lately, I’ve noticed a lack in editing quality in many of them. Now, I don’t know if that’s down to the authors or the editors involved in those books—I suspect many of the books were hurried out without enough proofing—but I’m just saying: having an agent and a big publisher doesn’t, in my view, immediately mean an author has skill. It could mean they had a connection to someone in the industry. It could mean they had a good idea that, even half-baked, the agent or publisher thought he/she/it could sell. It could even mean—yes, I’m going to say it—that they’re the token [insert diversity here] that the agency or publisher was looking for so they could feel good about themselves. I’m sorry, but I’ve worked in publishing, and I’ve seen it happen.

This isn’t to put actual, skilled writers down. This is just to say that the way we decide whether an author is “skilled” is . . . Biased a lot of the time. Subjective to each person’s preferences. There are a lot of factors involved. Being self-published versus agented and published by a big house—that’s not a definitive guideline as to an author’s skill.

The final facet of an author’s skill might be their actual craft, from the foundations of punctuation and spelling to the more lofty question of how they use words to build a story. BUT, again, not all of a writer’s ability can be determined this way. After all, a good self-published author probably hired an editor and proofreader. So maybe the author can’t spell and doesn’t know a comma from a semicolon but found someone to fix that problem. Maybe the story had huge plot holes that a development editor helped fill in. On the flip side, maybe the editor at that big publishing house was tired that day and missed a few things.

The key thing that set me off on writing this was the very casual dismissal of self-publishing I felt underlying the comment I paraphrased above. Not just because I’ve self-published a number of my books, but because to say something like that and not maybe define your personal criteria for “skills” feels a bit like a fly-by. Every reader has a checklist, whether they’re aware of it or not, of what they will and won’t tolerate in a book. They consider the authors who tick all their “yes” boxes to be “skilled” and authors who don’t, or who actively tick their “no” boxes, to be hacks. I’d like to think that most readers are open to self-published works so long as those books tick enough of their “yes” boxes, but I’ve seen readers in online groups have that as a “no” box: NO SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS. Sad but true. They cite poor experiences with self-published books as the reason for their prejudice, but have they loved every traditionally published book they’ve ever read? I doubt it, and yet they don’t boycott those.

I won’t claim to have answered the question of how to discern a writer’s skill. There are too many moving parts, and I think the largest part is that we won’t even all agree on which authors are skilled to begin with. What some readers treasure, others despise. What some consider classics, others consider trash.

How do you decide whether an author has skills? What’s on your reading checklist?

On Waiting

Today I’ll be talking to all you writers out there, you hopefuls. You can get the short version in a Twitter thread I wrote:

But I’ll go into a little more detail here.

When you’re querying agents about your manuscript, it’s like walking a tightrope. Without a net. There is an exhausting amount of tension involved as you try not to fall. When querying, that tension comes in the form of hope—you’re hoping all the time that an agent will have a favorable response to your query and/or your first pages. And if they do, you’re then hoping they’ll like the full manuscript. Constant hope is tiring to sustain. And as with tightrope walking, any little nudge—a lack of response, a bunch of form rejections, no sign of interest from anyone—can send you crashing right over the edge.

Let’s say you get an agent. Hooray! Well, now your agent is going to be sending your manuscript out on submission. More waiting, but this time you have a safety net under your tightrope. While your manuscript is in the capable hands of your agent, said agent may also be giving you guidance on what to work on next. You’re no longer alone in this venture.

[Note: I realize many authors will say, “I was never alone! I had critique partners and beta readers and fellow authors!” This may be true. But there is a marked difference between the support of your fellows—which is still a wonderful and lovely thing to have—and the support of people who are actually in a position to submit your work and make things happen on your behalf.]

Okay, so your agent is submitting your manuscript. There’s still a modicum of that exhausting, infernal hope that an editor or publisher will take it, but it’s not as exhausting as querying because of that safety net that is having an agent.

