Shankar Vedantam’s story on Morning Edition today, regarding the IKEA Effect, has got me thinking about some of those projects lurking in my filing cabinets. The IKEA effect is – if you labor over something, you think it’s better than something you didn’t put so much effort into. In other words, you like your bookcases more than your buddy would because you put them together. You are invested in their existence.
We all have projects that we have invested hours and hours of our time working on. They may be complete and utter hooey. No amount of changing around the sentences or cutting adverbs is going to save them. More effort is not going to make them better stories any more than than smacking the side of a bookcase with a hammer is going to make the shelves fit. If you did a bad job building the frame, those shelves are never going to fit.
The IKEA Effect is also yet another reason to have critique buddies. A good writing group will tell you if you are wasting your time on a particular story. Around a year ago, I had one of my critique groups read the beginning of a novella that, to use our bookcase analogy, had a few missing nuts and a handful of extra bolts. I have very nice writing friends. They didn’t come right out and say, “Elizabeth, this is crap. Go back to your room and do better.” They did say, “You’ve spent a lot of time on this project and it doesn’t seem to be working. What are you trying to say here?” An excellent question. I went home that day, put the piece in question in the filing cabinet, and left it there. After listening to Vedantam’s Morning Edition piece, I may go downstairs and fire up the shredder.