Increasing Writerly Decisiveness

A lot of us tend to 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.

Why we block this out is probably specific to each person.

For example, I sometimes frame solutions as not existing when I know my options full well but don’t want to choose one. Other times I’m afraid of what the answer requires.

On a writing level, 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 I wondered which genre I’m even writing. One of my short stories could be written as science fiction or fantasy, which can be a huge dither to fall into. I cut this short by writing a first page for each. That way, I was able to better decide that it should definitely be science fiction.
  • When my characters didn’t behave. This week I bottomed out over writing one of my characters into a corner. Eventually I said to myself, “I already have this figured out,” reminding myself that even if I don’t know how to fix it, so part of me does so I’ll have breakthroughs if I keep writing.
  • When my joints showed their fangs. I have several joint issues but moving my body is 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 body acts up. But really, it’s no 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, meditation, or visualization.

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 things we insist we want or even feel ‘entitled to’ in life. This creates a fascinating psychological tension and dissonance and I think it can affect our writerly pursuits.

But ultimately, if I stop and think a minute, I know exactly what to do with my stories. Not believing that moves my locus of judgment beyond myself, which isn’t ideal. So 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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