How will I know? How do you know? Songs and movies all ask the question which implies a simple answer. Betty Everett and Cher said, “It’s in his kiss.” According to Whitney Houston, you’ll feel shy and week (need to resist conducting critical analysis of those lyrics right now).
I’m less concerned about the asking the question that begins a relationship; instead, I’m focusing on the end.
As usual, I’m looking at this from both the interpersonal communication angle and the writing perspective. I’ve been pondering the question in relationship to manuscripts for over a year. Agents and editors all say, “Don’t query until you’re sure the manuscript is ready.” That seems logical enough, until you try to apply object criteria. A second, much sadder, question one might have to ask is, “How do I know when this manuscript should be trunked?” There probably won’t be a neon sign saying, “Give up on this project now!”
So, I thought about my classes again, and one of the issues that comes up in interpersonal communication is how to know when a relationship is over, when it’s time to stop investing. I love the simplicity of Social Exchange Theory. At heart it asks, do the rewards of the situation outweigh the costs? If so, you get profit. Easy. Great implication. A relationship is over when there is no profit. Not easy. Sometimes a single reward like “belonging” outweighs a page-long list of costs. Sometimes, when you think like an investor, you predict that the rewards are going to start coming any day; then the payoff will be huge.
At the end of the day, I suppose my attempts to reduce complex decision-making into a simple equation or a cute song lyric are futile. Although, there probably are relevant messages. A manuscript is an investment of time and energy. The writing process definitely involves rewards and costs. Like relationships, profit is relative.
If I’ve invested everything I can into a novel, the completion may very well be the reward itself. Is that enough? Maybe, maybe not. But any addition payoff may take a very, very long time, which means more investing.
When you ask any “How do you know” question, it’s easy to answer with some version “you just do; it’s in your gut.” That might be true, or it might be that you never actually know. You take a chance. A leap of faith. You take a risk on an investment, with no guarantee it will pay off. Sometimes, you lose. Either way. Whether the answer has positive or negative ramifications. It’s not knowing that matters. It's believing.