She Who Hesitates

While waiting for my mom to get ready for a trip to the grocery store, I passed the time by perusing the San Diego Union Times. I saw an article go by that described a book touting the idea that in addition to everything else our hurry-up, go-go, do-do lifestyle is costing us, it’s also tempting us into more and more stupid decisions.

I regret I cannot recall the name of the book, but it purported to be a well supported, scientific case for the idea that the best decisions are the ones made with the greatest deliberation, just short of waiting too long. This flies in the face of much that we hear:

Go with your gut.

Your first choice is usually correct.

He who hesitates is lost.

Just do it.

By contrast, the author pointed out something I think should be obvious to everybody who’s ever started doing the homework assignment before the teacher finished explaining it (only to find when they get their grade that they did it wrong): Good decisions are made based on good information. Ergo, the longer you sit with a choice, gathering data about the options, pluses and minuses and your reactions to them, the more likely you are to make a good decision for you.

My editor may be on to the same reasoning, because she has challenged me with my next book (about Sebastian and Milly, whom you haven’t met and I’m just getting to know), to up my craft. Madam Editor says to take my time, to nibble and nosh my way through this book, not set the world on fire with a land speed record.

The result so far (about ten percent done), is a process I’m enjoying very much. I made myself figure out the entire general plot before I worked on the opening scene (thank you, Kansas). I don’t start a scene until I know what makes it an “uncuttable” addition to the book. When I write the scene, I’m mindful to put that uncuttable aspect as close to the end of the scene as I can, and I’m trying to make the writing vivid, precise and wracked with tension.

This is fun. Instead of telling myself, “If I average 3000 words a day, I can finish a draft in a month,” I’m telling myself, “It’s not done until you say it’s done, so take your time, and write the heck out of it.”

We’ll see if I can sustain this approach for an entire book, and what the results are. My next step is to figure out what about impulsive decisionmaking is so attractive, and how I can slow the process down to improve its results.

Do you have any rules of thumb regarding decisions? Do you wait twenty-four hours if it involves money? Always consult your spouse if it’s kid-related? Put off until tomorrow if you can?

To one commenter below, I’ll send a signed copy of the Advanced Reader Copy for “The Bridegroom Wore Plaid,” or the Grace Burrowes book of their choice.

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30 comments on “She Who Hesitates

  1. Hi Grace;

    How long I depend on a decision depends on what it is about/ for and how important it is. The main decision I’ve made lately is about what I’m getting my three oldest granddaughters for Christmas. They’re 6, 8, & 10, and the oldest 2 are voracious readers and the youngest is champing at the bit to learn to read, she’s just now in first grade. I’ve decided to give them and their younger sister gift cards from Half-Price books. I’m also getting at least 1 bottom of the line Kindle for them, though I’m seriously debating on getting each of them one so they don’t have to share. There are so many free books out there that my sister can download for them and if they have their own Kindles she gets hers back. The decision on how many I actually buy probably won’t be made until later this month. I’ll be watching the youngest on the 11th while my DD is at a doc’s appointment. I’ll discuss the decision with her then, though I’ve pretty much decided to buy 3. I’ll put away the money each month for one then order or buy them all in early November so I’m sure I’ll have them in plenty of time for Christmas.
    Would love to have the book you’re offering. I’d also love to have the chair that’s sitting outside in that picture, looks like it would be a nice place to curl up and read.

    • That chair caught my eye too, Molly. I admire the organization you bring to the holiday gift-giving. My Christmas book comes out in less than thirty days, and I think that’s ridiculous… except it isn’t.

  2. Oh yes, that 8 year old I mentioned has already read all of the Harry Potter books more than once. According to the school she attended last year she reads at 170% of her grade level. Shows why I want to get them Kindles, they can take them along so they can read in the car easier.

  3. I am a very slow decision maker! I avoid making decisions in the moment unless absolutely necessary, but it does seem like that goes against what everyone seems to suggest. I really don’t like regretting decisions, so I like to take my time and think through all the ramifications. Also, my husband usually has some great insights!

    Your new book process sounds great! Your books are so well crafted and the stories are so compelling. Good for you to challenge yourself to try a different process. I can’t wait to read the results!

    • Claire, I think every book has a different ideal process, and just when I think, “OK, now I at least know how I write them,” it’s time to re-evaluate. I’ve never written a book from a completed outline, for example, but I’m sure that pleasure awaits me eventually.

  4. When I stop and think about it I realize how weird I am. When I’m purchasing something I can take forever to make a decision. I’ll want to research the different brands, look for deals, read online reviews. But every teaching job I’ve had I was offered the job (in a few cases, at the end of the interview) and I’ve taken the job without thinking about it. Granted, I’ve gone on interviews because I was looking to change school systems (for a variety of reasons). I’ve only apply in school systems I want to work in so I guess it’s not that odd that I just accept a job without a lot of time to stop and think about it.

