Friday, April 4, 2014

The Intersection of Writing and Psychology

Although a few people know me as an aspiring writer, most people know me as Dr. Boyce, a psychology faculty member at OSU. At first glance, it might seem that I have quite varied interests since my day job focuses on teaching research methods and scientific principles in psychology and my “night” job is all about creating fantasy.  However, over the years, I’ve come to realize that the two disciplines actually have quite a bit in common.  So much so that I almost decided to name this entire blog after this commonality…but then I decided it really should be about writing and not academia. Nonetheless, I can’t help but share some of the similarities when they pop into my mind. I love psychology and writing so it’s always fun for me to try to combine the two.  J

For instance, this week I was teaching my undergraduate class about a term called “self-efficacy.” Basically, someone who has high self-efficacy believes that they have the capability to perform a particular behavior. It’s very subjective in nature; someone who is highly capable in reality may still have low self-efficacy if they don’t believe in themselves and vice versa. Research has shown the great importance of self-efficacy in our lives. My favorite bit of research shows that someone who has lesser skills but high self-efficacy can achieve more than someone with a lot of talent but no belief in themselves. At first glance that might be a little surprising, but I think it also makes a lot of sense. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you think your efforts are useless then it won’t get you anywhere. I think sometimes people like to downplay the power of the mind and our expectations, but these most definitely have the ability to motivate us…or kill our dreams before we’ve even begun to work towards them.

As I talked about this in class, I started to realize how perfectly this relates to the struggles that many writers go through.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about writing or talked to another writer who didn’t have struggles with self-efficacy. Every day we have to wake up and believe that we can write something interesting enough for other people (i.e. agents and editors!) to care about. Personally, I know that I have bouts of low self-efficacy, particularly when I see many other amazing and talented writers around me. (I guess this doesn’t bode well for the upcoming SCBWI conference I’m going to!)  I’m inspired by others, but I also start to wonder if it’s even possible for me to write something publishable. Of course, as soon as I begin to think this, it drags down my mood and makes it almost impossible to write.

So, in order to combat this, I’ve started just telling myself that it is possible and I don’t let any other thoughts enter my head.  I don’t want to hear about the statistics of how many new writers become published every year and I don’t want to think about the hundreds of thousands (millions?!) of other people out there right now working towards the same goal that I have. I just have to tell myself that I can do it.  I need the highest self-efficacy I can muster, no matter if it’s based in reality or not! By itself, it won’t get me where I want to go, but I certainly can’t get there without it either.


  1. I love this post, particularly because I just read an article in the chronicle of higher ed that showed that women have more "self-efficacy" problems than men when it comes to academia (the classic "impostor" syndrome). Glad to hear you're actively combating it! :)

  2. Oh, I can totally see that. I was just teaching self-efficacy again today and actually used some examples from the conference in lecture. It's funny how much psychology influences my thoughts on writing and vice versa!!