Friday 26 May 2017

The Agony of Choice

By Nick Cross

Photo by Jared Cherup

Over the last month, I seem to have changed my mind on an almost daily basis regarding what this blog would be about. At the risk of sounding like a Friends episode list, there was:

  • The one about what writers can learn from tech startups
  • The one about how I got the first critique back on my new YA novel and how I've started the book again but it's OK because it’s actually much better for it.
  • The one about how I’m not going to send the completed book to any agents or publishers and have resolved to self-publish from the outset.
  • The one about mental health, mortality and suicide, inspired by the tragic death of my teenage hero, Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.
  • The one about awards, because I realised that the Notes from the Slushpile team have an amazing FOUR Crystal Kite Awards among them and aren’t they all crazy talented?

Any and none of these may still become blog posts in the future, of course. But what I realised I actually wanted to blog about was difficulty of choosing between these options. When you have a surfeit of good ideas but limited time available, how do you choose the one idea to go forward with?

When I initially did a Google search for “making good choices” the pages that came back were about life choices. I’ve had life coaching in the past, so the advice - about keeping a list of your core values and making your decision according to how closely the option fits your value set - was familiar. And I already know that creativity is one of my core values - the problem is that I’m too creative!

Less lightbulb moments, please...          Photo by Brooke

However, when I Googled “having too many ideas” I started to find more useful stuff. One site told me I had a “hyper-creative mind,” with the emphasis on the hyper. In fact, it likened my symptoms to those of ADHD, and I must confess I’ve occasionally wondered if I have a touch of that. My aunt recently told me that the family labelled me “hyperactive” as a child and I was often told to “go for a run around the garden” to burn off some of my excess energy. I do remember spending a lot of time in that garden!

Just another gentle walk around the garden.          Photo by Adam Piotrowski

I’ve also recently been introduced to the term “multipotentialite,” which is defined as:
A person who has many different interests and creative pursuits in life. Multipotentialites thrive on learning, exploring, and mastering new skills. They are excellent at bringing disparate ideas together in creative ways, making them incredible innovators and problem solvers.

That sounds good right? And I think it has some truth for me, as I do pick things up very quickly and enjoy exploring a breadth of subjects without wanting to specialise in any particular one. But this may also contribute to my urge to flit between tasks without settling on any.

In some ways, the need to choose between several competing ideas is an elaborate form of procrastination. If you never complete anything, then you never have to fail at anything. You can just keep having ideas, safe in the knowledge that it doesn’t matter if none of them stand up to closer inspection.

Therefore, I need to stop procrastinating on this blog post and actually give you some advice! Here are the best tips I’ve found for reducing choice-related pain:

  • Get away from your desk - This is good advice anytime, although I’ll admit that sometimes I want to leave my desk five minutes after sitting down! But when you’re juggling a lot of choices, taking a walk and getting some perspective can help.
  • Which idea shouts loudest? - Pick the idea that makes you want to get on with writing it. That may not be the best idea (it may even be the stupidest!) but you have much more chance of finishing a piece if you’re invested in the concept.
  • Don’t choose straight away - If you regularly have loads of ideas, get into the habit of writing them down and leaving them to ferment. If they jump out at you when you revisit them after a week or so, then they’re worth progressing.
  • Ideas are cheap - Don’t worry that someone else is going to steal your brilliant idea before you can get around to doing anything with it. You can always think up more.
  • Phone a friend - Ask your fellow writers for help in selecting the best idea. After all, they’re probably not doing anything important, just sitting around in their pyjamas at 3:30 in the afternoon.
  • Some ideas are born to die - Don’t feel bad about throwing some of your concepts into that big round filing cabinet under your desk. It might seem scary to chuck stuff away, but removing mental clutter makes you feel great.
  • Deadlines are horrible and wonderful - This blog post would not exist had I not had a deadline to meet.

This is how deadlines make you feel.          Photo by Bernard Goldbach

So there you go. Once again, I solve my problem of not knowing what to write about by writing about that instead. Go me!

Incidently, the agony of choosing between a number of competing ideas may not always be a problem it is today. Scientists recently detected an unusually cold area of space that may provide proof for the theory of parallel universes. Perhaps there is a version of me somewhere who only has one (really good) idea at a time, or another version that blogs every day and so could cover each of the subjects in depth. Maybe there’s even a version of you who’d like to leave a comment at the bottom of the post...


Nick Cross is a children's writer and Undiscovered Voices winner. He received a 2015 SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, for his short story The Last Typewriter.

Nick is also the Blog Network Editor for SCBWI Words & Pictures magazine. His Ten-Minute Blog Break column appears fortnightly on W&P.


  1. I thought about leaving a comment, made a cup of tea, walked the dogs, slept on it and now here I am. Job done! Oh sorry, haven't actually left a comment. As ever another winning Slushpile article/blog/thing.

  2. This is a post I didn't even know I needed! Thanks Nick x

  3. It's like commitment phobia, isn't it? I have a long period of being frightened of commitment before I decide to get on with a particular novel. It's a door of no return moment. You've got to write the book to the bitter – or not – end and you still have the chance to run away if you avoid committing. But being undecided is a limbo place. I'm always glad when I finally decide to go for it. But not as glad as when I finish the project!

  4. I believe that following your tips and guidelines, I will become able to have best choice.


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