    • My dad used to keep a sticky note in his closet that said, “Can I fix what I’ve got, can I do without, can I make something else work for now?” That was how he put off mercantile decisions, but you can’t do that with a job.
      Sounds like you’re in demand, too, so if the job doesn’t work out, moving on isn’t that big of a deal.

  5. I have been sitting here for quite awhile trying to figure out what to write. Does that give you any idea of my decision making skills. I have always been questioned hard about any decision I make, someone always looking for the downside. My mother in particular is a real “Debby Downer” We went out for weeks looking for dresses for my sisters wedding. I finally found one I just loved while I was by myself, and my mom was so viscous about criticizing it that I considered skipping the wedding. She totally stole my confidence. Even though this dress was similar to others that we had looked at together, everything about it was wrong according to her.

    • Oh, the pathology of the mom gone amok… One of my friends had a Mom who’s favorite game was “Isn’t it a Shame?” If my friend came home with second place, then she heard, “Isn’t it a shame you didn’t win?” If she got the blue, “Isn’t it a shame there’s no prize money for what you do?” If there was a some prize money, “Isn’t it a shame you didn’t get high point for the weekend?” And on and on. The woman could pee on any parade, which turned out to be ye olde controlling behavior. After a while, my friend could either accept the status of an infant, depending on Mom for every opinion and decision, or she could distance herself from the Font of Negativity.
      Tough choice, either way.

  6. I became a “liberated” woman in 1981. How wonderful it was to be able to make my own decisions! It took a bit of getting used to. I didn’t have to make anyone else happy but ME! I did have to take into consideration the welfare of my 2 children, but still… I was in charge!! I learned over time that each decision was treated individually. Some were snap decisions and some took lots and lots of time. Quite often the decisions that I made quickly with a “gut feel” were right on. I have learned though that the more I have to lose… the longer I should take to make the decision. I still do both, depending on the cost to me and mine.
    Oh, how I would LOVE to have a copy of The Bridegroom Wore Plaid!!! **Quick decision… no cost to me but GREAT VALUE OBTAINED if I win!! ;o)

    • Betty, you make an interesting point. When I was around my family, and saw how much dithering and dallying went on about small things–which beach should we take the kids to? Do we get ice cream or slurpies?–I realized that single parenting develops the decision making muscles, though it maybe doesn’t do much for the patience and cooperation muscles (at least for me).

  7. Patience is a virtue: how many times have I heard and how many times has it proven itself to be true in my life? Countless!

    I am a person that reacts before thinking so yes, I have been in lots of situation where if I waited 5 seconds more, the result would have been different. Through the years, I learned to wait especially on decisions that needs some serious pondering. I learned that it is better that I not respond to a certain situation in the same instant because after I digest & process the ‘challenge’, my perspective is now different than if I dipped myself in it right away.

    I have a long way to go but age does give one wisdom and wisdom comes with understanding I can’t grasp when I was younger.

    • Once bit, twice shy. You gotta kiss a lot of toads before you meet the handsome prince. Marry in haste, repent at leisure… the adages are endless, and yet there I am, my wallet out, wanting to help…

      You’re right. Age helps, and so does realizing that saving the world is not my exclusive privilege.

  8. Hi Grace,

    This was very interesting post and it gave me another look into your writing life. Thanks so much for always sharing with us. As for the decision making, I am a true blue Aries. Every time I ignored my gut, took the time to mull over things, I made the wrong one and in some instances, it could have costed me my life. Ever since then, I’ve stayed with my gut, and it’s yet to steer me wrong.

    On the other spectrum, I am married to a man that is a Virgo, and he always, no matter how small or big the problem is will think on it, chew it up, spit it out and then examine it from all sided, pro and con it to death, and then decide, and that method works for him [while in the process is making me go berserk knowing the end result and knowing he would come to the same conclusion I already did].

    Hope you’re enjoying yourself on this extended Labor Day weekend.


  9. It depends on the decision. Some decisions require serious thought like your plots; others are more instanteous, like which candy bar to buy at the check-out line. I do believe however, that “going with your gut” is a life saver in many cases though.

    • Trudy, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve started writing without knowing how the characters will slog through to their HEA. The number of times I’ve been surprised by what ends up on the page astounds me–almost as much as the readers who tell me my plot “twists” were entirely predictable for them.

