Saturday, August 04, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Decisions, decisions

But is it ever..REALLY?

You know how difficult it is for me to make a decision? I just wrote out about eight different first sentences for this post—and that was after I spent a few hours debating whether I should attempt to write fiction or nonfiction!

Seriously, I am probably one of the most indecisive people you could ever meet, a fact that has caused me serious unhappiness in my life. I'm a devotee of the “deer in headlights” method of decision-making, aka “if you ignore it long enough, it will change and then you won't HAVE to decide.

I once debated for years about whether or not to buy a pair of sneakers.

This is not good. This leads to regret. And I do regret—I regret almost everything that I've done in my past—or failed to do. The wrong jobs. The right jobs left for the wrong reasons. The wrong jobs left for the right reasons, but which perhaps could have worked out if only I'd stuck it out. Not going to graduate school before getting married. Not going after getting married. And most of all, I regret not using that lovely expanse of time before motherhood to write seriously. Oh, sure, I wrote, in spurts...but considering how much time I had to work with, what else was I doing? Sleeping? Eating?

Hopefully, sleeping.

It's ironic that I want to be a writer at all, considering how much decision making THAT entails. I have no doubt that is why I am so often blocked. Should Catherine break up with Nick before or after she gets fired from that last acting job? Should Marisol reveal her family's deep dark secret in order to save her best friend's life? And...what would that dark secret be, again?


And it's not just plot points. Every time I read a book on craft, I am paralyzed by the sheer number of concepts I need to keep in mind. Narrative arcs. Character arcs. The three act structure. Point of view. Is my dialogue moving the story along, and revealing character without being too “on the nose?”

By this point, I've vowed to read and re-read the Literary Canon before attempting to write another word. Or else I've already allowed my attention to wander to the television, or to conversation. Or, usually, I just keep writing in my head, convinced that if I just work out all of the possibilities in my mind, I'll smooth out the tangles before my words land on the page.

Writers, stop laughing.

In fact, I think this ceaseless search for certainty—for direction that will help me avoid mistakes—fuels my passion for reading. When I'm feeling more self-confident, I read novels—exploring each character and their universe, discovering snippets of wisdom along the way. When I am feeling less-than-confident, I read self-help books. And writing books. And horoscopes.

Guess which ones I'm reading more and more lately.

I think my inertia about decision making stems from this absolute belief, one I can't shake, that if I make a mistake, I won't be able to fix it. If I go down the wrong road with my novel, I will have ruined it beyond repair, squandering a promising idea and proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that I'm never going to accomplish anything in my life. If I apply to the wrong graduate school program, then I will have squandered our hard earned money, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that...well, you get the idea.

So I wait. And I read writing books. And every day, I decide to stop, and then I decide to start. Stop. Start. I dither, and doubt, and do everything except just write. I try to keep William Stafford's exhortation in my mind, the one about "aiming lower." I really try. those OTHER immortal words, the ones said by Yoda, "There is no try. Only do."

I can't even choose whose advice to take...about making a choice.

I'm not sure how to end this post. Maybe I'll decide that later as well.

Oh, and I finally bought those sneakers. And enjoyed them to no end. But never really felt like I lived up to them.

There's probably a lesson in there somewhere.

If only I could decide what it was.
Decide to read more posts here.



Anonymous Rose Dewy Knickers said...

I think we all can empathize with your struggles. Writers or not, the 'perfect' anything is what we all strive for. We try so hard to see the ending that the journey from here to there is ignored. One step, one word at a time. After all, no decision is in a fact a decision.



8:06 AM, August 04, 2007  
Blogger Becca said...

Well, I certainly could have written this post (although not nearly as well!). You describe perfectly all my fear, ambivalence, and dread about the decision making process. And, yes, it does cause "serious unhappiness" in life, as you so smartly pointed out.

I tend to get caught up in the times I've made bad decisions, rather than focusing on the good ones, or looking for whatever good might have come from the bad ones (does that make sense?)

But, as usual, you've written beautifully about your feelings on this subject.

8:09 AM, August 04, 2007  
Blogger Stacy said...

I'm not always good with decisions either. But learning that NOT deciding is the same as making an actual decision really helped to move me forward.

8:10 AM, August 04, 2007  
Anonymous Frida said...

Well - here's the thing, even when you write about how you struggle, it reads so well that I end up smiling. Sorry - not smiling at you, smiling with you. I like to leave decisions alone in their quiet corner until my gut tells me that the answer has arrived. If I let them out to play before then they just trouble at my ankles and keep me awake.

8:48 AM, August 04, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Don't get to frustrated! I learned writing is never I finally 'finished' a children's book. I wrote 7 different ones, just cuz of all the decisions...LOL I'm settling on this one, so I can pretend its finished and move on! Now to decide whether or not to publish and how and where?? It's been edited a thousand times. Maybe I'll just read another book instead of writing one...LOL You described my problems, procrastination, decisions, right or wrong, perfectionism...I don't know..can't decide...