And then! Your book gets accepted by an editor! After you celebrate, you will wait some more, this time for editorial notes, and then more notes, and then more notes, and also a cover, and marketing info, and a finalized publication date. BUT. While this is all very exciting and you may be impatient to get through this process, the hope element is over. Now we’ve moved on to anticipation. Because there is no longer a question of whether your book is going to be published. It’s really happening! No more tightrope. You’re on the ground now, in the center ring, with the circus around you. It’s dizzying, but there is no fear of falling.

Well, maybe you’re a little afraid your book will suck and get terrible reviews. But you have an agent and editor and publisher who believe in you, and that goes a long way psychologically. From those lonely days of querying and hoping, you now have a full support system and—thanks to the guidance of your agent—other books in the works in case this one isn’t as successful as everyone, well, hopes.

Hoping alone, though, is very different from hoping together.

Knowing you won’t bear the sole brunt of the fall, should falling occur—that counts for a lot.

So what I’m saying here, that I said in much shorter form via Twitter, is that when people tell hopeful authors—authors without agents yet—to get used to waiting . . . Well, yes, that’s going to be a big part of the process. But I’ve noticed the people doling out the advice usually already have agents, and sometimes have editors and publishers as well. They’re speaking from a place with a safety net and support system. And while they’ve walked that tightrope that is querying, they are now in a position of privilege that feels out of touch with where querying authors are. Similar to the, “You’ll make it if you try hard enough!” school of encouragement, the, “Just be patient,” school doesn’t address fundamental problems. Like the very real psychological stress of not knowing an outcome. We like to make light of how we check our emails repeatedly and have trouble focusing because this hope takes up so much of our energy, but it’s a significant (and not always funny) issue. “Just be patient” doesn’t alleviate that stress and in fact often adds to it by making querying authors feel like they’re doing something wrong. Like there’s a wrong way to wait.

We’re waiting. We’re being as patient as we can be because, seriously, we have no other options. We’re on this tightrope, and we’d love a safety net. The truth is, we may never get one. That’s a stressful reality. So please, if you’re an author giving this advice, don’t be patronizing. We know you mean well, but you’re not always helping. Sometimes you’re even throwing us off balance.

Synastry, Transits, Progressions

Of all the posts on this site, the ones about astrology charts get the most hits. I’m not sure why; I can’t possibly be the first result when someone Googles astrology. But since that seems to be what many people are interested in, I thought I’d write a bit more about it.

An astrology chart is like a fingerprint—it’s unique. Sometimes people ask, “What if two people were born at the same hospital at the same time?” Well, I don’t know. I’ve never seen a case like that. But I think that there’s a lot more to a life than a star chart, so while some of the themes in those two hypothetical lives might be similar, their lives wouldn’t necessarily be the same. If you look at a family—that’s a number of charts interacting in what we call “synastry.” Synastry is a fancy word for taking two people’s charts and comparing them to see how those two people might (or might not) get along. Most people use synastry to look at love relationships, but you can use it between parents and children, between siblings, between coworkers, anyone you might have a personal relationship with.

Synastry is handled in a couple ways. I usually look at the individual charts and see where planets interact, whether one person’s planets fill empty houses in another person’s charts, etc. But there’s also a way to create a composite chart that more or less shows a picture of the potential relationship. I don’t have much experience with these, so I can’t really say much about them. But my understanding is that you read the composite chart in the same way you’d read a natal chart.

Things get complicated when you consider transits and progressions. When you look at the current placement of planets in respect to a person’s chart, you’re looking at transits. If a natal chart is the big picture of a person’s life lessons, their obstacles and advantages, transits are more immediate things happening right now as the planets move. Transits are what daily horoscopes are based on.

Progressions take the planets in the natal chart and, well, progress them. They show where the planets would be now if progressed . . . by various methods*. Progressions can indicate change in a person’s life cycle, as their planets shift and so does their Midheaven and Ascendant. Again, I don’t look at progressed charts very often, but it’s an interesting idea. In fact, even as I write this I find myself thinking I should go look at my progressed chart.

If you’re ever curious about your chart and want to know where to get yours, I generally use astro.com (which is free) but also have on my phone a professional app called TimePassages that works well, too (not free). For the most accurate results, you’ll need to know where and when you were born—not just the date, but the actual time, which is usually on your birth certificate. Or, if you have a mother like mine, she calls you every year on your birthday at the exact time you were born and reminds you of all the pain she went through.

