Sunday, November 08, 2009

On refusing to choose

Last month, I posted that I had just got a copy of Barbara Sher's book, Refuse to Choose, and promised I'd let all others out there who also want to do EVERYTHING know what I thought about it.


So these are the key points I took from the book.

Sher says that some people are just 'genetically wired to pursue many areas'. She calls us Scanners. We're not doing anything wrong apparently. And we're not quitters. It's just that we are looking for something different from a project than the outcome most people would expect.

Sher elaborates on this idea throughout the book. She says, 'To Scanners, the world is like a big candy store full of fascinating opportunities, and all they want is to reach out and stuff their pockets.' Sounds great, but apparently we're starving there, because we don't want to have to make the choice about which sweetie or candy to eat.


The first tool she suggests is the Scanner daybook. Everytime we think of a new idea, we spend some time writing it in our daybook. Then we go back to what we were doing, feeling safe that the idea won't go away. I've started to do this - I like the idea that it's almost an extension of my mind, and do you know what? I'm starting to feel proud of all these different ideas I have! My daybook is like some kind of weird novel in itself.

Another way of using the daybook was to go round the house and make a note on all the projects we find there. From those we've only just thought about, to those started. Make no judgments, just record. This was extraordinary - one thing I realised was that I would be a super-human if I did all those things I've been beating myself up for not doing. BUT also that I have some great ideas and I can get other people (experts) to finish some off for me. Upholsterers etc. I can still be creative that way.

And thirdly, write down a list of your achievements, big and small, even if you didn't finish what you set out to do, or it was just a plan. Write down the idea. I haven't done this, but could see it would be useful to stop all the 'but I never actually do anything' voices!


But there's something else that this list would be good for, and which I have done with other projects, and that is to ask two questions of each project:

a) What was the most exciting or interesting part of the experience?
b) Why did you stop when you did?

Sher says you may start to see a pattern - it might be you want to find out how to do something, or you are more interested in self-expression rather than commercial gain, or you like getting new information, or the learning experience.

And this is why you set out to do the project. When you get what you started it for, you stop. It's not that you've quit but that you've succeeded.

There are lots more similar type exercises - wrapping up all your unfinished projects with a label and putting them on a bookshelf to celebrate them, writing a list of 1,000 things you want to do before you die (like the books 1,000 Places To See etc), inviting friends over to show them the projects you're working on and hearing what they're working on.


One thing I'm going to be taking away is her idea of splitting the day up with a school-type timetable. Instead of 40 minutes of Maths, I'm going to allocate that time to a particular project. And then when the metaphorical school bell rings, I'll swop to another project. With huge dollops of the timetable put over to the job and other paid work, I should still have time to fit in other projects. Forty minutes at a time ...

Another thing I liked was her suggestion of getting about 20 three-ring binders and project boxes to keep the information separate, moving from one to another and just concentrating on the file that is open, putting everything away at the end of the time spent on it. Also adding to each binder or box anything on each project we find or think of as we go along.


All the ideas seemed to be at heart about looking at what we really want to get out of the projects we take on. One thing I realised is that I like to learn new things - and I like to tell other people about what I've learnt. Once I have the hang of something it's not so interesting to me so I tend to leave it to one side. Other people might like the materials involved, rather than the actual doing. Others want to create for themselves, turning a hobby into a business spoils it for them even if everyone is telling them that's what they should be doing until they believe it themselves. Sounds so simple, but it explains why I enjoyed journalism so much. A new subject to learn about every week. So now, with bigger book-size projects, I have to work out ways that allow me to keep learning and teaching. This may take the form, as Sher suggests, of new projects that I take on in the break-times of my school timetable!

And so what if I go slowly this way? At least I'll get more done than rushing round wondering what I should be doing and feeling guilty for what I might be missing.

Barbara Sher has a website here.


Kathryn's Daily Writing Workout said...

I'm sure I've heard about us 'scanners' before but I'm not sure where. I'm very glad to hear that the idea is being celebrated. Having to choose one thing is so restrictive. I have a collection of new files I started in the summer, each containing my different areas of interest. It is comforting to know that they are there and that if I get a bit overwhelmed and confused by too many thoughts struggling for prominence, it imposes some sort of order. I will add reading the book to my long list of things to do!

Christine said...

This is so've written about something I've been thinking hard about recently and I've already adopted some of the suggestions and they work...glad to know I'm on the right track afterall...

SueG said...

Really interesting. I didn't know I was a scanner...I just spent the weekend doing the whole coming up with an idea and getting excited thing, too, and then wondering if I'll really do it, and if not, why not. Maybe this is why I write in so many genres, too. Oh, and did you get my email re coming up with a lunch date? :-)

Sarah Salway said...

Yes, Kathryn, I like the different way of looking at things - how many inventions etc were, er, invented by, er, inventors who had vast numbers of interests and therefore made strange connections? (apologies for lack of words. I seem to have used them all up in other writings today!)

And Christine, love that synchronicity. Would be interested to know which suggestions you've adopted and how they're working for you.

Sarah Salway said...

Hey Sue, I wondered about the multi-genre thing too. Maybe we should spend time thinking how this develops each different piece of writing?

Cornflower said...

Don't you love books which give you an excuse to visit a stationery shop? Now I'm armed with my gluestick and large blank notebook there'll be no stopping me!

Sophie Playle said...

This is really interesting, Sarah. Thanks for sharing. The book seems like it has some interesting ideas. I'd be interested to see which ideas/habits stick with you in the future.

Sarah Salway said...

Yep, Karen. In fact I think a book which told us a new stationery item to buy every page would probably do very well. Rymans as sponsor?!
And yep, Sophie. I'll report back!

VP said...

Interesting. I'm a scanner, but I live with a non-scanner (an engineer) who gets frustrated that my butterfly mind won't go into any depth on anything.

Now I can tell him my bunch of unfinished projects aren't that at all - I've just got what I need out of them. Result!