Is Decision Fatigue Standing Between You and Writing Success?

From: Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

Steak or salmon?

Red or white?

Wash the car or mow the lawn?

Weights or barre class?

Do the laundry or empty the dishwasher?

Mustard or mayo?

Petunias or pansies?

Cheddar or Swiss?

So what?

What’s the big deal?

Why are you wasting my time with stupid questions?

I’ve got more important things to think about, you say, and then tell me to take a hike.

My polite response: Perhaps you might want to reconsider.

Decision fatigue.

Recent articles about the draining mental aftereffects of decision-making are, I think, relevant to some of the universal problems writers confront. Being, as former president, George W. Bush, once put it, “the decider,” takes brain power and has consequences.

You’re kidding me, right?

No. Not at all. Here are a few examples.

Doctors, brides, car buyers.

Judges, menu planners, college professors, and high school students.

According to recent studies, decision fatigue affects everyone from doctors who prescribed more unneeded antibiotics later in the day than earlier to car buyers who, after deciding on model, color, upholstery, and accessories, can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rust proof their new car.

Brides beware!

A clinical psych grad studying decision fatigue and ego depletion remembered how exhausted she felt planning her wedding. She recalled the evening she and her fiancé went through the ritual of registering for gifts.

What style appealed? Modern or traditional? Rustic or sophisticated? Feminine or tailored? Girly or grownup?

What kind of dinnerware? Matched sets or flea market eclectic? Corelle or stoneware? Plastic or china or melamine? Oh, and does it have to be dishwasher safe or are you willing to hand wash?

Plus flatware: What do you prefer? Stainless steel? Matte or mirror finish? Bistro ware? Your great aunt’s silver? Which needs to be polished.

Then: towels. What size? What color? How many sets? Hand and bath definitely, but what about washcloths? Do you use them? Or do you prefer sponges? Foam or natural? Matching tub mats? Or coordinating? And what about shower curtains? Not to mention soap dishes —plastic, wood, cork, silicone or ceramic?

Sheets. Fitted or flat? Cotton or linen or flannel? Plain or printed? Striped or floral? Plaid or perhaps something with a SuperMan or WonderWoman motif? Maybe an art deco vibe? Or an Andy Warhol pop art choice? Don’t forget Jackson Pollock!

“By the end, you could have talked me into anything,” she told her fiancé, “because I just didn’t care any more.”

. . . .

Shortcuts don’t cure decision fatigue

Decision fatigue routinely warps the judgment of everyone — doctors, judges, car buyers, brides — and, I wonder, writers? Few are even aware of decision fatigue, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.

Decision fatigue is different from ordinary physical fatigue. You’re not consciously aware of being tired, but you’re low on mental energy because the more choices you make throughout the day, the more difficult each one becomes.

Your brain, deprived of glucose, eventually looks for shortcuts, usually in either one of two ways, neither of them helpful.

One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?)

The other shortcut — the one that caused my friend to break into tears at a large toy store, is paralysis. It’s the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid making any choice at all.

Which leads to questions about the connection between writer’s block and procrastination.

Writers are the ultimate deciders.

Writers make choices from an almost infinite palette of possibilities. Basically, we spend our working lives making decisions about everything from what genre we want to write to the almost infinite number of choices about plot and characters.

The genre—

What, exactly, do you want to write? Mystery, thriller, superhero, romance, women’s fiction, historical fiction, cozy, sci fi, fantasy?

Gotta pick one.

Or maybe two if you have a mash-up in mind.

The title—

Too long? Too short? Or just right?

Anne’s post offering 5 tips for choosing a title points the way.

Plot, characters and POV—

Unreliable narrator, first person, second person, or omniscient third person?

Who’s the good guy/gal? How about the hero? Who’s the villain? And what about the side-kick? Or the incidental character who turns out to play an important role?

Not to mention the thousand (at least) details about what they’re wearing, where they work and what they eat.

Plus what they look like.

Blonde, brunette or redhead?

Touches of flattering silver or drab shades of grey? Dyed or natural? Highlighted? Straight or curly? Long, short or bobbed? Permed? Ironed? Bald? Comb-over? Fro? Mohawk? Pony tail? Pig tails? Dreads? Crew cut? D.A.? Elvis-style pompadour?

And that’s just hair!

What about everything else that brings a character to life and makes him/her memorable?

Blue eyes or brown?

But don’t forget green or hazel. Beady eyes? Almond shaped, wide-set, or small?  Near sighed, far sighted, color blind? And what about that squint? Suspicious? Untrustworthy? Or is that just the bright sun in his/her eyes? 20/20? Contacts or glasses? Goggles, a microscope, a telescope, or a jeweler’s loupe?

Fat or thin?

Tall or short? Bulging biceps or beer belly? Runner slim or linebacker bulky? Svelte and sexy or pleasingly plump? Stringbean skinny or XXL?

Big city, small town?

Mountains, beach or desert? House, mansion, apartment, penthouse, refuge camp, log cabin? Hotel, motel, tent, palace, homeless shelter, distant planet, undiscovered galaxy?

Jobs and careers?

Funeral director or Hollywood stylist? Cyborg or medieval knight?

Or? Or?

Need I continue?

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

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