Where Writers Get Stuck Choosing Writing Projects

An issue a lot of writers get stuck on is choosing.  Choosing what to write, what to focus on, which project to start with. I’ve seen writers longing to write but feeling paralyzed about making a choice. They come up with endless numbers of ideas but reject one after the other upon closer examination, or commit but then quickly run away screaming, or commit but then self-sabotage by hopping between projects or ditching it altogether and starting something new. This is the first in a series of posts about choosing writing projects and different ways of approaching it, and we’re starting with how it happens and why it’s a problem. As with most things with writing, I don’t think there’s one right way to do it, but it’s worth talking about because for a certain brand of writer, it’s a huge issue. (Other writers don’t seem struggle with this at all, but face other challenges!)

** Check out the newly updated version of this series available
for download here (or scroll to the end of this post) **

Where we get stuck choosing writing projects

Let’s talk about where writers get stuck choosing writing projects.

  1. Being afraid of choosing the “wrong” project. This is sort of the blanket, one-size fits all category for writing selection paralysis. It usually ties into a fear of one of the other issues following, like worrying that we’ll get into a project only to find that it loses its gleam and then we’ll wish we’d chosen a different one, or being afraid of wasting time and energy on something that doesn’t have legs, or being afraid the best selling project will be the one we DON’T choose. The idea here, is that there is somehow a “right” answer or a “right” project to choose. I take comfort from a notion I came across once that we must learn to trust that ALL our projects share a convergence of theme, thought, or concept (they come from us after all!) and that whichever project we choose at any given time will become the “right” vehicle for us at that point in our writing careers.
  2. The potential disappointment of giving up on another project or projects. Usually writers with this “I don’t know which one to choose” issue have tons of ideas and interests and project concepts and they are terrified to let any of them go.What I’ve found most useful so far for dealing with this concern is the idea of a “project queue”, that is, having a running list of projects in an approximate order that you’ll work on them. Sure, they might jockey for position a bit and one might miraculously appear that knocks the others down a peg or six but it reshapes the terror that we must choose ONE project to work on into choosing the project we will work on FIRST.
  3. Being afraid of investing a ton of time and effort into a project only to have a (or yet another) project that doesn’t go anywhere. This is a big one, especially for those of us who have been around the block a few times with writing projects. We know what rewrite hell looks like, up close and personal-like, and it’s no fun. So we hesitate about diving in the way we might have been willing to do earlier in our writing careers.Thankfully, I’ve noticed for myself that as my writing skills grow, my ability to write cleaner drafts (closer to what I intended for them to become) is increasing. I’m also noticing that I have less fear about how long something will take, now that I’ve learned how to outline better, break things down into smaller chunks, track my work, and just plain old write faster. So there’s that. And yeah, it’s a ton of work, there’s no getting around it. For me, this falls into the category being willing to invest in myself and my writing. As far as something possibly not going anywhere, well, I’m starting to think that’s the price of admission to a writing career. There are no guarantees — this is art after all. We can rewrite, we can do our best to consider marketability, and we can elevate our projects as much as we can. And sometimes? Sometimes it’s just a learning project. 
  4. Worrying that a project will not be marketable or good enough. Speaking of marketability, I also see writers getting paralyzed by whether or not there is a market for their idea or if they will be able to write it well enough. The marketability piece seems easier to me to address with some research and study of what’s selling in your genre or form.As far as being “good enough” goes though, the only way out is through (that means actually writing and then writing more). I console myself on this front with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule for mastering a craft. I also think we have to find a balance of pursuing what appears to be marketable (I’m not one for chasing trends, but rather understanding what makes a book or a script work for an audience) and following our own curiosity (Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert!) and interests and ideas into the places they are calling us.

What underlies these issues is fear, of course, which is pretty much the only problem that gets in the way when it comes to writing. And a big clue here is the word paralysis. Underlying paralysis we will often find its close cousin, perfectionism. And perfectionism is, of course, driven by fear.

The perfectionist’s safety net

What happens when we don’t choose a writing project to focus on is that we hop from project to project, always starting something new and never finishing anything. Or we try to juggle multiple projects at once, working a little bit on this one, a little bit on that one. The result is the same with either approach — no finished project, no feelings of completion and accomplishment. Also? The world doesn’t get to see what you’re creating. And there’s the safety net — if we don’t finish, we don’t have to share, and we don’t have to face possible rejection, ridicule, or failure. Not finishing (and sometimes not even starting) is a perfectionist’s safety net. That’s the “upside” of not choosing. 

diamonds

In my next post in this series, I’ll share some ideas about HOW to choose projects

diamonds

Download the Newly Updated Guidebook Version Here

There’s an updated version of this post and the two others in the series, assembled into a How to Choose Your Next Book (Or Screenplay) Guidebook with an overview of the process in a PDF format, along with a workbook in a PDF and RTF format. You can import the RTF into Word or Scrivener and work with it there.

Click the image below to download the Guidebook now.

Turquoise-Car-Button

diamonds

Comments

  1. Thank you for this enlightening article. I think I’ve always known that perfectionism is my main problem. That fear of rejection and not being good enough is potent. It’s good to know there are ways to manage it besides eating too much or crying myself to sleep! ;)

    • Jenna says:

      It’s HUGE, isn’t it, Kim? Glad you found the article insightful. A big part of dealing with perfectionism is learning to coax your way through it and past it. It does get easier over time. It also helps to hang out with other writers who struggle past the same issues; then you know how normal it is. :)

  2. Lisa says:

    This article came at just the right time for me! I have been paralyzed, trying to choose the “right” first book among 4 ideas. I am posting this on my cork board to remind me that they all will arrive-I don’t need to be afraid.

    • Jenna says:

      Lisa, I’m so glad!! I love that this helped you find the ability to trust they will come in their own time. Thanks for writing!

  3. Carol says:

    Choosing the ‘right’ topic/subject/story to write. Am the writer with the 1001 ideas. The thoughts of working on a story for a long time only to have it not work is tough. Looking forward to your next post with tips on how to choose!

    • Jenna says:

      Carol, Glad this is connecting for you. Yes, it IS tough, especially once we REALLY KNOW how much work it truly is. More to come, very soon!

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: