Don't panic. There's some evidence that searching for "good enough" choices will lead you to better and more satisfying results than always trying to optimize. This is why being thoughtful about which criteria are the most essential to getting what you want (rather than all possible criteria) is among the most important factors in good decision-making.
A good place to start is considering your basic goals as a writer. Think about:
- What kind of writing you're interested in (Screenplays? Novels? Short stories? Poetry? Nonfiction?),
- What genre or genres you wish to master (Romance? Science fiction? Mystery?),
- Why you want to write (To change the world? To express yourself? To make money? To attain fame? To entertain?), and
- What you’re suited for.
So, for instance, Writer Smith might decide to write SF scripts, aiming at enough success to make a living and get a few fans. Or Writer Jones might instead have the goal of exposing people to the values of medieval Irish clans by self-publishing a series of romance novel that bring that era to life.
Once you have clear goals (understanding that it's not failure to change your mind or shift to Plan B), you have foundational information for sorting through options. Choose projects that fit your goals. Investigate markets and contests and helpers (such as beta readers, editors, and agents) that are aligned with steps toward achieving your version of success. Smith might then learn screenplay format, create a script about alien monks who look like monsters, and enter it into the Austin Film Festival’s annual contest. Jones might learn all there is to know about producing e-books, join Romance Writers of America for its courses and camaraderie, and gather fans and beta readers of short stories, novellas, and, novels.
Note – it's okay to experiment and take on tactical work (such as, paying gigs that are not part of your plans) on occasion. These may expand your skill base and put food on the table. Just be careful not to make too many choices or sacrifice too much of your career to nonstrategic work.
Some of the things to consider when choosing projects include whether you will regret not doing some work or whether you will not like yourself if you do. Can you handle the consequences of a particular choice? It's sometimes useful to dig into a question by taking a contrary point of view and explicitly articulating and challenging your assumptions. One recommendation is to generate not just options that fit your criteria, but a few that don't. Even though these are unlikely to be chosen, they can sometimes lead to out-of-the-box thinking.
One danger as you consider the possibilities are in front of you is giving people too much space in your head. Whatever choices you make are ones you'll need to live with and they won't. Don't be afraid to go against advice or to make decisions that are popular.
People, of course, are the only sources of input. As you consider what factors might lead to good choices, brainstorm on possible ways you can get more information and clarify the answers. All the sources won't be equal, so it might be good to explicitly mark the uncertainty and credibility of each source.
I've often found it useful to take a list of 10 or 20 things I want to know for each of a set of options, narrow that list down to 5 to 10, and then create a spreadsheet scoring the different options against these (after getting enough information on each).
You go into a decision process, remember that you don't have infinite time. For some decisions, the clock is ticking from the time you're aware of the opportunity. You can't worry too much about incomplete information. But for those decisions that can be made, you need to give yourself a deadline. No decision deserves an infinite investment in your time and energy. But, be aware, that big decisions with indefinite deadlines are booby-trapped by our brains. Humans have a tendency to overestimate the value of missing data. This leads to delay, frustration, too much work put into finding answers of less value, and self-doubt. Don't get caught this way.
Has this implies, once you've made an irreversible decision, it's good to move forward and not continue to evaluate and reconsider your choice. Instead, work at making the bests of the option you selected. If your decision is important and reversible, mark an appropriate date on your calendar to give it a fresh look. And don't waste time thinking about it until you get to that date.
Deadlines are tricky. They can be of enormous value, but they can also be distracting. I’ll examine their role in effective decision making next time.
In addition to looking at the previous posts in this series, you may want to look at some of the articles I referenced:
7 Questions You Should Ask Yourself When Faced With A Tough Decision In Life
Four Tricks to Help You Make Any Difficult Decision
Don’t Overthink It: 5 Tips for Daily Decision-Making
7 Steps to Making Better Decisions
6 Tips for Making Better Decisions