Struggling with an Abundance of Choice

Figuring Out How to Move Away from Fear-Based Decision Making

How it feels inside my head sometimes… (Photo: Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash.)

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by my creative work. I have plenty of projects in varying states of completion and more than enough ideas. The possibilities, in other words, abound.

The challenge is knowing exactly which possibility to focus on. Should I work on the new text-based game concept? Or maybe one of the halfway finished poetry chapbooks? Or how about the dozens of short story of novel drafts I’ve started and left to molder? Or what about the numerous essay or review ideas rattling around my head?

Each idea captivates me in its own way. But when actually sit down and write, I can sometimes be met with a wave of guilt — because maybe I’m working on the wrong thing. Maybe by working on this piece, I’m actually wasting my rather limited time and energy. Maybe I should be working on that other project instead. Maybe that other project the more important one — the one that will boost my career and provide me with the funds I need to survive within our capitalist hellhole?

These thoughts leave me feeling stuck and unsure on how to move forward. So, when I think about writing I find myself tensing up, making it even more difficult to face whatever project I happen to be focused on that particular day.

Jocelyn K. Glei, host of the Hurry Slowly podcast, recently wrote of about making these kinds of choices, both in one’s creative pursuits and relationships. She notes that she often operates from a place of scarcity — the need to generate more money, subscribers, or meet other goals.

Glei points out that operating from a place of fear can have a negative affect on the creator. She asks the reader to think about the tasks they need to get done for the week and “tune into the ambient fear/anxiety/worry” that they won’t get them done. How does this show up in the body? For many people, she notes, “it shows up as a kind of constriction — a shallowness to your breathing, a tightness in the chest, a heaviness in the body, a sluggishness in the brain.”

I relate to Glei’s description of anxiety in her post. The feelings of tension in the body and the ways in which these fears distract one from the present work are something I’ve experienced as well. Even just writing this newsletter now, I find myself thinking about the poems, fiction, and personal game writing projects I could be working on instead.

But Glei also posits another possibility:

But what if I were to operate from love instead? What if I cared for my business not because I was scared that I wouldn’t have enough, but because it can be a beautiful vehicle for sharing my gifts with the world, and a beautiful container for value exchange between me and the folks who want to participate in my work? What if I grew it and cared for it out of a mindset rooted in love rather than scarcity?

In another exercise, Glei asks the reader to think about the previous week and consider “things as you can think of, big and small, to give yourself credit for. It could be tasks accomplished, positive habits enacted, creative sparks noted, children tended to, chores taken care of, mental patterns rewired in the tiniest of ways.” Then, she advises the reader to send acknowledgement and love to themselves for all of those things. How does this shift how you feel?

Glei notes that comparing these two ways of thinking about one’s work (focusing on what needs to be done and might not get done versus focusing on what has been accomplished) provides “a tiny window into the contrast between the felt state in the body of fear versus love.”

Fear incites constriction, blocking your energy from flowing freely.

Love invites relaxation and expansion, opening up the free flow energy.

Glei’s post hits on a lot of the aspects that I’ve been feeling recently. In particular, the way in which my anxieties about my creative work have caused me to feel stuck, unable to move work. And I found it helpful to know I’m not alone in being challenged by such concerns.

Her post doesn’t provide all the answers for me, of course. Knowing that it’s better to operate from a place of love rather than fear is all well and good, but it’s easier said than done. Mediation, journaling, and visualization exercises can help, but figuring out what works and what doesn’t for an individual is an ongoing process — one that I am working to figure out.

Also, I still have a great many projects I love — far too many for me to work on all at once. Each project, whether poetry, fiction, game writing, or whatever, provides me with different challenges, different reasons why I love it and want to bring it into reality (this partially why I hold onto ideas for a decade or more).

So, I’m still figuring out how to choose between all of my beloveds. One method may be to look at which project is bringing me the most excitement when I sit down to write. Another may be to consider which project is closest to completion.

Maybe the question is less about which project I choose and more about focusing on the pleasure found in the act of writing and making things. One of the reasons I write in so many forms is that I love the specific challenge of working across formats and mediums and discovering how words are able to shape narratives in new and unexpected ways.

Part of the anxiety I have been experiencing is the result of focusing on the outcome — how the work will be published, perceived, and hopefully paid for after I’m finished with it. None of those are things I can control right now. Even after I finish a project, I have little to no control over such things then either.

What I do have control of in the here and now is the work I do. To a certain extent it doesn’t matter what project I choose to work on at any particular moment. It’s the process of working, of putting the words to the page, where I can find the love.

Good reads

Kristen Patterson starts a fight with the question, Are Science Fiction and Fantasy the Same?

May it please the court:

The Honorable John Hodgman, we should note, begins his short piece by noting that he also finds genre distinctions, or arguments about said, to be questionable or tiresome. Nonetheless, he delivers a verdict, finding that Star Wars is a narrative fueled by nostalgia rather than futuristic speculations, landing it much closer to Tolkien than Trek. This is a common enough differentiation between sci-fi and fantasy: that they look towards different horizons, the latter retro-gazing, the former speculating on what could be. Construed in this way, the two genres are not just different but full opposites.

And that is indeed a perfectly workable measure for explaining how sci-fi and fantasy stories have been traditionally classified. What bothers me, however, is the sense I get that assigning Star Wars the label of fantasy is a kind of relegation. That is, it’s not just that the fantasy label is a better fit, but that Star Wars is too unserious to deserve to be classified as sci-fi. Fantasy is fuzzy and frivolous, sci-fi is sophisticated and cerebral. (Plenty of people, I’m given to understand, think all genre fiction is fuzzy and frivolous, but that’s another matter.)

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