Writer Problems: Analysis Paralysis

Writing exists in different parts of my mind—the forefront or the back—and, every so often it drives me out of it. A good number of writers I know have said something similar in conversation. One of my biggest struggles is the “stuck place” that goes along with over-thinking everything: plot or flow, content or structure, word choices, word count, the number of adverbs! (Kidding about that last one.)

And I’m brought back to one consistent truth in the writer life: writers write. Sure, they read and research and doodle sometimes, too, but they invest time in writing. When the analysis overwhelms the process, paralysis sets in. I don’t really believe this is the same thing as writer’s block. Analysis paralysis is something a little different. While the block is a dry inkwell, the paralysis feels something like the inkwell vacillating between explosion and implosion. Suddenly, the words just won’t flow because my mind just won’t play nicely with whatever is on the page or trying to get there.

I have a love-hate thing with the fact that writing is a mental thing. The beauty is that writing allows the pictures, stories, or ideas floating in my head to be shared with people anywhere and any time. The agony is that my mind can have so many incomplete thoughts floating around, and I somehow feel each one should be examined for validity before it hits the page. (This is ridiculous!) What’s a writer to do when the analysis breaks the beautiful process?

Here are three ideas that may help you get past the paralysis in your process:

  1. Take a walk and have a little talk with yourself. A change of scenery may be helpful. You just may have to give yourself permission to write badly or explore an incomplete thought’s development without evaluation. Agree to just write without judgment when you sit down again, if you can.
  2. Try writing from stream of consciousness as an exercise on a regular basis. Timed free-writes can be helpful with practice. You’ll often find you can get more words on the page when you have a specific topic or project to work on when you’ve practiced writing whatever comes to mind. You might also be interested in something like the “Five-Minute Friday” Link Up. Each week a very large group of writers will tackle a five-minute write on a single word topic. Give that a shot!
  3. Try the 10,000-foot view if you have to. You can’t land in “Pantser Land” with writers who just discover the plot (twists and all)? Back out of the project with an open mind and try outlining several different options for your work. Choose the one you like best, or ask someone to help you choose. I like to ask friends for ideas on plot or content when it’s possible or they are willing.

I won’t overwhelm you with a ton of ideas, but there’s at least three you might try. I know I sometimes just need encouragement to push forward in a project, so my “bonus idea” is—find another writer to chat with. See if you can talk shop (or not), if you need it.

Keep on keepin’ on, writer tribe!

~J

What Exactly is Failure?

Snowflakes and Superpowers

I guess I’m coming out of my hidey hole a little behind the headlines these days. There’s some buzz about an author who determined that two rejected novels equals failure. Of course, that would be painful! And I can empathize.

My thoughts? This is a sign of the times.

In our culture, we tell our kids they are special snowflakes in a gentle flurry. They are perfectly brilliant crystals drifting in November flurry. We grant them superpowers and tell them they can do anything. Parents want to give children the time to discover themselves and their abilities. “Talk all the time you need—or want,” we say. There’s no deadline to this discovery, of course.

Part of the above is true. We may be leaving out important details, though. I think reality may be closer to a snowflake in a blizzard. The struggle to succeed can feel more like being up against gale-force winds to the point of burnout. The “grit” part is missing from our narrative, and that’s surprising given the grassroots Americans who have worked so hard for generations.

The truth is each of us is a unique and powerful individual! Without work or a solid work ethic, it’s likely to be a hard road that may just be easier to walk away from. Writing is hard under some of the best conditions. Pour your sweat on the page or bleed all over it, and it’s personal. I get that. Maybe technical manual writers can say there’s no emotional investment in their writing, I don’t know. We write for personal reasons, and we offer something of ourselves in every sculpted sentence on the page.

But there’s something that’s not so personal. The reality is there are a myriad of writers composing works. We can respect that, but when we start writing, we speak into a very large body of water. All our thoughts may be excellent, but there is competition for the readers’ eyeballs (mainly getting in front of them) and their wallets, honestly. If I write well, that’s awesome, but that isn’t the end of the story. There are so many other parts.

I’m learning so much about the Millennial generation. As a Gen X-er, I’m curious about what’s up and coming in the culture, but I’m also aware of what’s common to humanity. Learning the hard truth about hard work—timeliness, deadlines, and being one of many in a very large pool—is part of life. And life is a tough teacher. Dismissing the “rules” doesn’t make the efforts for naught, but it sure reinforces that the efforts and opinions of everyone else are a factor. Where best-selling authors collected and practically honored the hundreds of rejection letters in their early writing years, we’re dejected and depressed in the single digits.

I get it. I’ve balked or chosen to walk from the hard stuff in life many times. I won’t lie. I preferred ease, comfort, praise, and success (in that order). But the good things, things worth , are rarely gifted to us. Instead, they are hard-fought battles more often than not. If it’s worth having, it’s worth fighting for, isn’t it?

God willing, I’ll persist in the writing challenge that lies before me. If I really have a story, a message, and an audience that needs to hear my voice in the conversation, I can’t balk or walk. It’s my raison d’etre. Dare I say, it’s my calling? I think so.

And that’s when I decide to answer the 5 W Questions of writing, the biggest being my “Why.” I wrote about that here.

Regarding the parting shot in the original article: I’m working on something, and I probably won’t be quiet about it. You see, my “why” flame is bigger than something a publisher, editor, or critic will snuff out. If my God leads me to it, He’ll lead me through it, no doubt.

Thanks for reading along. I love to share thoughts and kick them around with others. What do you think about this article that’s getting some attention? Have you responded to the post on your blog? Share below, of course!

~j