On commitment

I’m notoriously commitment-phobic. (Though I prefer to call it “indecisive,” or say that I like to “weigh my options.”) I don’t just mean in terms of relationships, though it did take me six years of dating to come around to the idea of marrying my now-husband, despite the fact that I had known him for at least a decade before that. I’m the kind of person who can’t walk out of a bookstore with just one book, because what if it’s not good, or when I sit down to read it, it turns out I’m not in the mood for that kind of book? I like to have backup plans. I like to have options.

When it comes to my writing, I’m the same way. I’ve always got a handful of new project ideas swirling in my head. I start one, then abandon it to work on another. It’s not that I don’t want to finish the first, but… Well, they’re good ideas, and I don’t want to let any of them go.

But the truth is, you can’t play the field and expect to be in a monogamous serious relationship at the same time. You can’t juggle a novel, a memoir, some essays, short stories and a blog and expect to make a lot of progress on any one of those projects. Yes, sometimes it’s nice to take a break form one project and work on another – but not if you end up losing sight of your progress on the first.

This morning, in an attempt to commit to one project, I made a list of all of the writing project ideas/beginnings I had. I came up with seven. Seven! Even I wasn’t aware of how many projects I had swirling about in my head (and on my hard drive). Two novels, two memoirs, a book of essays and a book of short stories. Oh. My. God.

So I wrote brief synopses of each project, and it soon became clear which were just ideas, and which I really wanted to move forward with. Writing a description of each helped me see how viable (or not) each project was, as well as how well thought-out each one was. Some of the ideas clearly needed more time to simmer.

I absolutely recommend this exercise if you’re waffling, between projects, feeling an overflow of ideas, or just not sure what to do next. I quickly saw two projects rising above the others. One is a novel, one is a book of essays.  And I committed to working on – gasp! – one of them. I revised an essay this morning, and it felt really good to be attaching myself to a project, to focus, and to move forward.

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One thought on “On commitment

  1. I think this is something I struggle with as well. Every time I start something new (usually a new story), I think that surely this one is going to be the brilliant one, the one that I’ll love and want to show off to the world. But… then things get hard, or tricky, or I feel confused or angry that things turned out differently than I planned. Which is right about the time something new presents itself and the cycle repeats.

    I like your strategy, though. No avoiding or seeing each project in a glowing warm haze. Hope the focus stays with you as you move forward with the two top winners!

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