Why, oh why, do writing decisions feel like a neural hostage negotiation? Whether it’s choosing a genre, making a difficult call about a character’s fate, or — congratulations, look at you! — wondering if it’s the right move to accept an offer, deciding can seem like an impossible task. What if you get it wrong? Will the damage be permanent? Here’s how to manage the pressure and make tough decisions in your writing:
Make a List
Take a few minutes to lay out the pros and cons of your options. But if you’re prone to procrastination, set a timer for five to ten minutes. That way, you won’t drag out the list-making task for three whole days. (Ahem, not that it’s ever happened that way with me…)
Many writers are visual learners, and seeing the decision in visual form can be incredibly helpful.
Read It Aloud
There’s something powerful about hearing your words spoken aloud. If you’ve ever explained a problem to a friend and felt like you knew the answer by the end of the explanation, you already know that there’s wisdom in hearing.
So go to a quiet office, cafe corner or park bench and read your list through a few times. You can even record yourself using a smartphone and play it back to yourself later, maybe right before you fall asleep. Your subconscious can work on it while you rest.
Narrow It Down
As you read the options, a few will be obviously wrong. These might seem so ridiculous, you’ll wonder why you ever considered them. Or, you’ll remember other details that will exclude certain choices.
Cross those out until you’re stumped. The list items that are left will be your core choices.
Take a Break
I think it’s important to put your decision as far away from you as possible for a little while and go do something else–preferably exercise so you can get out of your head and get into your body.
Set a period of time–say, a whole day or a weekend–to give your mind a rest from the stress of the decision.
If, on the other hand, you have a tight deadline, skip to the next step.
Call for Backup
You need an accountabilibuddy!
Find a writing friend and give them permission to tell you the bare, bold truth about your writing. This should be someone you respect and trust, one who is above any kind of petty jealousy or competition. (Not that writers *ever* feel that!)
Call your accountabilibuddy and present the problem to them. And then–this is important–listen.
Set a Deadline
Depending upon the gravity of the consequences, give yourself a deadline and make sure you stick to it. If you think you’re likely to put off finalizing your decision, set up a “punishment”. Give your accountabilibuddy some cash and tell them to donate it to a charity you despise if you haven’t met your decision deadline.
The key is to allow enough time to explore the options but not enough time to drag out your action. If you’ve been diligent and serious, more time isn’t likely to change things. So be determined and do what needs done. Cut the character, pitch your idea, or decline an offer.
Then? Go out and celebrate. Writing decisions can be rough, but by dedicating yourself to being strategic and rational, you’ll keep moving forward. This process isn’t guaranteed to ensure the right decision, but you’ll learn as you go and get better and better.
Put It in Perspective
Remember, you don’t have to do this, you GET to do it.
The only reason you’re in this situation is because you have the privilege of making art, and because you’re the kind of artist who really cares about the quality and legacy of your work. Would you have it any other way?
If you intend to keep making art, you’ve got a lot of decisions ahead of you, too. So deciding is part of your artistic process. And, just like the other parts, you’ll get better with practice. So don’t fret <3
NOW YOU: What’s the most stressful decision you’ve ever had to make about your writing?
Let me know in the comments!
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