The Writer and–Ooh, Shiny!

Reminder:   The 50% reduced coaching fees in honor of Int’l coach week end at midnight, Sunday, May 21. To take advantage, be sure to email me before then. More details here.

I was going to title this post the Agony of Choice, but let’s be real. No one wants to talk about agony, right?  And we are all familiar with “Squirrel Syndrome.”

Sometimes a shiny is just a shiny. It attracts our attention and we wander after it as happily as a child chases a butterfly. However, we are soon back with our project, the shiny object now a mere smile on our lips as we forge ahead on our original track. To carry the analogy further, most of us know that catching those butterflies can damage them, so we have learned to wait patiently for them to land on their own.

Sometimes, though, the shiny (or squirrel, depending on your preference) is a mask. It’s not just when we can’t decide between existing options . . . this character or that plot, this project or that. Those moment s of indecisiveness are hard enough when the choices are clear-cut. It’s when we have too many really good ideas worth pursuing to settle on any of them. It’s like being in a field filled with butterflies, mesmerized and still, as they flutter, land on us, flutter again. It’s a beautiful place to be, but man is it hard to pick a favorite, you know?

When so many ideas have so much potential, it feels so impossible to pick just one. So we stand there in the agony of choice.

It’s all well and good when the options are butterflies, beautiful to watch. But, on occasion, those pretty wings turn into a cage (or worse, hail or stinging rain) and we become trapped, frozen,   That’s the agony. That’s the pain of indecision.

If you have ended up there simply because you are afraid you’ll lose all the other ideas if you choose one, there’s good news. As John Steinbeck said, “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.” The writer is never short of ideas. They come from everywhere. They land like fairy dust on the pillow, the breakfast table, the conference room. All we have to do is sweep them up. Only the new writers are worried about lack of ideas or losing those they have captured. More ideas will come to us than any of us could write in a lifetime. Grasping this truth leaves us free to pursue one idea, knowing dozens are lining up for our attention later.

If you ended up there due to fear (fear of producing, fear of judgment, fear of choosing), there’s also good news. Either your drive to write will overcome fear long enough for you to get started (and begin negotiations with that fear) or that fear will distract you from writing all together. Either way, you’ll move beyond this point.

The true agony, for me, comes when I’ve developed a couple of ideas enough to see where they are headed and what their potential is. I like them all, the characters are active, the plots creep into my dreams. I would count it a great success if I only had one, or a great one and a good one. The choice is easier then, of course. Once in a while I have even managed to combine two of them into a stronger story. My painful indecision comes when two or three are actively campaigning for my attention.

I think it’s helpful for writers to have a clear idea of their goals at moments like this. If you plan to write only historical romance, or to focus on science fiction, it’s simpler to eliminate all the good ideas that don’t fit. If you are publishing your work, continuing your series probably carries more weight than writing a stand-alone novel. Knowing your goals gives you something by which to judge each idea and concept.

To make the process easier, I’ve developed a list of questions to answer when I am stuck in the agony of choice. I’ll draw columns for each idea and use the questions as rows. My goal is to find out which story has the most meaning for me personally, (which is usually directly correlated to how much it make me uncomfortable), and which seems to have the most “juice.” Some ideas look fantastic when first developed, but not all of them have the juice to carry a full novel.

Every writer develops their own list of questions. I’m sharing a few of mine in case you need a starting point.

  • Which of these stories am I dreaming about?
  • Which of these stories pops into my head most often?
  • Which of these stories feel like they can wait?
  • Which of these stories brings emotions to the surface?
  • Which of these main characters is most/least like me?
  • What is the Truth for each of these stories/characters?
  • Which of these stories or characters makes me most uncomfortable?
  • Which character makes the most profound change in their arc?

You get the idea. I use about 16 questions on average. Generally speaking, it’s worked for me to go through a process like this. What’s most telling (and kind of maddening, in a good way) is when I write a lot about one idea and feel it’s the best option only to throw it all out the window and run after the other idea full speed. I don’t think I’d have found the hidden commitment for it if I hadn’t put it through the process.

Squirrel Syndrome gets us all at one time or another. The Agony of Choice will, too. In both cases, however, we can take control.


How have you resolved your Agony of Choice? If prone to Squirrel Syndrome, how often do you let it pull you off course?

 

 

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Just for You, Our Muses

Happy Monday! I hope you had a great weekend and/or Mother’s Day.

