This week, we’re going to be talking about writer’s block. To kick things off, I want to discuss something called decision fatigue, which has a significant impact on how often you and I experience writer’s block. At its most basic, decision fatigue is the stress we experience when we have to make numerous decisions, especially when those decisions require a trade-off.
For instance, if you were to give someone $100 and send them into a grocery store with a long list of groceries to buy—say, $120 worth—they would have to make many decisions about each individual item they’re trying to purchase. By the time they reach the register, they would likely have experienced decision fatigue. Their ability to make good decisions would have degraded throughout this experience.
On the other hand, if you give someone $500 and tell them to buy $120 worth of food, they’re probably going to breeze through the store, tossing items into their cart without a second thought because they have plenty of money to do so.
We can experience decision fatigue in writing as well. The further we go down this road, the more fatigued we become, and the more likely we are to encounter writer’s block. Decision fatigue for writers often manifests as avoidance—the act of postponing decisions because we simply don’t have the mental or spiritual strength to make them.
You may have had this experience where you’re working on a manuscript and you lose sight of the plot so you start actively avoiding the task. Or perhaps the plot has numerous threads that you’re trying to navigate, and you find yourself not making decisions. This is a symptom of decision fatigue—the state where you are tapped out and simply don’t have the energy to make choices about your story.
This state is surprisingly common, even for authors who have been at this for a long time, especially if we’re not careful and we’re not paying attention to our mental and physical state as we’re writing. What often starts as avoidance— not wanting to make a decision—can transform into paralysis, the inability to make a decision.
When that happens, it’s not so much that you don’t want to make a decision. You do want to make a decision and that’s actually the problem, because you want to make the right decision. When we’re presented with a ton of different options, and all of them seem about equally good, it can be paralyzing because we cannot determine the right decision. And because we can’t determine the right decision, we default to not making a decision, which is a decision in itself.
So, how do we overcome decision fatigue? If we find ourselves in that spot where we’re not making decisions, we’re not making forward progress, what do we do?
I like to move back to first principles whenever possible. I try to understand what principle we’re operating out of that causes us to make our choices, or in this case, not make our decisions. At the core of decision fatigue is an interesting conundrum. Decision fatigue is observed more often in people who believe in decision fatigue.
Let me repeat that to make sure you got it. People who experience decision fatigue are people who believe that making choices gets progressively harder, or that after completing a task, they will be drained of energy. This belief results in expending more energy when they are making decisions. On the contrary, people who don’t believe in limited willpower, or that making decisions gets harder over time, typically perform better.
So what does this point to? Well, it points to fear of the future being a real problem. As a writer, I feel like fear of the future is something that sits with me every day. How is this going to turn out? Is my manuscript going to be good? Is my writing actually improving? Am I just going to be stuck here forever? Will my next manuscript sell? All of these are questions that run through writers’ heads every day, but they’re not helpful questions.
We need to think about the future. We need to be able to plan for forward progress. But it’s not actually helpful for me to dwell in that place. Instead of worrying about it, the best thing for me to do is to keep making decisions. Even when I feel tired, even when I feel like I don’t know what the best decision is, I need to just make decisions and move forward.
Because we’re temporally bound, humans have this strange fixation on the present. It can be really hard to realize that your present moment isn’t the only moment. Sure, we think about the future and we think about the past, but we live in the present. Often we get so caught up in what we’re doing right now, and the importance of it, that we place all of our hopes on it. We don’t allow ourselves to understand that while the decision we make now does have an impact on the future, we’re going to have the opportunity to make a lot more decisions moving forward. As long as those decisions keep getting better, we’re going to make progress, we’re going to improve.
As a side note, I think that this is why it’s so vitally important that we write every day or as close to it as possible. That progressive repetition of writing every day forces us into forward progress. It forces us into making decisions.
So if you have writer’s block, if you’re finding it difficult to sit down and write, you might want to consider this. Is this a matter of decision fatigue? Are you choosing avoidance because you don’t want to make decisions because you don’t know which is the best decision? And if you do find yourself in that place, then your only option is to just start making decisions, is to just start moving.
I would encourage you, if you don’t already have a writing habit, try to develop one. There’s tons of information on how to do that online, and I have a couple of videos on it as well. But building a writing habit is probably the single best way we can overcome this decision fatigue as a writer.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/hcWH6M057vo
Thanks for reading and watching.
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