The journey of a thousand whatevers doesn’t start with a single step, it starts with a decision.
Decisions are powerful things, but we have to get them out of the way if we are to move forward. Perpetually keeping your options open leaves you with nothing but options. If you’ve ever known anyone who truly lives in the moment, nothing matters except that moment. Things only have value over time, and that value starts with choosing one thing over another.
In an excerpt from his AMA, writer and producer Dan Harmon tackles writer’s block, saying, “[T]he reason you’re having a hard time writing is because of a conflict between the goal of writing well and the fear of writing badly.” The act of writing kills the fear of writing. Making the decision to just get down to it dispels the crippling fear of doing it.
From the page I feel a lot of pressure
I treat it like it’s too precious
Like there’s an audience saying, ‘Impress us!’
But it’s just my impression
— Roy Christopher, June 19, 2007
That same conflict is evident in other processes besides writing, and it often builds into a wall that stops us from doing the things we want to do. Novelist Emma Campion (2016) puts it this way:
All this fear and doubt was simply a surge of energy that needed release, and it was my choice whether I used it to destroy or create. I played with this and noticed that when I used it to destroy, the energy didn’t release but grew in intensity; but when I used it to tell a story I could feel the relaxation as the pressure eased (p. 12).
That energy just builds until you either decide to use it, or it uses you. Think about how big a deal finding a meal can be: It’s really not that crucial of a choice, it just has to be done — repeatedly. That’s why many overly productive people eat the same few meals over and over again to avoid this unnecessary deadlock. Campion concludes, “All the edgy feelings want is for me to surrender to the story. All I need to do is get out of my own way” (p. 12). You are most often the thing that is holding you back.
I love the way Charlie Skinner (played by Sam Waterston) expresses the power of making decisions in the beginning of this clip from The Newsroom (2012): “We just decided to.” Sometimes that’s all it takes.
Remember: There is nothing so liberating as making a decision.
Campion, Emma. (2016). Turning Fear into Excitement. In Signature’s Ultimate Guide to Writing Advice (p. 12). New York: Penguin Random House.
Gooden, Casey. (Writer & Director). (2015). We’ll Find Something. New York: We’ll Find Something.
Sorkin, Aaron (Writer), & Mottola, Greg (Director). (2012). We Just Decided To [Televison series episode]. In A. Sorkin & S. Rudin (Producers), The Newsroom. New York: Home Box Office.
Wright, Megh. (2016, November 4). Read Dan Harmon’s Excellent Advice for Overcoming Writer’s Block. Splitsider.com.