If you read the A to Z series in April, you might have caught the news that I’ve spend much of the last year training to become a life coach specializing in creativity, the creative process, and writers. YOU are the inspiration for that endeavor. This community not only gave me the courage, you gave me the vision for how I can give back and share all I’ve learned over a lifetime of creativity.

Because I feel so blessed to be part of the Muse community, I wanted to share with you a couple of opportunities before anyone else sees them. In fact, I’m not offering these anywhere else, though you are free to share them.

The first is that, now that training is complete, I need to amass 100 coaching hours for my first certification rank with the International Coach Federation. Though I’m well on my way, I discovered I could “give away” 30 of those hours. This is first for the Muse community and then for anyone you know that might be interested: up to ten sessions of coaching on subjects of your choosing, m. The best thing about coaching is that it serves YOU, not the coach. If you are interested in becoming a pro bono client (or know someone who is), please email me at robynalruecoaching [at] gmail.com. Preference goes first to this community and then to the people we know.

The second is that International Coach Week begins May 15th. In honor of ICW, and again for the Muse community, all coaching is 50% off if booked through midnight on May 21st. For a description and more information, I’ve set up a page here for reference.

In addition to individual coaching, I also offer group coaching, with the enhanced opportunity for peer-to-peer learning. I’m only running one “program” at this time, which is Habit Builder 45, designed to help you establish new habits for a lifetime. Again, click here for more information.

I am so honored to be of service to a community that has been so supportive. I’ll be writing posts here with what I’ve learned that is both of general benefit and specifically of benefit to writers. I’ve got a whole year of post ideas backed up between my ears!

If you have any questions at all about coaching or anything in this post, please do not hesitate to ask them in the comments below or privately at robynlaruecoaching [at] gmail.com.

Z – Zest

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating, by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road he wants to go, I would only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.
Ray Bradbury

I was sure I’d lost my zest. I was pretty sure my gusto had flown the coop.

I tend to expect a lot of myself in terms of creative work. In the past I’ve enjoyed a high output of words and never thought that would change.

Until it did.

Last year, my body delivered its opinion of my expectations and how I handle stress by planting me in the hospital (10 days in March).  I’m still working on the necessary lifestyle adjustments it was clear I needed, including my attitudes toward my own production. Overachievers beware.

I came out of the hospital with two goals: make meaning and find middle ground. So I started a course to become a creativity coach and I got some accountability for my expectations. It’s a good thing I did because November brought the removal of my cancerous thyroid (great news) and the issues of adjusting the replacement hormone, which is a surprisingly long process. Fatigue on a whole new level, folks. If I had gone through that without someone reminding me it would be a good idea to “adjust your expectations, Robyn!” I’d have fallen into my old ways pretty fast.

Mind over matter and “just do it” have been a big part of my life until this past year. I’ve got a whole new level of compassion and empathy for people struggling to get their creative work done. I’ve got a whole new picture of what we do to ourselves with unrealistic expectations, both high and low. I’m navigating toward that middle ground.

So it seems the zest is still there. The gusto hasn’t flown away. I have good habits in place and a craving to put words on paper. Not long ago I complained to my coach about not getting thing done well enough or fast enough. She laughed and pointed to the task list I sent her, reminding me I was getting things done. And I do. I’ve had an enormously productive six months.

Just not the way I used to.

And I need to be okay with that.

Because I still have my zest.


How is your gusto? Do you feel that zest regularly?

X – Words as X-Rays

Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly–they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

The right words reveal our bony parts. They dig in and expose new thoughts, revelations, feelings. The right words can comfort or challenge, affirm or deliver a swift kick. The right words can change us entirely as we sit with them.  The desire to write the right words is strong. How many of us miss the mark?

When I think of the works of Brene Brown, C.S. Lewis, Judith Glaser, or Margaret Atwood, I think of the subtle shift of my being because I read the right words at the right time.

How often have you read words that revealed your bony parts? Can you recall a book or piece of writing that pierced you? How long did those words stay with you?

V – Voyage of Discovery

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust
Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol I

This is another of my favorite quotes. It’s helped a lot in times of feeling my circumstances were never going to change for the better. Developing new eyes, a new way of looking at things, has been so helpful.

The main reason I love this quote is because most main characters come to a moment of decision, a moment when they look on their circumstances with new eyes and perspective. It’s so pivotal and integral to story telling, isn’t it? I think it’s also pivotal in life, but that’s me.

What have you discovered when you’ve gained a new perspective? How did it change you? Do you relish this moment in every novel as I do?