I catch a lot of grief from my scientist friends and religious family members about this stuff. For the record, I find it interesting, but I still firmly believe in our ability to make and change our own circumstances. Your chart is only as important and influential as you allow it to be. Nothing is inevitable. I find looking at my chart sometimes gives me perspective. However, I don’t let it dictate my life. How you handle yours is up to you.

* Methods for determining progressions vary. Some astrologers move each planet forward one degree for each year of the querent’s life (solar arc progression), some do it by moving the chart forward one day for each year (secondary progression). Those are the two most common techniques, but there are others. You can see them on the Wikipedia page for progressions.

Suspending Disbelief

I saw an interesting question posed on Twitter this morning: “How does an author create a tale that allows readers to suspend disbelief?”

It made me think of those YouTube videos where people pick apart movies for how unrealistic they are. We do that with books sometimes, too. So what makes the difference? Why are we willing—even eager—participants in some fiction and resistant to other?

I believe there is a natural barrier between us and fiction. We understand, when entering a book or movie, that it isn’t real. There is a sense of, “Make me believe it.” The author’s job, then, is to make that barrier permeable.

Think about all the things that pull you OUT of a story. Characters that don’t behave in ways that seem realistic, for example, or stilted dialogue. Sometimes it’s the world that doesn’t make sense. If a fantasy author has created a town or country or planet, it still must function within parameters that readers relate to. The place may be very different from Earth, the characters may be aliens, but there are some universal truths that we rely on when entering a fictional world. Touchstones, if you will. If the internal logic of the world doesn’t hold up—if every few minutes the reader is saying to him- or herself, Why did they do that? Why is this world set up this way? It makes no sense, no society would be built this way—the barrier is too solid.

So if you want to create something really different, you have to lay the groundwork of there being very good reasons for things. It can’t be because “it’s always been this way.” There needs to be an explanation of WHY it was ever that way to begin with.

Another reason people begin picking stories apart is sheer boredom. If nothing interesting is happening, the reader begins to look for something else to entertain them, and your world or characters may be the victim of their detachment. When you’re really into a book or movie, you’re carried along on a wave as the plot and characters move along. You feel immersed. Later, someone might point out a plot hole and you’ll say, “I never noticed.” But, boy, when you’re bored you notice everything.

Think about long car rides, looking out the window, trying to find anything interesting to look at. Or, if you grew up going to church, synagogue, some house of worship, think about sitting there and looking around at people, the walls, the chairs/benches/pews. Every stain, crack, speck of dust came to your attention. That’s what happens when a reader is bored, too. They start gazing at the wallpaper and noticing the wrinkles, rips, mismatched seams.

Boredom, then, is one of the particles that forms that barrier to fiction. The reader shouldn’t ask, “Why am I here?” He or she should want to be there, in your world, with your characters. They should never want to leave.

These things don’t only apply to fantasy and sci-fi, though the barrier to those is probably thicker. Authors of these kinds of books have more work to do to make their worlds and characters believable. But even real-world based fiction must give readers compelling characters and situations that, even if far-fetched, the reader can be made to accept.

I love Tana French’s books, but there is one called The Likeness that really stretched my believability. The entire premise is predicated on a detective who looks so much like a murder victim that they insert her into the victim’s world to root out the killer. The book is well written and entertaining, but I still had trouble giving the premise credence. And since no reliable reason was ever given for the, er, likeness . . . Sure, “long lost twin” is weak, but I’d believe it over random chance.

What pulls you out of stories and/or makes them unbelievable to you? Which books have you encountered with this problem? Did you finish the book or put it down? Let me know your thoughts!

International Cat Day

Crowley

I’ve owned a lot of cats in my life. Socks, Whiskers (aka “Grizz”), Precious, Clotilde, Smudge, Armand (aka “Chook”), Tapette à Mousche (aka “Choo Choo”), Loki, Byron . . . That’s not even all of them. And I’ve loved every last one of them, but you know how these things go—some pets and people leave a deeper impression on you than others. You form a closer bond.

