In the spirit of the incredible and unfortunate circumstances in which I currently find myself, today I’d like to talk about decisions. Specifically, how making decisions (and rolling with them) can be a major help to authors trying to get through their first book. Hell, this might even apply to those trying to get through their tenth book.
Before I dive into the writing portion, I’d like to make something very clear. This entire article can really be synthesized into one short sentence: just make decisions.
This is a lesson I learned well during my time in the Army. As a leader of Soldiers, I was expected to make calculated decisions in very chaotic circumstances. At first, learning how to do this was very difficult. I’m a person that likes to calculate and plan and redefine. I like to make the best decision I can possibly make in any given circumstance. So when I had to worry about a million constantly-changing variables, I felt like I was being pulled in as many directions.
What was the answer?
Well, I remember talking to a platoon sergeant following a particular training exercise. We were learning how to react to a direct attack. I was leading the squad, and I waited too long to make a decision. “You’re all dead,” the platoon sergeant said. I asked him what the best decision would have been. He laughed, and then he said the smartest thing I’d ever heard.
“Any decision is the best decision. Just don’t sit around.”
In terms of combat, that advice meant: do anything as long as you aren’t making yourself a sitting target.
In terms of writing, that advice means: do anything to keep up the momentum. You kill your momentum and you kill the story.
It’s so easy to get stuck in the quagmire of what if, to write and then delete words we feel aren’t worthy of our skill. It’s easy to write the first chapter a million times, or never stop drafting. It’s easy to world-build and never actually start.
Questions like, “Would this character really act this way?” can completely derail us during writing. Suddenly, a session that could have been filled with words has been turned unproductive. We try to think our way out of the problem, can’t settle on what to do, and then spend hours wondering why we even try writing at all.
Just make decisions. Will those decisions be the ones that make it into the final product? Maybe. But, the point isn’t to complete a perfect draft the first time around. The point is to fumble and make mistakes and learn. The point is to finish the damn thing and then rearrange the haphazard pieces in post. Half the time, the decisions we get stuck on aren’t even all that important to the overall story. We like to trick ourselves into thinking they are, but they really aren’t.
Don’t make yourself a sitting target. Don’t just sit there thinking about what to do. Do something. Anything. The beautiful difference between live combat and writing is that in writing, you can go back and fix your mistakes.
If you’re stuck (ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING WRITER’S BLOCK), I challenge you to just make the first decision that comes to mind and roll with it. What’s likely to happen: you’ll write through it, your characters will fail at your first decision and come up with a better decision, and you’ll have surmounted the problem.
Give it a try. I promise, it’s effective.
Remember, you are the writer. The words come from you. You don’t have to wait for a muse or a deity. You don’t need permission. You don’t need every idea to be a shining, golden masterpiece. You are the god of your fictional universes, and you can do in them whatever the hell you want. Only after building the universe can you decide what doesn’t fit within it.
Make decisions. Make progress. Make yourself happy.
(Also, don’t get shot.)
Ronin makes decisions all the time! Not always the best ones… but that’s life! His writing is always the best, though. Check it out on Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and WordPress. Subscribe to his YouTube channel for neat videos every Friday!
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