Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Locus of Control and Gender in Writing

There's something I've been speculating on after talking about the phenomena with my wife--she's a physics professor who does educational research on women's achievement in physics classes. One piece of the literature on research on gender interactions with the classroom has to do with what's called locus of control, or where the student believes control over things like grades is located.

For example, a female student who does badly on a test will typically internalize the blame I'm a bad student, I didn't study enough, whereas a male student will typically blame the instructor or the material they wrote a bad test, this is a bad class.

Over the last few years the advent of writers' blogs has given an unprecedented window into writerly processes and emotional interaction with their art. I've seen an awful lot of I'm a bad writer, I'm not good enough, my work is crap, from professional and semi-professional writers talking about how they felt before they sold their first story or novel, but not as much the system sucks, this editor just didn't get it, etc. and I've been wondering about it.

Is it a function of gender and locus of control? My sample set is heavily weighted toward women.

Is it just not wanting to offend the folks who might be buying your next novel?

Is it that these writers are an unusual sample set and have a more female communication style?

Is it that these writers are an unusual sample set in that writer self-esteem is lower than normal?

Something entirely different?

I've written a bad post?

I don't know, and I don't have a good idea for coming up with a measurable answer, but I thought it was an interesting question and that I'd throw the floor open to debate.


Kelly McCullough said...

Oh, and for the record, I tended to blame the system, a position reinforced when stories that had heaps of rejections suddenly started selling after my publishing record improved. I tend to code very male on things like that.

Stephanie Zvan said...

The answer for me, as it usually is when handed an either/or question, is both. I'm well aware that the type of story I usually write doesn't receive an eager welcome in SFF short story publishing right now. I also know that my writing is not to the level of stunning or gripping that editors would have to make a place for it despite their own preferences. I could change what I'm writing, but I prefer to keep getting better and realize that trends always change.

Not that I should be used as an example of a "typical" writer. I tend to tip bell curves.

Sean M. Murphy said...

I'm a little bipolar on this one, though I've worked to establish a balance. I tend to believe (now) that it's a more a function of something not being the right story for a particular market/editor right now. There are so many factors that go into their choice of stories that it's hard for me to say that they are bad or that my story is bad.

However, when I'm feeling a little less abstracted from it, there are bad days when I'm a horrible writer who'll never make it, and greta days when I know that this editor just missed a great piece, and sending it on to the next market is a tiny little knife of revenge--"ha ha, won't you be upset when you see that So-and-so has picked this one up!"

I really try to keep that balance, though, because it strikes me that moderation in these responses will likely help me the most, as far as learning and becoming a professional.

Kelly Swails said...

Right now I'm more girlie: "I need to become a better writer, I need to work harder, I suck and I'll never make it." (That last bit doesn't happen often and when it does, a bout of "get your head outta your ass, you're a great writer" usually cures it. That or beer.) I can see myself, once I've become more established in the industry, leaning towards the boyish: "Bah, so-and-so didn't take this? Oh, yeah, he doesn't usually like X stories. I'll send it to so-and so. They'll pick it up, probably." I'll see rejections and acceptances as less of a reflection of my talent and more a reflection of the business. Hopefully.

tate said...

I tend to blame myself for all sorts of things related to writing, including the commercial success of any given book. Book fails = I'm a bad writer.

Luckily, I know this is faulty thinking, so I've been working hard not to allow myself to dwell on the bad and try "affirmations" of "the publisher is stupid," etc.