Monday, April 30, 2012


“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” --Walter Inglis Anderson
I read this quote the other day and the same evening my husband commented that one of his clients was suffering paralysis through analysis.  It got me thinking about the balance between weighing ones options and acting on a decision.  The pondering of every possible alternative to find the perfect solution—which almost never exists-- can lead to nothing happening at all.  On the other hand, snap decisions made with too little deliberation may miss details that affect the success of the final outcome.  You can see the dilemma. 
A personality profile test my company use to give was designed to tell us which prospective employee would commit sins of omission and which sins of commission. In other words, it identified who would screw up through what they didn’t do and who would screw up through what they did.  To no one’s surprise, I fell into the latter category. Hey, it’s easier to apologize than get permission, right? 
I thought about how the two personality traits relate to writing. Some people dive in and start writing with little more than a protagonist and a vague premise—Lee Child and Nora Roberts have been very successful and prolific with this approach. Other authors begin with detailed character descriptions and plots that act as a chapter by chapter guide to what needs to go on the page. Both methods have merits and disadvantages recognized by pantsers and plotters alike. 
Unfortunately, there usually comes a point in a story (or several points) where a writer gets stuck. In my case, I know where I’ve been and where I’m going but flounder on the page in front of me. Some people call this writer’s block, others writer’s hell. Analysis only makes the anxiety worse. Staring at the scene brings no solution. Going for a walk or having lunch, reading a book or watching a movie may distract but the hurdle still looms in the back of my mind, nagging and insisting I suck. Yep, welcome to my Sunday afternoon. 
Over time most writers develop their own methods to break through the block—the last resort, the desperate effort to climb out of the morass. Mine is WRITE OR DIE. In Kamikaze mode. With dire consequences. I take a deep breath, get into the zone (setting and POV character’s head), click start and type like the devil himself is after me. My typing skills are horrible but in Write or Die only forward momentum counts. No time for analysis or picking the perfect word. No time to worry about varying sentence structure or not re-using favorite words again and again. The only thing that matters is the characters’ journey, the story unfolding and not having the screen turn red or my laptop scream at me.  The action of writing, getting imperfect words and sentences down on the page, relieves the anxiety and frees my mind to be creative. As for the typos, and crappy writing…oddly, it isn’t usually all that bad. It turns out my subconscious is  a much better writer than I give it credit for. My typing, however, still stinks! 
So tell us, are you an omissions or commissions sinner? How do you break through blocks and make decisions? 


Sarah Andre said...

I'm pretty impulsive with most decisions, am a pantster, and author-tools like setting an alarm clock and working until the 'ding' or using colored sticky pads to plot, excel spreadsheets to keep details, and character trait worksheets send me straight into high-anxiety, Defcon 10 insecurity.

I need to continually remind myself that my first draft will seriously suck. ALWAYS. And then I need to give myself permission to suck at that first draft.

My strength is in revising, but to get to that favorite activity something actually needs to be ON the page.

Oddly, this simple observation becomes a new self-discovery every day...hours after my internal editor has sat on my shoulder pointing out how much I suck.

Great blog today!

Lark Howard said...

I'll bet as a kid you didn't push boundaries until you got spanked, did you, Sarah? Some of us are motivated by negative consequences--definitely a character flaw but sometimes a useful one.

Nora always calls her WIP her POS for the first 3 or 4 drafts...that from the horse's mouth. Alas, we pantsers are doomed to multiple re-writes and revisions. No way around it. And trust me, you don't suck!! :-)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

That Walter Inglis Anderson quote speaks to me, Lark. Thanks for the introduction to it.

An alternative to Write or Die that focuses on positive reinforcement is Written? Kitten! at

On that site, if you write, say, 500 words, a picture of a kitten appears. Hey, I'll work for kittens.

Lark Howard said...

Kittens, Pat? I'll have to check that out. Positive reinforcement is a much nicer motivator.

Unfortunately, I was trained from birth to respond to the threat of dreadful consequences. When Write or Die starts deleting what I just wrote because I paused too long, I get typing again REALLY quickly!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Write or Die deletes what you wrote? You're right, that's some motivator.