With writers, it seems these reasons are even readier. Talk to many writers, ask them how they’re going, and they’ll tell you why they haven’t progressed. It’s not their fault, though. Something’s come up. But they’ll get to it. When there’s time. Or at a certain date (New Year being the common starting line). Or when they’re feeling better.
Well, here are my mini-diatribes addressing ten popular excuses (in no particular order) people don’t write – because that’s what they are: excuses, not reasons.
1. Waiting for an ideal time in your life
When is this exactly? When the kids grow up, move out? When things settle down? When the planets align?
There will never be an ideal time in your life. There’ll always be something. That’s what life does to you. It throws things in your way. You can just get over one lot, when a new lot’s dropped on your head.
Instead of waiting for the ideal time in your life, learn to operate in the parameters that exist now. It may be the best you’re going to get, and even if it’s not, at least you learn to work in adversity.
2. Can’t today, I’ll start tomorrow
Tomorrow always seems ideal. Tomorrow’s fresh and new and – as of this moment – unsullied. But there are lots of clichés about tomorrow – e.g. ‘There is no tomorrow’, ‘Don’t put off to tomorrow what you can do today’ – and that sort of stuff.
Well, they’re right. Recognise this excuse as the ultimate procrastination. In all likelihood – unless you’re on Death Row awaiting sentencing tomorrow – you’re likely to find that tomorrow will be very much like today. Deal with it. Take your opportunity now.
3. Don’t have a sizable block of time to write in, just dribs and drabs
I am sure people exist who have virtually no time – single parents for instance. But truly examine what you do with your time through the course of the day. I knew a single mother who bemoaned her absolute vacuum of time, and yet she always somehow had time to watch The Voice, or a variety of other reality TV shows which had about as much cultural merit as odourless, noiseless flatulence.
Look at what you do through the course of a day. There will be indulgences. They might be tiny, mightn’t amount to much, but if that’s all you’ve got, then that’s what you’ve got to work with.
Otherwise, look at getting up a bit earlier each day, five days a week. Yes, it’s horrible, but if this is what you want to do, then this is what you need to do.
Ultimately, writing for fifteen minutes a day is better than no time at all, and those minutes will add up.
4. Waiting for inspiration
There’s a name for these people: pretenders.
No doubt, we all experience inspiration – an idea for a story, or for a painting, or whatever the case might be. But inspiration doesn’t do the work for you. That’s up to you. You need to sit down and then do what’s required – write that story, paint that painting, take those photographs. In short, you must realise your inspiration and interpret it onto the page.
Even if you have writer’s block, even if your brain seems bereft of anywhere to go, just sit down and FORCE yourself through the act of creating. It might be crap. You might have to toss it all. But just the act of trying might cause you to stumble upon an idea, get your creative juices flowing, and train you in the habit of trying.
5. Book’s getting/gotten boring
So many writers love writing the flashy scenes, the ones that appeal most. This is why so many writers start so many things, yet never finish them – when a story’s new, it’s exciting. But something happens. It gets boring. So they think it mustn’t be working. But wait! Here’s another new idea which is exciting, so that must be the way to go – start that instead.
The ideas that are most vivid in our mind are easiest to write, but they’re usually only a small part of a greater story. There will be seeming flat spots, though – seeming, because sometimes those flat spots provide even greater opportunities for drama or characterisation or whatever our story needs.
Work through it. If your story’s gotten tedious and you have another great idea you’d love to work on, tough. Stick with what you’re on. Finish it. Nobody’s interested in an incomplete story. Get through that tough spot. If you don’t, all you’re learning is how to give up.
6. Too tired
Oh boohoo. Really: boohoo. Unless you’re actually asleep, or in a coma, then you have the choice to write. You might think your brain’s too exhausted, that you won’t be able to be creative, but just sit down and try it. Force yourself to get words out on the page. Even if your face wants to plonk down on the keyboard, just do it.
Once your brain’s going, you’ll be amazed how little your tiredness affects you. But it won’t get going if you just surrender to the impossibility of being creative when you’re tired.
7. Not in the right headspace
Well, what exactly do we have to wait for? Nirvana? The right headspace is an illusion. The ideas are there, inside, in your head. On the surface of it, you might be preoccupied, angry, distracted, any of a number of different emotional states, but your imagination is all that matters, and that’s in there, just waiting for you to mine it.
If you have to go through anger, frustration, distraction, sadness, amour, or whatever to get to it, then so be it. Accept that. Once you do, once you compel yourself, you’ll be amazed how often you can find your way back to the right headspace.
8. No good physical space to write in
Perhaps you’d like some rustic cottage in the woods, with a typewriter by the window, a fire crackling in the fireplace, and a glass of wine. Would this be ideal?
Certainly, you might have kids running around screaming, playing, you might have noisy neighbours, you might have a noisy partner, but you have to learn to make do. One published author said she made the family understand that when her study door was closed, that was her time and she was not to be disturbed. That might not always be an option. But you may just have to accept what you have.
If that means your best place to write is with the laptop on your lap (hence its name: lap-top), on the couch with your feet up on the coffee table, so be it. That’s your physical space. You might like something more ideal, something luxurious, but until that comes along deal with what you have.
9. Too many distractions
By now, you would be able to guess that there’s not going to be any sympathy for this as an excuse. Tell people to stop bothering you. Stuff some earplugs in your ears. Pick up your laptop and go sit in the toilet, or go to the library, or save your work on a USB and book a library computer to use. There are always alternatives.
10. Low self-esteem
This is common to many creative people. Many of us think our work just isn’t good enough. It’s shit, so why bother? Let’s give up. Forget about it. Well, if that’s the attitude, why try at all? Why even nurture the aspiration?
All we can do are all the right things – get feedback, get edited, revise, revise, revise, submit. It mightn’t be good enough. But nobody was born brilliant, and even your favourite authors were edited. Put your work out there. It’s the only way to continue to improve. And if you want to write, accept you’ll be rejected, that there’ll be criticisms, that there’ll be doubts.
Your story’s not going to write itself. The story on your computer isn’t going to submit itself. A journal or publisher isn’t going to ring you and ask for your work. If you truly want to do this (writing, that is), then do it, regardless of how you feel about your work. It’s the only way to get to where you want to go.
This might seem an unsympathetic blog. It is. Life’s intolerant, and the writing life unforgiving. So many people search for a secret formula to writing, like it will unlock some wellspring and all the work will do itself, or doing the work will be so orgasmic that it won’t seem like work at all. There. The End. Perfect. Well, it doesn’t happen that way – and hasn’t happened that way for anybody. Anybody who thinks it does happen that way is an idiot.
Writing is excruciatingly hard work – to sit there, pour yourself on the page, to bare yourself to the world, to pursue the perfect word, the perfect phrase, the perfect evolution from one idea to the next, and for this wondrous jumble of words, sentences, and paragraphs to not only make sense, but to be entertaining, to be worth reading, to be airtight, so people aren’t coming along trying to knock it down, like it was a house of cards inviting one good, swift kick.
You want to write, sit down and do it. That’s it. That’s the magic formula. Any time there’s a reason to not to do it, dismiss it, or find a way to work around it, or bulldoze through it. Idealizing perfect conditions is just going to lead to procrastination. It’ll lead to you always finding an excuse as to why you can’t do it, or why you should stop.
But it always come back to doing it, and doing it daily. Writing’s a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it becomes, and the stronger it becomes the easier you’ll find it to work through tiredness, distractions, writer’s block, et al, and as you do that, you’ll find those excuses become irrelevancies in your life, and all that’s left is you and the story you want to tell.