Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Decision Making for Writers 1 - Key choices

One of the deadly sins for writing is dithering. Over and over again, I’ve come across writers who struggle to choose what they will do during their limited writing time. Will I work on project A, B, or C? Which scene should I take on? Do I want to draft new pages? Or rewrite?

On and on it goes. Promiscuous writers, who need to create pages for every idea that comes to them, create long confusing list of opportunities. Others carried in every direction by contests, manuscript want lists, pitch events, and offers of collaboration.

Number 2 of Heinlein’s Rules for Writers is “Finish What You Start.” Dithering prevents this. No one became a better writer or got published by writing dozens (or hundreds) of unfinished stories.

But though I’ve been advising writers to stop dithering for years, I’ve never provided any guidance on the ultimate way to avoid the malady — making decisions. That’s the point of this series of blogs. I’ll begin here by noting some of the key choices writers face, along with the stakes involved.

Next week, I’ll review some of the problems that confound writers. I also hope to do a posting on decision-making methodology, and another on the best ways to reduce the number of decisions writers face. 

Note that, while wrestling with decisions is a classic way to procrastinate, I’m not going to get into the “head games” that get in the way. Fears, sloth, doubts, distractions, and lack of interest can all be root causes for avoiding writing, and indecisiveness can be a great way to cover these up. Even the best advice on making choices will not help in these cases. The need to do research or lack of time or some other reason why stories don’t get written will rise up immediately after the decisions have been made. The work still won’t get done.

So, to get thing started, here are some choices writers might make that could be both important and difficult:
If you have your own questions, please feel welcome to add them in comments.
  • What should I write? 
  • What about research?
  • What format should I focus on?
  • What genre should I choose?
  • What’s my next step in rewriting?
  • Am I finished rewriting?
  • Should I collaborate?
  • Should I enter contest X?
  • Should I get an agent?
  • Should I submit or self-publish?
  • Should I sign a contract and give away rights?
  • What should I charge?
  • What do I need to learn next?
These questions all have implications with regard to resources (like money), skill development, artistic achievement (and ambition), opportunities, social standing, access to other people and communities, experiences, self esteem, and career path. These represent the stakes, what’s at risk, with every choice.

Of course, for some people, the answers to these questions may be obvious or trivial or even irrelevant. Their meanings have to do with your needs what you value, where you are in your journey, and what your career goals are.

Teddy Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

For decisions that need to be made right away, this is good guidance. Just decide and move on. But for many decisions, factors around the decision (e.g., its importance and whether it’s reversible) and the investment in decision making (time, money, research, social capital) come into play. These raise the value of taking a closer look at how decisions shouldn’t be made and how they should. More on this next time.

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