An interesting thread came up recently on the ALLi Member-Only Facebook page. Authors going down the self publishing route have chosen the road of freedom – but by doing so, have we also chosen a road that can break down into so many paths that it doesn’t actually lead anywhere?
Dan Holloway brought up this topic. He says that for as long as he can remember he has done two things – write, and serially almost-achieve. He referred us to an article by Hank Pfeffer on what has been called the Too Many Aptitudes Problem, also known as the Da Vinci Dilemma.
“TMAs seem to function best at frontiers – intellectual, social or physical,” says Pfeffer. “These are the places where learning and doing are the same thing. … TMAs are usually hypercritical, a side effect of high reasoning aptitudes. They notice flaws and loopholes, errors and inconsistencies. They notice that 90% of almost anything is bullshit. They are usually good arguers and can tear just about anything to shreds – including themselves.”
I identified immediately with that. Even when I was at primary school, a wise head teacher told my mother, “Never let this child get bored. Always challenge her to do more and try something new.” He never explained what he thought I might do if I was bored, but fifty years on I now know: I tune out and do nothing.
Dan says: “If someone has an aptitude for a few things, it is clear what direction they should take in life. If they have aptitudes in many areas, they find themselves constantly faced with choices that can become bewildering, even paralysing. It’s a hard subject to broach and evokes little sympathy because just mentioning it sounds big headed.
“But many of the creative people I know face the same issue – where to turn to fulfil their calling, when their calling is first one thing then another. I am fairly sure that it’s the inability to settle in one area that is responsible for the failure to progress.”
When “What I really want to do” is ever changing, how do we decide which area should receive our serious and concentrated effort?
“TMAs will sometimes set goals,” Hank Pfeffer says, “prove to themselves that these goals are worthless, and then repeat the entire cycle. Each decision can be challenged, each goal can be laughed at – and thus nothing is worth doing. This destroys personal motivation and energy.”
I would rather do nothing creative than do anything repetitive, or from which I learn nothing new. Editing and producing a magazine to a strict deadline, in which many of the pieces I include are new to me and require different treatments, is a challenge I meet happily twice a year, but I would rather give up doing something if I can’t give it 100% — or see that I can improve on my last attempts.
A writer friend looking at three of my recent books remarked on how very different each one was from the other two – and this is why I am now self publishing rather than seeking a publisher or an agent. The idea of finding a backer for any one of my books and then being compelled by market demands and contract to churn out more of the same just appalls me. So I have great sympathy for Dan’s predicament. The trouble is, I don’t have any solutions to suggest.
Final word to Hank Pfeffer: “Money, power and self-aggrandizement don’t really motivate TMAs. Only finding something worth doing – by their own high standards – can motivate TMAs to focus enough for sustained very high achievement. Then and only then can the powerful forces of the diverse aptitudes be channelled.”
What do you think? Is this a syndrome you recognise? Is is more widespread among indie authors than other writers?
SUE MILLARD has lived since 1975 in rural Cumbria, England. She has published short stories, equestrian articles, poetry in respected journals and an award-winning nonfiction book Hoofprints in Eden. She has recently decided that with all those skills it would be a good idea to start her own small press to self-publish the books that are currently cluttering up her head – so as to make room for all the other ideas.