Currently we have two black cats, Crowley and Minerva. Crowley is two and Minnie is three, though we got Crowley first. He was rescued from under a bush, not properly weaned, and he still nurses on my arm, by which I mean he kneads and sucks on my bare forearms. Hurts like the dickens, but I’m unwilling to deprive him. That probably makes me a bad mama.

Crowley is named for the character in Good Omens, though when people hear his name they more often think of the television show Supernatural. Or so I’m told. I don’t watch it. (*gasp*)

Minerva

Minerva, meanwhile, is named for Professor Minerva McGonagall. We got her on Hallowe’en eve, so it seemed appropriate. She, too, was rescued from shrubbery, but she was already 6+ months old at that point. The people who’d found her couldn’t keep her because the wife was allergic, and they were worried the cat would get run over by a car. So we took her in.

Because Crowley was so young when we adopted him, he’s really never known any other life. Minnie, however, had been on her own for quite some time, and it was a difficult adjustment. She lived under my daughter’s bed for several months, only coming out at night to eat and use the litter box. Eventually, she’d stay out longer. Emerge earlier. And now she’s quite comfortable being around us, though she will only allow my daughter to pick her up, and she still sleeps at night in my daughter’s room. I have to schedule Minnie’s vet appointments around my daughter’s schedule because she’s the only one who can get Min into a carrier.

Crowley is my cat. I call him, “my baby,” and have as deep an affection for him as any pet I’ve ever owned. And I’ve had a lot of pets in my life. I love Minerva, too, of course, but we haven’t bonded in quite so strong a way. Crowley brings me toys when he wants to play. He follows me upstairs when it’s bed time. Sleeps beside me. Minnie . . . tolerates me. She lets me pet her. She’ll accept treats and will sometimes play if I dangle a toy in her direction. But she’s closest to my daughter and husband. I’m a distant third.

Anyway, it being International Cat Day, I thought I’d share my two sweeties. Do you have cats or other pets? What are their stories?

Take Your Ball and Go Home

Someone I know on a social media site asked for advice. Someone he knows (and I suspect that someone might be me) keeps posting political stuff that he doesn’t agree with. The offender is “one share away from being unfollowed.” But of course, the person asking for advice feels the need to air his grievance prior to said unfollowing.

Look, you don’t have to agree with everything you see or hear or read. And it’s your right to unfollow people on social media or whatever. But I’d caution against the echo chamber of only surrounding yourself with people whose opinions agree with yours, whether online or in person.

Our society is fracturing. No one wants to give ground, and everyone is sure they and their side is correct. This unwillingness to even see or hear the other side is part of the problem.

I definitely don’t agree with everything I see from some of my friends and family who post in various places. I know they don’t agree with me either. But closing people off isn’t a useful way of building bridges and finding common ground.

And maybe no one is going to change their minds. Maybe we’ve hit that wall. Blocking off people who have a different perspective is tantamount to saying, “I refuse to consider you or your point of view. I refuse to engage in any kind of conversation. I dismiss you.”

Look, it’s not your inalienable right to not have to hear or see or deal with things that you don’t like. Sorry, but that’s how free speech works. But it seems we’ve come to the place where we’re shouting over each other and just trying to be louder than everyone else rather than be productive in any way, shape, or form.

The person asking for advice says he doesn’t understand why we can’t just avoid talking about politics at all. Well, while for some that’s a “solution,” some others of us can’t ignore what’s going on around us and feel the need to speak out.

So I’ll continue to speak out in the way I see fit. This person will unfollow me in any case, and that’s a little sad, but that’s on him. If he’s not open to discussion and can’t tolerate opposition . . . He can take his ball and go home.

Not Set In Stone

This morning on an online writing group someone asked for advice. He was halfway through writing his first chapter and wanted to make a change to his protagonist without having to go back and rewrite anything.

Oh, sweetie. I have some terrible news for you.

Most writing—good writing, anyway—is rewriting. Just because you wrote it or typed it doesn’t make it sacrosanct. If anything, having written it down is exactly what makes it malleable. Which is as it should be.

