Analysis paralysis

One of the great things the Internet provides writers is a ton of writing advice. Many professional writers have blogs or write columns online that talk about the writing process and to someone like me, who is still a pretty new pro, still eager to learn, this advice can be invaluable. That said, I sometimes find myself having trouble processing and applying all of it. Even if I pick and choose, I find that, on occasion, I am way over-thinking things and that is never good because the story starts to deteriorate the minute the over-thinking begin. I liken it to what happens to a pitcher in a baseball game when he gets into his head. He’ll start overthrowing the ball, missing the strike zone, not hitting his mark. It’s no different for writers. In my day job, when working on requirements analysis for a software project this phenomenon is known as analysis paralysis.

I’ve found this happening to me on two separate projects recently. The first is a long, hard-science fiction novelette. In that case, the paralysis was caused by over-thinking the plot. In the second case, science fiction but more near-future, the paralysis was caused by worrying about too much in the first draft. For instance, I wrote a passage this evening of about 500 words that summarized a 60-year relationship between husband and wife. All the while, however, I worried that it felt too much like an info-dump. I still think it feels too much like and info-dump, but this is not the kind of thing you should be worrying about on a first draft. I know better than this!

Sometimes I’ll find myself stalled wondering if a scene is described well enough: have I engaged multiple senses? Am I using too many attributions in the dialog? Is there an arc in this character’s story and is it enough of an arc? All of these things slow me down, force me to second guess when I should be enjoying the process of story-telling. For me, it is in the second draft that I look to correct these mistakes. The key is getting that first draft done, no matter how bad it might seem, and having a good time while doing it.

I don’t know if other writers run into this analysis paralysis like I do, but when I get there, I’ve found a couple of techniques useful for getting me out:

  1. Recast a scene in a more dramatic way or change the environment completely. In the novelette, I had a scene that took place in a barely described office and it seemed to move slow. I was getting stuck on it, not moving forward because my character was stuck in that damn office. So I took him out of the office, rewrote the scene in a place that I really wanted to be at the time, in Hawaii with the trade winds blowing through my hair–and that made all of the difference.
  2. Switch to another project that is completely different and is intentionally not planned out. I did this a few nights ago when my two main WIPs were stalled. I turned to a piece of flash fiction I’d been wanting to write. The story was not planned out, other than knowing I wanted to keep it under 1,000 words. It was written in a completely different style and was my attempt at being morbidly funny. It had the added benefit of being short enough to finish in a single sitting and there is always a small victory dance and endorphin rush when I finish a draft–any draft.

All the advice out there is good and can be helpful, but you have to know when to follow it and when to cast it aside. Like that pitcher on the mound, sometimes you’ve got to get out of your head, forget the mechanics and just hurl the ball into the glove like you did when you were a kid. For me, that can end up being some of the best advice that I follow.