The “Other” Writer’s Block by Eden Mabee

Time for a confession:

I have a writing problem.

I can’t make decisions. It’s a problem of choices. There are so many choices…

This shouldn’t seem like a serious problem; choices are good, right?

Let me explain the why of this problem…

As part of a sponsor’s duties, one writes a inspirational post. Thing is… there are SO very many things out there that could be defined as “inspirational”. I never know if what I’m saying will help my fellow writers. Even limiting the topics to “writing inspiration” doesn’t narrow the field. Picking a solitary topic for me is akin to the authorial version of scaling Mt. Everest in a swimsuit. Terrified by the overwhelming odds, often I give up before I make that first step.

This post was due weeks ago (it’s February 23rd, and Kait wanted it by January 6th) but nothing I picked felt good enough to be The One. The ideas flowed fast and furious. Should I write about Insecurity as a Writer? How about that Nagging Inner Voice–the Fickle Muse?

Oh, the choices… I feel exhausted just thinking about the options. It really looked like Mt. Everest. And yet I was foundering in the dirt and Base Camp 1. (Huh! That’s a ways up—how’d I get here?) Getting started… Getting started always stops me.

Getting Started! Oh, now that would be a great post too. (See how hard is it to just start sometimes?)

There’s more to this confession.

A few months back I asked for help gathering ideas for this post. Thing was, I didn’t need more ideas. It’s not hard to come up with ideas… I already had a ton. I was looking for help in narrowing down my choices. If anyone mentioned an idea… then it was probably good, a bit of consensus that meant it would resonate with others.

I didn’t get much feedback, and the bit I got confused the issue–something new I hadn’t though of. Oh, no, more choices loomed! Did this mean all my original ideas were terrible? Should I abandon those and try these? And how did I deal?

Well, I didn’t stop dead. I researched the choices (another great sponsor post idea… the Problem with Research); I gathered webpage after webpage on the Inner Voice, or Writer’s Block, on Time Management

I did all sorts of things that weren’t writing.

The delay in writing this sponsor post had other effects. Because no one was “waiting” for my fiction writing, it felt wrong to spend mental energy there, and now glacial winds have nearly stripped that landscape barren. I began to wonder if a post on Choosing Priorities might be in order, or perhaps a post on knowing when to just stop and say Maybe I’m Not a Writer (as I hinted I might write in a previous sponsor post).

Thing is… I like writing, even the frustrating bits like editing and critiquing and planning. I love reading (not only other people’s work but my own once it’s been edited and proofed). And… there really is only one thing that can happen. I have to write. I have to be a writer. Writers write. Writers also submit stuff, make mistakes, choose the wrong words or ideas for the piece they need to do. Writers make mistakes. They don’t try to do it all. They make a choice and write. And if that doesn’t work, they make another choice and write and then another and then another…

They take steps up that mountain. Sometimes they slide down on their rump, and sometimes they lay in their tent a few extra days nursing wounds. But they climb on because they’ve chosen to be writers.

If you’re interested in more about this phenomena… (Research is good, right?) here are some TED talks about how choice can be as much of a curse as a blessing:

Barry Schwartz on why having too many choices limits us; his book lists ways to help making the surfeit of choices easier to bear

Sheena Iyengar explains how deliberate attempts to limit choice might be cultural or protective, and in a second TEDxSalon talk (industry funded) she gives specifics on why some of us might not “buy” the next idea we get…

10 comments

  1. Eden, in the end, you climbed that mountain. And to be clear, everyone who climbed THAT mountain did it one step at a time. But all it takes is one step to inspire someone else to take their first step. You know?

        1. Complete with the Teflon bikini of course. 😀 (which, btw, only makes one invincible when facing Anime monsters and villains from the Marvel and DC universes but is danged cold when climbing Everest)

    1. I think we’ve all spent our fair share of “falling on our rumps” time, Alberta. But the bruises do heal with time, and we’re stronger the ext time we start up again.

  2. Sometimes i swear that you and Annalise are kindred in more ways than you know…

    When she was a few years younger, and deeply into her Littlest Pet Shop passion, and we went to get a new addition for her collection, it was always a matter of so many choices.

    I tried to help her by bringing down every character that was in her budget (HAVING a budget in the first place helped lots; one advantage to single-income living!).

    Still, she’d line them up on the floor, often bottlenecking the aisle (one way homeschooling helped; there often were no other kids shopping!).

    And then she’d go through an anguishing process of selecting who was going to come home and become a part of our family. Because her character toys have always been a part of her storytelling, and “live” active and emotionally invested lives, it always mattered.

    We might be there for 20 minutes or more, while she went through an excruciating process of elimination. And 20 minutes is a loooong time for a four-year-old!

    I finally hit on the idea that has made it easier for her to make these kinds of choices (and being a few years older has helped, too!).

    I told her one day, “You’re not choosing for your whole life. You’re just choosing for today. Next time, you can come back, and choose someone else.”

    Maybe that could work for you, too.

    I really believe that the inspiration factor has more to do with you, as a person and a writer, and how you offer your ideas, than it does with the topic itself.

    Sys, you’ve been inspiring me, as cantankerous and mule-stubborn as we both know I can be, for 40 years now. YOU are inspirational. Any post you write will inspire, whether you agonize over it or not; because you are offering that part of yourself in the writing.

    This is an amazing post, and I love you. I’m not willing to scale Everest, ever, but I’d happily join you at Kaaterskill Falls again! =)

    I hope you are taking some time to enjoy the view from the summit!

    Snugs and love to you!

    1. *laughs a bit weakly* Ask my mom, Shan… She has told me of how “difficult” I made everything as a kid by doing things exactly as you describe Lise doing. Usually, she would tell me to hurry up and choose or to write down/make note of all my choices and that we could come back to the store the next weekend for the purchase.

      The Boodle does it too, and I’ve told him that it’s just one choice, that he can make another right after it.

      It annoys the Leader of the Opposition Party. 😀

      Interesting to see how one can see in others things they do (though you actually seem awesome at narrowing down choices to a manageable level)…

      And Kaaterskill Falls is a pretty impressive climb in its own right. Though I really, really want to climb Greylock this year… And I’d love to share that experience with my Syster and her family too. 😉

  3. I’ve heard this referred to as “the paradox of choice.” (It’s easier to choose between two options than to choose between 100.)

    I run into the same problem. I have so many ideas, so many things I want to accomplish, but my time and energy are limited. There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and there’s only so much energy I can devote to my creative projects, no matter how much passionate I am about them.

    I’m a big fan of list-making, and while it usually helps, it’s not a guaranteed tonic for this sort of idea overload. Usually it helps because it allows me to line up everything I want to accomplish and to prioritize. On rare occasions, however, looking at that list almost makes steam come out of my ears.

    Great post, Eden! Thanks for writing it.🙂

    1. Great post, Eden, and such an inspirational look at your mind, especially from my vantage point of agonizing to come up with one idea.

      I’m also with Shan, that any post you write on whatever idea you pick will be great. I blush to see that I wasn’t very helpful, cranking even more ideas your way. Now I understand!

      Elizabeth

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