We’re a world of instant gratification. Rapid technology makes us increasingly impatient. We want to write the thing and be done. You can do that. You can write it and publish it and never look at it again. That’s the dubious wonder of self-publishing. But if you want to write the best possible book, you’re going to need to 1. take your time, and 2. rewrite, get feedback, revise, hire an editor . . . Basically, you need to work the book like you would work dough, pulling and pushing and folding and rolling until it’s right for baking. (There’s a reason some rushed books are called “half-baked” yeah?)

If I were writing something and realized halfway through the first chapter that I needed to tweak, well, I’d be ecstatic. I’d be so glad that I hadn’t gotten too far in before needing to rewrite that bit to pull it through the rest of the story. Better now, at the start, than to get halfway through writing your book before realizing you want to make a major change. Not that you can’t do that. I’ve dismantled and rewritten big chunks of books. I rewrote the entire first half of The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller and the entire back ends of Manifesting Destiny and Brynnde. They are all better books now than they were.

In short, you have to be willing to do the work. You have to be willing to expend the effort and the energy.

You have to be willing to rewrite.

Your words are not written in stone. Not yet. If you want them to be lasting and have impact, you must make your story the best it can be. And your first draft should never be your final draft.

The Sorrow of What Remains

Yesterday I went down an Internet rabbit hole. An old friend from way back when posted something on Facebook about her son receiving school awards. Seems harmless enough for starters, doesn’t it? Now, this friend still lives in the town I grew up in, but I didn’t recognize the name of the school. Of course, I knew they’d renamed many schools, and that the town had grown and there were also new schools. So out of curiosity, I went Googling.

I’d walked to elementary school as a child, and my chief question was: What did they rename my old school? When I was young and the town was small, the school names were very simple: Westside, Eastside, Central . . . But friends who were still in the area had told me they’d renamed the schools after people like our old superintendent. Fair enough. I wondered which name my old school had received.

First I looked at the school district website for my old town. None of the schools listed looked familiar based on the pictures, but I reasoned that those old buildings had probably been given facelifts. So, remembering that I used to walk, I instead went to a Google map of the town and traced my old route.

No school.

???

I double checked the area, clicking on various things on the map to see if maybe I’d misremembered something. But no, there was no school anywhere in the vicinity.

Then I made the mistake of going to Street View.

Sometimes I still have dreams set on the street where I grew up. We lived in a cul-de-sac, at the U bend of it, in fact, and behind our house ran a quiet, relatively underutilized road. There was nothing but fields on the other side of that road, and we just called it “the back road.” A skunk had been run over there once, and no one had bothered to clean it up, so there was a spot—my friends and I always looked for it—where you could see its skeleton pressed into the asphalt by the cars that had flattened it into the summer-softened blacktop.

Oh, but that road was no longer a quiet road. The fields were long gone. The land appeared flattened and without shade, the grass all brown around the houses that had sprung up. They hadn’t bothered to save any trees, apparently. It was heart crushing to see.

And my school? It appears to have become a Boys and Girls Club. I guess there could be worse fates.

It’s true that you can never go home again. Because it will never be home again. Even if I moved back, it wouldn’t be the town I grew up in. We’ve all moved on.

There’s something sad about memories. How they only exist in our heads because there is nothing concrete to hold on to. Photographs, maybe, but the truth is: those places are lost to us now and will never exist again.

Changing Behaviors

I’ve written about this topic before, if not here than definitely once on spooklights that I can recall. But it seems worth a revisit.

Yesterday my husband and I were walking over to the school to pick up the kids, and we were talking about how so many of the parents—the ones driving—use what’s known as the “back loop” for pickup, even though every email from the school principal has a reminder that the back loop is NOT open for pickup because it’s for handicap services only. Now, I could hypothesize that a few of those parents who are going against the rules don’t get email? And their kids also don’t bring home the printed notices? But not all of them.

Does it seem to you that more and more people are breaking rules or behaving as though the rules don’t apply to them? (I recommend reading F You Very Much by Danny Wallace, btw.)

I’m going to scale this down a bit and use an example I typically fall back on when discussing this subject, one that I think most of us can identify with: batteries.

