Increasing Writerly Decisiveness

So much of the time, we wring our hands that we don’t know what to do about our problems, writing problems included.

Jean-Arthur- Typewriter

Actress Jean Arthur

But fascinatingly, we do know what to do in many cases. We just don’t like the answers!

I’m sometimes guilty of this. Maybe my options are not tidy or clear-cut, which makes me loathe to choose one. Or maybe I’m afraid of what the answer requires. It might mean I need to be more daring with a character, for example, which can be scary. Or I might need to spend an extra month painstakingly changing how I structured a plot.

My Experiment Toward Decisiveness

This past week I’ve been actively telling myself, “If I just take a minute to reflect, I already know what to do about this.” In other words, “I got this!” I know what my options boil down to. Pick one and move on already! See what happens.

Here are specific situations when this idea helped me be more decisive, as opposed to deteriorating into non-action:

  • When my characters behaved themselves unseemly. This week I fretted about a novel I’m writing, of course. It’s what we do as writers.  But I said to myself, “I already have this figured out.” This statement reminded me that even if I don’t know how to fix it, I do know breakthroughs come when I just keep writing.  I must chug through rather than scanning the horizon for inspiration before I can write out the perfect fix. I know what to do, I just don’t like enduring when I’m beslogged and without vision. When I picked one possible reaction for my character, sure enough, it wasn’t right. But I’m going to keep writing alternative reactions until one fits.
  • When I wondered which genre would be best. One of my short stories could be written as science fiction or fantasy. I cut my dithering short on the subject by writing out a first page for each. That way, I was able to better decide that it should definitely be science fiction.
  • When my foot bared its fangs. I’m an avid walker and its important to my mental and emotional health. It’s also how I write, by going on writing walkabouts. It can therefore feel scary to me when my foot acts up. But really, it’s not some huge fretful mystery what I should do about it. My options are basically to think up one or two self-care things to try and if that doesn’t work I’ll go to the doctor!
  • When human knowledge failed. This isn’t about writing, but I have someone I am concerned about, who deals with a condition for which there are no ready medical answers. The statement, “I already have this situation figured out,” reminded me that although we might not discover the answers that are surely out in the ethos somewhere, in the time we have, there’s essentially only one option in face of a mystery. Trial and error. Investigation. Rinse. Repeat. And praying–that too, of course.

“More things are wrought by prayer

Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

For what are men better than sheep or goats

That nourish a blind life within the brain,

If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

Both for themselves and those who call them friend?

For so the whole round earth is every way

Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

– Morte D’Arthur, Alfred Lord Tennyson

Which reminds me, praying about my writing dithers is by no means off limits. I should do that more! Of course my Heavenly Parents care about what I’m trying to write.

One More Reason We Don’t Do What We Should

I think sometimes we don’t embrace solutions because we love what we’re used to more than the great and glorious things we insist we want or even feel ‘entitled to’ in life. This is a fascinating psychological phenomenon and I think it can affect our writerly pursuits.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”(1992), p. 190.

If I stop and think a minute, I know exactly what to do with my stories. I’m just intimidated by the work or freaked out by how ill-received it might be. But those fears move my locus of judgment beyond myself.  Instead, this week I practiced reminding myself that I know what is awesome.

Which makes me want to end with my favorite quote from author Brandon Sanderson, which I’ll paraphrase because I could not find it on his site. This is something he has mentioned in podcasts and during writing panels:

“Err on the side of what’s awesome.”

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