Precommittment In Action, Or: My Cousin’s Quest To Write A Novel

Precommittment is an idea I’ve been familiar with for some time. “Burn the ships” is the most common expression of this idea, Hernán Cortés having burned his ships to “precommit” his men to conquering the Aztec empire (but perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “scuttle the ships“). You can also throw out all the junk food to precommit yourself to eating healthy. This idea is expressed well in the exceptional book Willpower by Baumeister & Tierney.

Slate has a good article on The Odysseus Option here:

That’s why truly binding precommitment devices are so interesting. The first known practitioner of such voluntary bondage was wily Odysseus, en route home from the Trojan War. As his ship approached the Sirens, he was determined to hear their song without, well, going overboard. Necessity being the mother of invention, he invented history’s first precommitment device. “You must bind me tight with chafing ropes,” our hero instructs inRobert Fagles’ translation, “so I cannot move a muscle, bound to the spot, erect at the mast-block, lashed by ropes to the mast. And if I plead, commanding you to set me free, then lash me faster. …”

What a moment! The Odyssey is really all about self-control, and Odysseus’ foresight and skill at managing desire explains why he—and he alone—survives the harrowing journey back to Ithaca. His actions in this instance set the standard for all who would later enlist others to compel themselves to follow their own commands.

My cousin, Hadley Barrows, is putting this idea into practice. She’s precommitted to writing a novel by posting about it on her blog. She’s very good about goal-type things. You can read about it in her first post here:

My New Goal: Write a Novel

and her follow up post here:

Write a Novel: May Update

I admire her approach and wish her the best of success. I’ve started a new novel as well (about 12,000 words in) but I’m not quite ready to precommit to a launch date. Perhaps I’ll eventually follow my cousin’s lead and precommit in this space. Until then I’m not committing (or precommitting) to anything.

(P.S. Thanks for the review Hadley and I can’t wait to see you at the cabin in a few weeks!)

One response to “Precommittment In Action, Or: My Cousin’s Quest To Write A Novel”

  1. […] in its success, thereby propelling me and the writing of the series forward”. Or: a public pre-commitment strategy to force me to keep writing via early success of the […]

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