Fooling the Overachiever into Submission Using the Scientific Method

1. State the Problem:

20110103 Dog With a Problem

I’ve had pretty severe writer’s block for a couple of months. The timing happens to be ironic, as the past month has found me with more free time than I would normally have, which should translate into more time to write. Time was always my (ever so lame) excuse before, and now that I no longer have that to fall back on, I needed to figure out what the hell was actually wrong with me.

My goal has been to finish the first draft, and ago on to create a second draft, of The Storm and the Darkness before the end of March, but at the rate I’ve been writing, its going to be March 2024 before it gets finished. So….

2. Form a Hypothesis:

images (3)

People who have known me awhile can vouch for this, but I’ve always been something of an overachiever. I was always the first one to finish an assignment in class, and when a project was given to me, I would do extra stuff (sparkles! explosions!) just because I could. I was the kid who needed to know exactly how many pieces of vegetables on my plate that you needed me to eat, and if the answer was 10 I’ll eat 12, but dammit I won’t eat any if I don’t know what you want from me.

I might half-ass the dishes, but that term paper is going to shine.

This half-useful, somewhat unflattering trait has been the engine behind my writing for years. It’s probably been the only reason I can finish the grueling 50,000 words in 30 day NaNoWriMo assignment each year. Hell, I usually finish a whole week early (you know, overachieving and whatnot). This has nothing to do with being smart (although, I’d like to think I am). It has everything to do with this obnoxious, childish desire to “one up” everything: sometimes, to show off (hey, look how awesome I am compared to the rest of you! Go ahead, bask in it!), or sometimes, when facing a deadline, to buy myself some breathing room and hopefully reduce the stress of sliding into finish with a “hail mary” move at the eleventh hour. Yes, I am that shameless asshole of your youth who had nothing better to do than make everyone else look bad. Sorry.


Hey- wait a second…where is this overachiever when I have writer’s block?

And then, it occurred to me. For an overachiever to…well…overachieve, they must have a goal. There has to be a target, an end, and a means of achieving, and then passing, said target. Suddenly, it was all astonishingly simple: If I wanted to finish writing my book, I needed to set clear goals, like I did during NaNoWriMo, and then work to not just achieve but annihilate the goals into the ground. It might not look good, hell it might even be so ugly even the dog won’t play with it, but the words would be on the paper because failure is not an option.

And, that’s what editing is for, right?


3. Perform Experiment:


So, using NaNoWriMo as a guideline, I set a goal for myself: I figured I needed about 50k more words in my novel (currently sitting at 50k) which is 1667 words/day over 30 days. I made a spreadsheet (because, an OCD overachiever like myself must track everything into oblivion), and started the timer.

4. Analyze Data:


Aaand…guess what?

I’ve been writing now for three days, and, as expected, I’ve crushed my daily goal of 1667.

Here’s what I have so far:

2/20- 1812

2/21- 2395

2/22- 4637

2/23- 2040

Of course my spreadsheet is also set to track progress and pace to goal, so it tells me that I on the 22nd I actually was 278% to my daily goal, and that, at day 4, I am 22% to my overall goal of 50k (if I was right “at” goal I’d be at 13%). Bam!



5. Draw Conclusion:

So, yeah. Hypothesis proved. Apparently all I had to do was insult my inner overachiever (she really is a sensitive little turd) and suddenly I am writing again. Foolproof junk science wins again. Booyah!


13 thoughts on “Fooling the Overachiever into Submission Using the Scientific Method

    1. #2 is really interesting…I don’t think its ever occurred to me to stop writing for the day in a middle of a thought (I usually write until I’m out of ideas). It’s intriguing though, because it means that next time you sit down to write you won’t just stare at the screen for hours. I might have to give that a shot.

      I also like #5 because show vs. tell has always been hard for me…and sometimes, to get it right, I actually have to close my eyes and visualize being in my character’s shoes.

      Thanks for sharing these!

  1. As Jayne would say, “Hi-la-rious!” (Firefly ref?)

    Way to go, blowing the word block out of the water with the big guns.

    I CAN appreciate – I used to be like you – was like you in my youth (in my defense, I couldn’t compete on social popularity – it was all I had to ruin the grading curve).

    I can’t actually do what you do – my method for dealing with writer’s block (which still happens occasionally) is to WRITE it out. Then I’m not actually writing (the WIP), so it doesn’t count as not having writer’s block, BUT I’m actually writing words on paper which somehow convinces my inner critic that I can, indeed write, and it usually takes a few days, but then I get bored of having to write about why I have writer’s block, and it seems to quietly go away.

    Your method sounds like a lot more fun. Good use of the scientific method (which usually isn’t this tidy): gather ye up some data, and analyze the heck out of it=solve the problem.

    Thanks for a fun read.

    1. I agree, the scientific method does not usually allow issues to be solved quite so easily. I think it might be one of the few useful things I retained from junior high, though, but its probably done more toward fueling my OCD than anything else.

      I never thought about writing something out on paper (oh, if only my younger, computer-less self could hear me say this), but that’s a really inventive way to do it. Freewriting (set a timer and type without stopping to breathe until the timer stops) is another way I cure writer’s block sometimes, but the problem is that sometimes some really bizarre ideas come out from that. Then again, sometimes some great ones come out too. It’s how I finally bridged the gap to the ending to my first book.

      Thanks for the comments, and glad you enjoyed it!

  2. A girl I knew back in varsity used to say that the more you have to do, the more you get done. Find that to be so true – write my best and my most on days that the ‘time excuse’ would actually be believable :P.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, by the way! An honour to have you :D.

    1. I know, I hate to say it but you can’t actually have quality without some degree of quantity, and to to get quantity, sometimes you have to forego quality to get things done…but later you’ll look back and realize, hey, maybe there is quality after all!

      Thanks for stopping by here too…I liked your article about Grey vs. Thorne. I’ve never watched Revenge, but I get the idea (I did watch Prison Break). First season is fresh and awesome, but a forced rejig of the premise for another season usually ends in disaster. I think this may be why the HBO shows do so well, because they are so character-driven as well.

      Take care 🙂

  3. I never participated in NaNoWriMo because it falls on a month that is too heavy with lesson/unit planning and parent-teacher conferencing, but I admire those who succeed in it! Maybe I’ll make my own MiWriMo (Michelle Writing Month) in July. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s