In the world of board-gaming, there’s a concept called “Analysis Paralysis” where the player, when presented with too many options, grinds to a halt. Games like Suburbia or Settlers of Catan provide a wide array of choices and some people can quickly find themselves bogged down with decisions. That shouldn’t stop you from playing, mind you, but it is something to be aware of. It’s especially important if you’re going to invite folks who tend to over-analyze every possible outcome. You’ll probably still love gaming with them, but it’s smart to have some patience on hand.
Maybe even an extra bottle of wine.
Analysis Paralysis isn’t unique to the gaming world. Spend any time on a writing forum and you’ll quickly discover it’s a profession ripe for the harvest of indecision. At least once a week, sometimes even once a day, a writer will mention how they’re stuck on a scene or their muse has gone quiet. They’ll examine a chapter over and over, trying to nail it down.
The thing is, we’ve all suffered from it. Queries, those movie-trailer teasers writers send to agents and publishers, are one of the worst generators of Analysis Paralysis because every word needs to be perfect. Mess up a query letter and your chances of enticing someone to pick up your book decrease exponentially.
Same goes for the manuscript itself. If the first few chapters don’t entice readers, they’re less inclined to finish it, much less buy the next book in your series. With so many options out there for readers, it’s imperative to keep them engaged from the first page to the final word.
Worrying about that to the point of becoming immobile, however, is worse.
I wish I’d known early on that Analysis Paralysis existed in writing as well. Before I got serious about publishing, I happily hammered out words without much concern for quality. (Trust me, if you ever read some of my early manuscripts, you’d understand). The moment I decided to put a book in print, however, that freewheeling mentality screeched to a halt. Not only did I begin fretting over scenes, chapters, and characters, but also the quality of query letters and synopses. My fear that making one wrong move would torpedo my ship of dream before it even left the docks put me in a loop where I wanted to perfect each and every word over and over again.
The thing is, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perfection is the ideal of any writer. Any professional for that matter. But at some point, you have to stop improving, or at least worrying about it, and move forward. Spend too much time reaching for the ideal and you’ll miss out on something actual. As the old saying goes, “Better is the enemy of Good Enough.”
That’s not to say you send out garbage. Far from it. But one of the worst things a writer can do is spin their wheels.
An old instructor of mine liked to paraphrase Dante: “The hottest place in hell are reserved for those, who in time of moral crisis, do absolutely nothing.” He applied this to the Marine Corps mantra that the fastest way to get yourself and your unit killed is to stay put. Making a decision, right or wrong, is always preferable to making no decision at all. Stand still long enough and you’re a sitting duck. The perfect plan on paper that’s never used is almost always trucked in favor of terrible one that’s put into action.
Same applies to writing. Authors, especially new ones, can easily wrap themselves in a cocoon of worry. They look at all these books getting published and begin to think theirs isn’t up to snuff. Or they fret that a scene, a character, a chapter doesn’t shine. So they polish, they revise, they edit, they mull. That’s good. You need that as a writer. You need to improve, but you also need to keep creating so you can submit your story.
When you do eventually put yourself out there, you’ll absolutely face rejection. A lot of it, in fact. Of all the constants for writers, that one is carved in stone. But you might also find yourself offered representation from an agent or a publishing contract. Plain and simple, you won’t know till you try.
Analysis Paralysis is a tricky mistress because it sneaks up on you. You want to submit your best, but too much time stuck in the “improvement loop” means you’re not going anywhere. There’s no easy way to get around it, but figuring out the line between polishing something till it shines and polishing it because you’re unwilling to make a leap of faith is hard. It certainly took me a while to figure it out. If I hadn’t, Marcus and Company would still be in a drawer, collected dust.
Ultimately, the choice to move forward is up to you. Only you know when it’s right to stop revising and start submitting. When you hit that point, it may be the right decision or it may be the wrong one. But it’s a decision none-the-less and one that can break the cycle of Analysis Paralysis.