How to Defeat Writer's Block (Part 2)
Welcome back! Last week we began exploring the many-faced beast we call “Writer’s Block.” If you haven’t read Part 1, all about the mindset of successful writers, you can check that out by clicking the link!
As for today, fellow humans, it’s all about choice!
Choice is great. Opportunities are awesome. Possibility is powerful. I could keep going. Having options, in general, is desirable and empowering. Imagine if you went to a restaurant and the only option was a Caesar salad with chicken. Maybe, we would be like, okay well if this is my only option, that’s fine. But most of us would ask, do you have burgers or Tikka Masala or diet coke? Literally just Caesar salad with chicken? No thanks.
Choice is a huge part of our lives, especially for those of you who identify as writers. Every time you come to a blank page or text document--infinite choices. Infinite words, infinite sentences, infinite paragraphs. And that’s just in one language! If you write in multiple languages or write characters that speak a language other than the one you write in, good luck!
And it’s not like you can write just ANY words. Zenith spatula neither hastily spit comet kumquat danty vanity lasagna brings forth lettuce window revolutions degree realness. Few people would watch a 2 hour movie with dialogue like this through the entire running time. Few musicians could get away with entire albums of complete gibberish raps.
Most combinations of words do not produce the type of work most writers seek to create. The odds of landing it are not in the writer’s favor, it seems.
Constantly faced with endless options and possibility, with the odds not in one’s favor, a writer can easily become overwhelmed to the point of drawing a blank.
What do I write?
Fear not! For this brings us to our next point. To overcome writer’s block is to analysis paralysis.
2) Overcoming analysis paralysis
In the book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz discusses how more choice (aka more options) leads to less satisfaction. In a world of endless options, our ability to process those options and make choices becomes increasingly complex and effortful as we consider more and more factors. As energy and time expended in forming decisions increases, the satisfaction with the final outcome decreases. More options? More buyer’s remorse.
Well, kind of. If we have too few options, we also experience frustration if we don’t like what we’re forced into having. The sweet spot is 5-8 options. Too few, boo. Too many, ugh.
But for writer’s how do we find a sweet spot?
Schwartz offers a solution in how you approach your options. You can maximize or you can satisfy.
Maximizing is when we take in all possible outcomes before making a decision in order to make the best possible decision. Think going to the clothing store and trying on 10 outfits, knowing you only plan to buy one, or having to look at the whole menu before ordering your entree.
Satisfying, on the other hand, is when we take in just enough information to make a decision we find satisfactory to our needs. Think getting gasoline at the first station you see regardless of price or going to the first restaurant your friend recommends. You risk not liking the outcome, but chances are you’ll enjoy it, especially if you didn’t spend tons of energy and time weighing the options.
Many writers act as maximizers, looking for the best possible words to put on the page. Problem is, to maximize as a writer means sifting through an entire language. When we approach a blank page as a maximizer, we are immediately faced with over 170,000 options for the first word. And that’s just words in English! Then the same number of options for the second word. Same for the third, fourth, and so on.
Good luck completing one sentence that way, much less a full piece of work.
Another issue of maximizing is that the longer we spend thinking about the options, the less satisfied we become with the outcome, until the perceived effort becomes greater than the possible satisfaction. Our brains are hard-wired to do a form of cost-benefit analysis that checks to see if the amount of effort we put into something is worth the output. The more time and energy spent without producing a result, the less satisfied with the end product we become. If we spend 20 minutes brainstorming versus 40 minutes, our brain will be less satisfied with the work from the 40 minute brainstorm, even if the 40 minute session produces better quality. Ultimately, if we spend tons of energy thinking about what to write, eventually our brain will say, this isn’t fun, let’s not do this. Hello, writer’s block.
So the solution is to be a satisfier. Instead of finding the “right” words, try writing first and judging it later. The first words that come to mind--write them down, even if you know they are “bad.” You can always edit them later on.
The sooner you jump in and start writing, the more likely you are to be satisfied with the process. The longer you think about it, the less likely you are to find a starting point that satisfies you.
Most of us write and create to have work to share with the world that we are proud of. One reason most of us are not more prolific is that we maximize--attempting to make perfect work every time we show up. We want work we are proud of. We want work others are proud of. We can be perfectionists.
The dark side of that is the doubts and fears and need to find the right words becomes a huge wall between brain and page. All these ideas swirl incomplete in the brain, wanting to come out in any form. Because we think there is only one correct way to write it, those ideas stay trapped in our heads. With time, these ideas die, never to see the page, much less the world.
Even when we finally write, the words don’t seem right. They don’t seem good enough. We aren’t satisfied. Many of us stop writing altogether.
There are no perfect words to find.
Just start writing. Even if it’s potato salad potato salad potato salad potato salad. Staying in your head means writer’s block, means empty page, means...
Brandon is the Editor-in-Chief of all the "I AM" Series Blog. You can catch him hosting the "I AM" Series Featured Artist & Open Mic event held every third Friday of the month at Bar Thalia. This month's theme is PRIDE, on 6/21. Doors open at 8:30.