8:53 AM, August 04, 2007  
Blogger Herb Urban said...

Excellent piece of writing! I can relate all too well. Especially about taking the wrong jobs, or leaving the right ones for the wrong reasons. Trying to decide on what constitutes happiness is the hardest decision of all.

I once dated a girl in college who had similar afflictions. I lost about 10 pounds while he dated because neither of us could ever decide where we wanted to eat. It was comical. We just walked in circles and talked, unable to bring ourselves to walk through a door.

Luckily, my wife is a little more decisive, so I generally go with the flow.

Glad you enjoyed the sneakers. It is liberating to just take a plunge even on the little things that can bring us pleasure.

12:49 PM, August 04, 2007  
Blogger paris parfait said...

I can identify with parts of your post, although I never think that anything is going to ruin the whole piece - words can always be deleted and substituted. And sometimes the best way to make a decision is to walk away, give it some time, then return and the answer is waiting for you. Sometime we think too much when we should just take a risk and leap! Your writing is great, even when you're indecisive. :)

3:44 PM, August 04, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

You make me laugh here. Because you sound like me, only for different reasons. Like knowing I am a nut, but not being able to stop the nuttiness. LOL! And actually, although I don't have a problem making choices-- but I THINK about things WAY too much before I do most of the time, OR I just jump. No in between for me.-- I do have the hardest time shopping! That is why I have no clothes that I didn't get at Costco. Because too much choice just makes me tired. LOL


12:57 AM, August 05, 2007  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Once I read this: "I regret almost everything that I've done in my past—or failed to do." was hard for me to 'hear' most of what you wrote after that. I typically don't read anyone else's SS posts before I write my own, but for some reason, I came here first. Maybe because you were on my mind re what happened in Minneapolis (and I'd read in my Bloglines that TEG was okay--thank god). Those lines I quoted above hit me like a jolt and really made me think. So instead of writing it all out here (and yes, I know this is already wordy), I put it in a post:


10:48 AM, August 05, 2007  
Anonymous colleen said...

It's funny that trying to decide what to write on this topic demonstrates the topic so well.

I have some trouble deciding about those sneakers too, which is why when a bigger decision is made from the gut, I appreciate it and go with it mostly without question.

10:49 AM, August 05, 2007  
Blogger Tammy said...

I get the struggle but I also see your brilliance in your writing. You can write anything and make it interesting. You go girl!

11:38 AM, August 05, 2007  
Blogger Patois said...

As was said before, the not making a decision is making a decision. Your writing was marvelous. I'm glad I made the decision to read it.

6:22 PM, August 05, 2007  
Anonymous tinker said...

A lot of this post really resonated for me - I'm glad you decided to write it!

4:11 AM, August 06, 2007  
Anonymous gautami tripathy said...

I can relate with all that. It so difficult at times but we all go through struggles and come out better becos of that.

One great thinking post!

7:59 AM, August 06, 2007  
Blogger Remiman said...

I believe Yoda has it right: "There is no try. Only do."
Doing nothing is doing...right?
There is little certainty in the world beyond death. Always move forward and don't look back. If your standing still, look forward. I try to always think that the decision I make is the right one for then and there. If it wasn't, then I'd have chosen differently.
BTW, how ever you get write beautifully.

10:53 AM, August 06, 2007  
Blogger phish said...

i know exactly what you mean. it happens to me all the time. and being an advertising writer (the lowest form) i am often fighting a block and a ogre-ish deadline.

all to sell some soap.

and i can't help but think you've captured the struggle beautifully.

will be back.z

6:00 AM, August 07, 2007  
Blogger Melba said...

I was just talking to my sister on the phone for a long time yesterday about how are taught through out life not to trust our emotional guidence system. Well meaning parents and adults(and some not so well meaning)teach us to not liten to ourselves, but to listen to the outside world (ie them and the media)
I believe we are born knowing it all. I am really trying to let my children Be
because I know they know.
and I am trying to consciously connect with my inner-being who until recently I didn't connect with on a consistant basis.
You know.
You just have to find out how to listen to you again.
I don't think it is a difficult thing to do, but the allowing takes practice.
I find I need 20 minutes of meditation a day to hear myself, which is a challenge to finagle, but not impossible.

11:12 AM, August 07, 2007  
Anonymous fern said...

I always thought my complete inability to make decisions had to do with my complete fear of being wrong, and being held accountable for whatever terrible thing my decision causes.
Unfortunately, this usually means that someone makes the decision for me. I'm working on it!
Great post, I really empathize with this.

9:08 PM, August 07, 2007  

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