Analysis Paralysis: Killing Your Novel Before It Dies… Or Even Lives

[So there were zero votes in last week’s poll… which I take as the entire internet choosing the secret fifth option: “Don’t care, nobody reads this crap anyway.” Which is probably for the best of humanity, so… For now, I’m going to make an effort to update every Friday, and we’ll go from there. 🙂 ]

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the “mental gallery,” and as a part of that post, I described my process of developing ideas as playing with a Rubik’s cube. When an idea presents itself, it never appears fully-formed; instead, I have to twist it and examine it, try (and fail) at different versions, and keep shifting and challenging it to try and find the right form.

The upside of a process like this is that I truly believe I get better, more thought-out, and more interesting ideas out of it. It usually means my first draft is a lot stronger and needs less major revision. And it’s something I have to do, because if I just opened a blank page and started writing, I wouldn’t get anywhere (that’s a personal quirk, not something all writers experience).

But the downside is that it’s very easy to get stuck analyzing an idea over and over again, weighing different versions with infinite pros and cons lists, never finding the perfect option because perfection does not exist. Unlike a Rubik’s cube, there is no one single solution you’re working towards; it would be like if the only goal of the Rubik’s cube was to create a colorful pattern of your own design, but you just kept twisting it because you were never satisfied where you left it.

Ultimately, this neverending process is a defense mechanism—as long as the idea is still trapped in my mental gallery, I can imagine that it will be perfect. I know that once I take it out and start actually writing it, very quickly it will show its flaws and imperfections, and it may never recover (in fact, it most likely won’t, since nothing is perfect).

There’s no easy cure for this—as my long stretch of inactivity proves. Even after managing to write one novel, I’m just as stuck on a second as I was in the long years before the first.

But I know that my current project is something I want to write, not something I think I should be writing. I love the world and the characters, and I want to share them. If I squint, I can see the book that this could be, and I want to read that book. These things tell me that this is a good project for me, something that’s true to who I am and what I want to create.

The plot, as always, is what’s holding me back and challenging me—but it always will. I’ve written before about how we talk about writing a “shitty first draft” and think it means crappy sentences and cheesy dialogue (and it does), but it also means writing silly and bad plots. That’s harder, because it’s harder to see how a plot can get better—while it’s easy to see how language might get better. But if you wait for your plot to be perfect before you start, you never will.

So, again, I ask what’s better? Perfection trapped forever in your mental gallery, or imperfection you can share with the world?

Once you decide, there’s nothing left to do but try.

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About J. Sevick

Just write.
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