We all know we’re not supposed to throw batteries away. There are community events where you bring your batteries and electronics to be disposed of, and there are sites you can bring these things to, and in our town we can even put our batteries in plastic baggies and tape them to the tops of our bins so the garbage collectors take them to dispose of them. How much easier can it get than that?

Or think about recycling in general. For years it was nearly impossible to get people to do it, but then cities began giving people special bins that they could use just like their garbage bins, no need even to separate the types of recycling, and then what? More people recycled!

There are two prongs to changing people’s behaviors, and (spoiler alert) repeated emails telling people not to do something is not one of them.

1. Convenience.

By making recycling as convenient as throwing away your garbage, cities were able to increase the number of people recycling. By putting recycling bins out next to trash bins in public spaces, again, more recycling. By making it possible for us to just tape our batteries to the tops of our trash bins, our town made us a lot less likely to throw batteries out. Because in our busy lives, no one wants to make an extra trip to Wherever to hand off dead batteries.

If and when you want people to do something, you have to make that something relatively easy. The minute you begin asking for extra effort, you’re going to lose a large percentage of potential buy-in.

Since this is a writing blog, I’ll tell it from the point of view of trying to get reviews. Many readers aren’t used to writing reviews, and to do so requires time and effort they’d rather put into reading the next book in their stack. But authors who put a link in the backs of their ebooks tend to get more reviews than authors who don’t. Because just clicking on the link? That’s relatively easy. Write a few words while the reader is still high (or low) on what he or she just read? They’re way more likely to do so at that moment than to come back to it later. And that link makes it convenient.

Going back to the pickup situation at our local school: Why might parents feel the need to break the rules and use the back loop? My guess is it’s because the current system for drop-off and pickup isn’t efficient and doesn’t suit their needs. Well, and they’re impatient and don’t want to wait their turn. There’s a streak of entitlement there—the notion that their needs are greater than anyone else’s.

Which brings us to

2. Consequences.

Another reason these parents have no problem using the back loop when they’re not supposed to? No one stops them. There’s never a police officer waiting there, or even a school official. In short, they do it because they can get away with it. There are no consequences for breaking the rule.

We want to believe people are mostly good, but don’t we all sometimes speed when we’re pretty sure we won’t get caught? “What’s the harm?” we think. Until the day we’re pulled over or, worse, in an accident. I see it every day at the school, people doing well over the 25 mph limit—unless there’s a police car parked nearby.

Why do some people throw batteries in the trash when they know they shouldn’t? Because the benefits (not having to go to any extra effort) outweigh the disadvantages. These people know they won’t get caught, won’t be fined or jailed or anything. So why not do the easy thing rather than the right one? (We as a species are pretty terrible at thinking ahead to greater consequences down the road—Exhibit A: climate change.)

Until the cons outweigh the pros, people will continue to disregard the rules.

How many people do you see driving in the HOV lane when they’re the only ones in the car? Where I live, it’s quite a few. Recently, I read a statistic that only 1 in 40 would be pulled over for it. That’s less than 3%, so the odds are in the favor of those disobeying the law. Clearly a number of people feel it’s worth the risk of (at least here) a very high fine. However, if the numbers were to change—if, say, 60% of people were caught and fined—behaviors would likely change. (My guess is, at 50% these drivers would still play the odds. Hell, even at 60% they might. But if they were statistically more likely to get pulled over and fined than not, they’d probably think twice.)

Why do people in power do things they shouldn’t? Because no one will hold them accountable. There are no consequences. Look at the sexual harassment scandals making waves through Hollywood and beyond. Only now, as people are starting to hold abusers responsible, are behaviors beginning to change.

And change is not instantaneous. It’s slow. To get people to do things, or stop doing them, is like turning a massive cruise ship. It takes time, and some people are going to feel queasy about it.

To summarize: in order to get people to change their behaviors, you must (1) make it easy for them to change, and (2) provide strict and immediate consequences for not changing. We’re creatures of habit, after all. We can be taught, but not easily. We’re like tigers in a circus: crack the whip over us, sure, but also give us treats when we do well. Eventually we’ll be trained.