I did something very foolish this week.
I started organizing my library.
You see a pic of one corner of my library above there, along with the top of the table holding the “not yet shelved” selection of books. There’s more in boxes in the basement.
I’ve wanted to do this for a while. Since before I can remember I’ve always wanted a library; one whole room dedicated to nothing but books. Yes, the scene where Beast gives Belle the library is in fact my favorite scene out of that classic film. I was jealous. Now, however, we have one room in our house that houses books. It’s also a guest room, sure, but it is the library.
Now, what makes me taking hold of a life-long dream a foolish thing to do?
About every third book that passed by, I’d pause, gaze lovingly at its cover, caress its spine, and say to myself, “Yeah, I should read this one. It looks good.”
Book after volume after tome after pamphlet received this treatment. And now I have shelf after shelf – mostly organized, no less! – and they all call out to me to read them. And as I face that beautiful wall, as I now sit in this gorgeous room of prose and poetry, I am locked into decision paralysis.
I have far too many choices.
I could head over to the shelf I have designated for naval fiction. Some more Horatio Hornblower, or do I start some Ramage or Bolito? Right above I have a shelf thick with classics. It’s about time I read some more Dickens. I’ve never read Wind in the Willows. My wife loathes it, but I’m willing to give it a try. The opposite wall holds our expansive teen collection. I just scored four more volumes of Shusterman. He’s always good. Of course, there’s always Jane Yolen or Brian Jacques. Or do I finally tackle Hunger Games? Oh, and the magnificent center wall hallowed for genre fiction. Shall I once more indulge in The Wheel of Time? I have a few Midori Snyder books I’d like to try. My wife loves the Belgariad; shall I finally immerse myself there?
Of course, I could go on and on. That’s what happens when I have so many books I’ve never read – not to mention all the books I have read that I’d like to revisit.
Now, the point of this post isn’t to brag on my library. Some of you probably have libraries that beat mine, hands down. Rather, I’d like to talk about decision paralysis.
You see, we humans can handle only so many choices. When I look at those shelves of books, if I don’t have a good idea ahead of time what I’m looking for, I end up not choosing or taking an incredibly long time to do it. There’s just too many good options.
When you sit down to write, what are you faced with?
You have countless options. A blank sheet of paper – or a new document if you prefer to type your first draft – holds infinite possibilities. What will you write about?
You could write about that bully and how mad she made you. Focusing that anger, you could fashion a revenge piece about the meek inheriting the earth through a virus that instantly kills any outburst of violence.
You could pen a tale about the valiant hero you wished had saved your day. Concentrating on that hero, you spill enough ink to paint a story about the man who protected every young girl, a sort of adolescent Santa Claus.
You could weave a story about the lonely road you walk. Seeing the disappointment, you create a world where rain forces everyone to smile except one young woman who sees depression for the wonderful release it is.
You could wonder down untold history or prose poems about penguins or romances between strange plants on other planets.
One white sheet of paper can be so many things. And as you stare down all the possibilities, the only thing you can think to do is construct a thin airplane that flies all of two feet before plummeting.
There’s just too many choices. So what do you do? What can you do?
What do I do to choose a book? I could burn the library down. I could fashion a random selection process. I could just close the door and never walk into my beautiful room again.
Instead, before I walk into the room, I ask myself what I’m in the mood for. I narrow my options before I browse. This last time, I was in the mood for some science fiction, a single volume, but something with a little heft to it. I wanted something aimed at adults, as I’ve been swimming in the teen section for a bit. Maybe Christian science fiction, if anything happened to be there.
I came across a book I’d forgotten I had: Shivering World by Kathy Tyers. I’m about a quarter way through and I’m quite enjoying it.
I narrowed my options before I faced the deluge of choices.
You can do the same when you write. One excellent way to do this is through prompts. There are any number of good prompts out there; try Writing Prompts or even searching our database here; early in the history of the blog we had weekly prompts. This will give you a starting point. A starting point limits your options, but in doing so, it might let you free to write.
Not every prompt is gold. Not every path will lead you to an Emerald City, either. But it might end up prompting another idea. Go ahead pursue it.
Fill up that paper with a story.
Don’t worry. There’s more papers for your other ideas. Take them one at a time.
And enjoy the choices you make. There’s time for more later. Just pursue the one you’ve made now!