Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Here's another clue: one of the oldest tricks in the TV business for keeping viewers tuned in to a serial week after week is the cliffhanger. The hero seems to have fallen off a mountain but the shot cuts away before you can be sure. And then those fateful words: "TO BE CONTINUED..." Literally a cliffhanger.
You tune in next week for the resolution because the mystery is ticking away in the back of your mind.
The great English novelist Charles Dickens used exactly the same technique. Many of his works, like Oliver Twist, although later published as complete novels, were originally serialised.
His cliffhangers created such anticipation in people's minds that his American readership would wait at New York docks for the latest instalment to arrive by ship from Britain. They were that desperate to find out what happened next.
What all these examples have in common is that when people manage to start something they're more inclined to finish it. Procrastination bites worst when we're faced with a large task that we're trying to avoid starting. It might be because we don't know how to start or even where to start.
What the Zeigarnik effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting somewhere...anywhere.
Don't start with the hardest bit, try something easy first. If you can just get under way with any part of a project, then the rest will tend to follow. Once you've made a start, however trivial, there's something drawing you on to the end. It will niggle away in the back of your mind like a Lost cliffhanger.
Although the technique is simple, we often forget it because we get so wrapped up in thinking about the most difficult parts of our projects. The sense of foreboding can be a big contributor to procrastination.
The Zeigarnik effect has an important exception. It doesn't work so well when we're not particularly motivated to achieve our goal or don't expect to do well. This is true of goals in general: when they're unattractive or impossible we don't bother with them.
But if we value the goal and think it's possible, just taking a first step could be the difference between failure and success.
Allowing mob rule at the expense of some governing of composition is madness, but a diction dictatorship is dangerous, too. As with any prescription, an overdose is contraindicated. Here are some hard pills to swallow for language mavens who require a strict adherence to rigid syntactical patterns at the expense of, well, language:
1. Never split an infinitive.
It isn't wise to always ignore this fallacious rule against dividing the elements of the verb phrase "to (verb)" with an adverb, but to blindly follow it is to prohibit pleasing turns of phrase one of the best known of which is from the introductory voice-over from all the Star Trek television series: "to boldly go where no one has gone before." (The original series, produced before the more recent sensitivity to gender bias, put it "no man.")
2. Never end a sentence with a preposition.
This rule is ridiculous, to start with. If you believe it, please tell me what planet you are from. What are you striving for? Give it up. Am I getting my point across?
The stricture against closing sentences with words that describe position stems from an eighteen-century fetish for the supposed perfection of classical Latin, which allowed no split infinitives for the excellent reason that Latin infinitives consist of single words. English, however, being a distant relative of that language, should be allowed to form its own customs.
3. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.
And why not? For an honorable tradition of doing just that exists. But some people persist in prohibiting this technique. Yet we defy them. Or we simply ignore them or laugh at them, neither of which they appreciate. Nor do they understand our attitude, though we try to convince them, and will continue to do so. So there.
The words beginning each of these sentences are conjunctions, easily recalled with the mnemonic FANBOYS. Every one is perfectly acceptable at the head of a sentence. As is obvious from the previous paragraph, however, a little goes a long way.
4. Distinguish between while and though.
Petty prescriptivists would have you reserve while for temporal usage only: "While I agree, I resist," they say, should be revised to "Though I agree, I resist." I freely admit that I often change while to though, and while I understand I'm sorry, I can't stop myself and though I understand that it may seem pedantic, I think though reads better.
5. Distinguish between since and because.
Ditto. And ditto. I concur that indiscriminate replacement of since with because may seem persnickety, but since ahem because I find the latter word more pleasing, I will reserve the right to prefer it.
6. Use data only in the plural sense.
Where did they get this data? The alternative is to use datum in the singular sense, which makes you sound like a propellerhead. (Look it up, kids.) People who say "datum" get data, but they don't get dates.
7. Use none only in the singular sense.
None of these rules, followed strictly, allow for a vernacular ease with language.
Did that sentence hurt? Did the waves stop crashing to shore? Did Earth stop spinning? If you wish to replace none with "not one" or "no one" ("Not one person admitted guilt"; "No one saw that coming"), by all means, do so, but fear not none in a plural sense.
Thanks to Daily Writing Tips