Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Care for a Marshmallow? (Delayed Gratification)

Before you read any further, I suggest you grab some marshmallows to eat while we talk about this.

Don't have any marshmallows?  That is sad.  But it turns out I have enough for both of us.

*eats marshmallow*


You may be wondering--why are we eating marshmallows?  Well.  Have you ever heard of the "marshmallow test"?  Originally conducted at Stanford by somebody blah blah please google it if you're really interested.  The gist is this:  some people wanted to test young children for the ability to make future-oriented decisions that would involve an understanding of delayed gratification.

This is how it worked:

Researchers sat a kid at a table that had a single marshmallow on it.  The original researchers hid behind a two-way mirror (creepy much?).

They told the kid that they were going to leave, and that he was welcome to eat the marshmallow while they were gone, but if they came back and he hadn't eaten it, he would get another one.

One now, or two later.  Of course some kids waited and some didn't.


I was talking to my friend about this the other day, and we both agreed that you could have done this to our young selves over and over again, and we probably would never have eaten the marshmallow.

Then she looked at me and said--and this is a friend of mine who's not a writer herself--"I'm pretty sure writing for you is like one big exercise in delayed gratification."

Were truer words ever spoken?

I cannot speak for the process of actually getting a book published, but when I look at the part of the process I've come to know quite well--the insanely steep learning curve of the pre-published writer--my friend was absolutely right.

You could send that manuscript off as it is.  Or you could do one more revision, or rewrite, or overhaul...and then send off an even better manuscript.  Obviously, you have to send your work out eventually.  But when it takes so much hard work and practice to get good enough, I think it's easier--yes, it's tempting--to send something out before it's ready.

That said, would you care for a marshmallow? 


  1. And yes, I *actually* ate marshmallows while writing this.

  2. I've over-mastered the principle of delayed gratification to the point where I feel I have to somehow earn my way to things like breakfast and bathroom breaks. It may behoove me to learn to just take the dang marshmallow, from time to time. Happy medium, and all that.
    My mental problems aside, great post, Susan. :)

    1. Amen to happy mediums. It really can get out of hand. There is no point to sitting under a mountain of marshmallows if you never, ever eat them.

    2. And you probably DON'T want a whole mountain, anyway.

  3. Oh my goodness, this is genius! I love this and now I want marshmallows. Writing is an exercise in delayed gratification and it can be really hard, but waiting for those two marshmallows should be perfect someday. :)

    1. LOL if I could have actually shared the mallows I totally would have. Thanks for stopping by, Krista!

  4. Since marshmallows contain gelatin, and I'm vegetarian, you would have to substitute the marshmallows for chocolate--Cadbury's chocolate to be precise. A large slab of Dairy Milk, or Fruit and Nut. Mmmm... uhh.. sorry, what was the question? Oh, yes, whether marshmallows or chocolate, the analogy applies, certainly. I don't know that the end result has to be publication, because that's not always a given no matter how hard you work. But the gratification of a manuscript that shines, that you can be proud of, and that people have read and loved is certainly worth waiting for. :)

    1. Absolutely, Colin--i think the whole delayed gratification is always part of creating something as big as a novel, no matter where it goes from there. And it's funny you mention Cadbury's chocolate... I have been a dark chocolate girl all my life, but after spending most of my summer in England around that stuff (perhaps it was Cadbury's fault? perhaps there's something wrong with me?) I am leaning towards milk chocolate in my preferences. I'm actually having a bit of an identity crisis over it.

    2. That should have read: "I think the whole delayed gratification thing..." Late-night blog comments are maybe a no-go....

    3. It's probably Cadbury's fault, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with you. Obsessing over Cadbury's chocolate is perfectly normal and healthy. Did you bring back any with you? Can you send me some? Please... :D

      I take my Hershey's dark, by the way. It's not Cadbury's so I'm not as fussy. ;)

  5. Bahaha, I know about this study...watching the videos is hilarious, because some of the kids eat their marshmallows like their doing some sneak attack =3

    This is a great post. It's definitely a balancing act, between getting your story the best it can be without the rush, and having the ability to let it leave your hands so you can join the adventure of the writing world outside of your head!