      And it’s not serious thought, it’s pleading with the universe for one good idea… just one…

  10. With 3 little children, time gets so precious, that I try to be efficient in all I do, also in decision-making. I try to be fast, try to get the pros and cons together quickly and it’s usually a what scientists call ’emotional decision’. Usually, if I am not so sure, I ask myself “Would it be so bad/what will I do/can I easily afford it, if this is the wrong decision?” -and this usually helps making the decision and quickly.

    Only with choices of great and/or long-term consequence I spend considerable time deciding, and usually not alone. And usually I let it rest for some time, think about it, rest again and think/discuss… until I am sure and happy about it.

    Rules of thumb:
    I) Don’t put much time in decisions of little consequence and once made, don’t think about if it was the right one or not; it’s made – so enjoy!.
    II) Get opinions of people I value and who are competent about the topic, if it is of great consequence. If possible, leave a back door open.

    Case example: Never having heard of you before, after reading The heirs’ excerpt I decided I don’t take a great (financial) risk in just ordering the book. Excellent choice! (Ordered Dev and Val after reading just few chapters…)

    • Connie, you make an excellent point. Sometimes making any decision and just MOVING AHEAD is going to be more informative and efficient than endless naval gazing.

      Glad you’re enjoying the books!

  11. I tend to do things probably the opposite of what should be done. Little details take me longer to decide (especially if there are a lot of choices) than major decisions. Which book to buy or what to select on the menu take me way too long and obviously the outcome is not that important but get me in an emergency or buying a major item like a house, and it’s pure instinct and gut feelings.

    • Catslady, sometimes it’s just nice to savor having options. I used to wander around the bookstore for an hour, though I’d already found the three books I could afford to buy. I wanted for a few moments to think, “I could buy any book in this store….” Well, sorta…

  12. Can’t say there has been anything wrong with you previous books, but it is good for us to try something new because we will grow in the process. I usually try to take my time making decisions if they are the important ones in life. Gathering information, opinions, etc. to help me along. And will try to wait as long as possible. Mostly, this has served me well in life. Good luck with you new endeavor. Waiting to read it when it is DONE.

    • Sue, I’m looking forward to reading it too. My sense is that when I’ve not been sure where the plot is going, I get a better book, maybe because my emphasis is on the characters. On the few occasions when I’ve had a textbook functional plot in hand early in the writing (what she wants thwarts him, what he wants thwarts her), it just doesn’t result in such a sparkly read…

      Things to work on, always things to work on.

  13. Impulsive moves in the past have taught me to be less hasty in decision making. I had been in so many situations where I was manipulated that I had no idea what my ‘gut’ was saying. I went with the flow – usually what someone else wanted. The process of listening for the still small voice of God and finding my own voice has been intense. I had to give myself permission to say “I want _____” and trust the sky wouldn’t fall. Words like “deserve” and “want” felt selfish and foolish to one who always put others first.

    Recently I was in a precarious situation and was being pressured into a decision. I almost caved, but I decided to sleep on it. In the morning the path was crystal clear – the answer came through the lyrics of a song. The decision I finally made was the opposite of what I was being pressured into doing. I never regretted the decision I made after that circumstance, although others were not happy about it. At 49, I am learning to stand on my own two feet. Finally. The waiting for an answer is getting easier.

    • Olivia, when I tell my daughter that each decade in my life is better than one before, and I’m in my prime now, she looks perplexed. I’m trying to communicate some of things you said so well. I’m learning to wait for some answers, to keep my life so nice and quiet I can hear what I need to hear and separate the noise from the music.

      Glad you didn’t cave. Really glad.

      • I love that…I think we all need to reflect and separate the music from the noise, and in this day and age when there is so much noise in the media, i think it imperative that we all take some time to reflect and enjoy the simplicity of silence. Having a child with severe autism has allowed me to slow down and take life in smaller doses rather than the large chunks that society insists that we ingest daily. Smaller doses make life more enjoyable, don’t you think? 🙂

  14. Before we make any decisions about money Hubby and I go into a quiet room and discuss it together. We don’t spend any money on anything if we both don’t agree on it.

  15. My husband and I were talking to our son about this very topic last week. He is bad about making decisions too quickly and then regretting them. All we told him was to take your time and really think about whatever it is and then live with what happens. My husband and I decide things together for the most part and we always say we won’t be upset no matter the outcome because we made the best decision we could.

  16. My husband has a tendency to deliberate on a decision for so long that no decision is made at all until necessity forces him to decide on one thing alone, and then he claims that he didn’t have enough time to decide on what to do. I have this tendency as well, but over the years I have decided to have a little more faith in my judgement, and accept the consequences of those decisions. I do not like for Fate to decide for me. We have both grown tremendously over the years, and no matter what happens I let him know that I support him regardless.