Monday, April 23, 2007

Paralysis by Analysis

There is a term called Paralysis by Analysis that refers to the phenomenon of gathering so much data and looking at a problem for so long that the resulting lack of progress or lack of a decision outweighs the benefit of performing the analysis.

I am most familiar with the term within the context of business, but it’s a problem for athletes, musicians, artists, writers and I’d venture a guess to anyone about to embark on a big decision or project.

I am there with my writing. Between reading Blogs and books on craft, I have started to write and then rejected at least six stories over the last month. The additional information I’m absorbing is all extremely valuable, but it’s intimidating and impossible to absorb entirely. Ignorance was bliss 21,000 pages into the draft novel I started several months ago and I won’t say there isn’t some salvageable material in there, but now that I’m starting to know what I don’t know, it’s almost overwhelming.

I have no sense of place! The theme is unclear! The characters don’t have enough depth! The stakes aren’t high enough! The tension isn’t high enough! I’m not saying anything new! Yikes!

Alright, that’s enough of a meltdown. I know what I need to do. I have enough information to go back to the drawing board and frame my ideas with the new insights I’ve gained. Better now than into the third or fourth revision of my first manuscript.

For the rest of the week, I’ll plot and diagram out my story, get a new draft started and I will not read anything new except good fiction so I can remember what it looks like.

It’s all about balance. Did I mention last week that’s a challenge for me?


Leslie said...

You're doing great! Take a breath - and take a look at what you've been doing from an outsider's perspective - impressive.
Your post made me smile as I can identify so well with your 'paralysis'. Breathe...and keep up the good work :)

Nic said...

LOL! I soooooo understand the "not knowing what I don't know" problem. But, it should NOT be used as an excuse to do something related to your goal...even a blog entry counts as positive motion towards your goal. Now that I've lectured you, please sit me down and say the same thing to me. :-)

Lisa said...


Thanks for the encouragement! I guess it's true that anything worth doing is worth doing well...and that ain't easy!


I know painters can relate to this. Nancy Rynes was here yesterday and said it happens to her every time she goes to a workshop. How did people learn how to do anything before there was so much readily available information? Monet and Melville didn't have bulletin boards and blogs and workshops!

Well the good news is that since I finished my last "how to" book on Sunday, I haven't picked up another. In fact, I'm reading a novel instead and plotting out my next great story ;-) take your hands off the keyboard Nicole and pick up a palette knife!

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf