Overthinking is the enemy of creativity!

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things." (Click to embiggen)
(Click to embiggen)
I’m getting ready to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again, which means that I’m also nagging, wheedling, and otherwise attempting to recruit people to join in the fun. It really can be fun. Usually people respond with worry that they can’t do it, or that they’ve tried it before and didn’t finish, and therefore they don’t want to set themselves up for failure again.

The problem with that is one thing which is certain to set you up for failure is not even giving it a go.

No matter what I say, some of you (and you know who you are) will continue to protest that you’re never able to finish, you never know what to write next, et cetera, et cetera.

To which I say: bull. Pure, unadulterated bull.

You know why that claim is pure bull? Humans are hardwired to tell stories. Over 2 millions years of natural selection has strengthened and perfected the neural machinery of language and more specifically story-telling. Stories are how we constantly make sense of the world. Another driver cuts you off in traffic? When you tell someone about it later, you use narrative tools to do so, attributing possible motives, build in dramatic pauses, and probably use some colorful language.

You’re human? You can read these words? Then you know how to tell a story.

The only reason you haven’t finished before is because you decided not to finish. You might claim that you didn’t know what to say next, or claim you wrote yourself into a corner, or ran out of time. But all of those things are lies to cover up the real problem. You are afraid that what you wanted to say next was not “good enough.” You were afraid that what you wanted to say next was “wrong.”

Don’t worry about whether it is good enough. It’s a first draft. Of course it isn’t perfect, yet. But if it gets you from one paragraph to the next, it’s good enough for a first draft. Keep going.

Don’t worry about being wrong. It isn’t a math quiz or a history exam. It’s a story. Not only that, it’s your story. There aren’t objectively wrong ways to get your characters from point A to point B. If you’ve written your protagonist into a corner, the next words you type can be, “suddenly, a trapdoor opened beneath her feet.” You’re out of the corner. Worry about making a smoother transition during the second draft.

I had started to type in the previous paragraph that there aren’t wrong ways to tell a story, but that isn’t true. There is one definitively wrong way: and that is to give up.

When it comes to the editing and revision stage, there will be all sorts of considerations about continuity, and what works in the particular kind of story you’re telling, and what will work for the kind of audience that wants to read the kind of story you’re telling. Those are all things that can be fixed by rewriting, deleting, tweaking, adding, and so forth. But it is utterly impossible to fix a story that isn’t written.

So stop making excuses. Roll up your sleeves, and write.

And if you won’t listen to me, then take if from Ray Bradbury:

“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
—Ray Bradbury

5 thoughts on “Overthinking is the enemy of creativity!

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