Thursday, January 23, 2020

Best Ever Excuses for Not Writing

The plaque at the former Nicholson's Cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, where, in 1993,  J. K. Rowling wrote much of her first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, in longhand on paper tablets.

If you're going to make 2020 your best writing year ever, first there's something you'll have to do. You'll have to overcome all those excuses you come up with every year to explain why you're not writing.

Every writer knows the drill. You've got the perfect writing day planned—snack stash full, hubby on a weekend fishing trip with his Dad and brother, children on an overnight playdate with their cousins. You're going to make that deadline, or you're going to start your novel or at least get a couple of thousand words written. You're going to make forward progress.

And then the cat throws up on your grandmother's Oriental rug, the kid across the street hits a home run that comes sailing through one of your windows, a closed window of course, and your power goes off during a freak thunderstorm. And you're left shaking your head and wondering why these things never happen on a non-writing day.

When I first thought of writing about the excuses we give ourselves and others to explain why we're not productive, I initially came up with only smart-alecky ideas.

I can't write because:

• A meteor landed on the hood of my car

• My hands are sore from washing too many dishes

• My computer, tablet, cell phone, typewriter, pens, pencils, chalkboard, and pads of paper are all in the shop, so how can I write?

These are lame excuses but are they any flimsier than the lame excuses we make for ourselves when we won't or don't write? Let's look at some of the most common reasons people lean on to explain their lack of writing productivity.

The Myth of the Perfect Writing Sanctuary

A lot of would-be writers convince themselves they cannot truly hope to reach their writing goals unless they have a perfect, quiet, cozy, comfortable sanctuary where their words will flow like water from a natural spring. Such dreamlike places exist in a soundproof bubble where time is suspended, no bills need paying and no household chores are calling or children crying.

In reality, people who truly have an unquenchable writing fire burning in their guts will write anytime, anywhere, anyhow they can get a few words down on paper. J. K. Rowling famously wrote her first Harry Potter novel in longhand at Nicholson's Cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, while rocking her infant daughter's pram with her foot. Her beloved mother had just died, her marriage had just dissolved, she was on welfare and under treatment for depression, but she still managed to find a way to write her book a few sentences at a time in various cafes in Edinburgh. Today, she writes in a lovely writing room in her private garden, but that's not where she started her writing journey. She earned that lovely retreat by doggedly writing in cafes until she sold her first Harry Potter book to Bloomsbury.

Moral of the story: If you really want to write, you can do it under any conditions using whatever tools are at your disposal. The sooner you let go of the idea that you must create the perfect writing haven before you can put words on paper, the sooner you'll be able to devote all that wasted time and energy to actual writing.

The Myth of Perfect Preparation

Some of my friends who are aspiring writers have spent 10, 20, or even 30 years reading everything they can get their hands on about the writing process, taking master classes, attending writers' conventions, talking to other writers, studying the marketplace, and endlessly researching literary agents and the best way to write a query letter and synopsis. The only thing they don't do much of is actual writing. They spend so much time preparing to write that they have no time or mental and emotional energy to get any words down.

Moral of the story: Stop "preparing" and start writing!

The Myth of Exhaustion

Let's face it. We're all overworked and underpaid and have too damned many plates spinning. And yes, we're all exhausted. But writing is actually a wonderful thing to do when you're exhausted.

Writers are readers first. You know why you love reading. There's transformative magic in books...they have a unique ability to make you forget your troubles, forget the moment you are living in, forget everything but the characters and the stories that have enthralled you. But what many writers never realize is that the act of writing has that same transformative magic. You start by writing a few sentences and the next thing you know, you're in another world, seeing through your character's eyes, feeling through their hearts...with your worries left far behind.

Moral of the story: Writing when you are exhausted is actually a good way to take the edge off that exhaustion. Even if you can only write for five or 10 minutes, you'll find that within that short time, you will feel calmer and more at peace with the world and yourself, and you'll feel the lovely, restorative glow of accomplishment, which is the best-known antidote for exhaustion.

So, no more excuses. Just write.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.

14 comments :

  1. Wow! You've told it exactly like it is. What an inspirational post, Pat! It's better than a shot of adrenaline to overcome whatever excuses threaten to strangle our work in progress or the one waiting in the wings for its time on the stage.

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    1. Thank you, Linda. I wrote the post to encourage myself to stop the excuses and get back to writing.

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  2. It's a profession. If you're a professional, you show up for the job--every morning. As a freelance journalist and a novelist, I make it habit and write a minimum of 1000 words every morning at least 5 days a week. If the juices are flowing, it could climb to 5-6k. Over the last 13 years I have had 13 full-length novels published and two collections of short fiction. Am I prolific? No, just determined; some might say disciplined. You have to want it enough to overcome barriers of all kinds, including excuses.

    --Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

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    1. Larry, thank you for your comment. You're the kind of disciplined writer I want to be. When I was working as a journalist, I wrote like you do, every single day, and my productivity was great.

      Once I decided to try my hand at fiction rather than non-fiction, I lost my mojo somewhere along the way. It may well be that I am just one of those writers who has non-fiction conquered but struggles with fiction.

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  3. Great post, Pat. We all have lame excuses. My problem is I edit as I write, and no paragraph is perfect enough, so I spend most of my time rewriting. I keep saying I'm going to write a simpler novel, but the work in progress in my most complicated yet. I will finish it, I will finish it, I will... At 95K words, I'd better.

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    1. Polly, you WILL finish this novel. You WILL. I understand the editing as you write problem. It's something I do. So I have a bunch of novels with the first few pages shining like jewels, and the rest is a disorganized mess!

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  4. I have always considered myself a champion of procrastination, but 2020 is the year to overcome that bad habit. As Larry said above, one needs to be "just determined."

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    1. Patricia, I will arm wrestle you for that Procrastination title! I, too, am determined to make this the year when I stop procrastinating and get back to writing.

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  5. If I have a perfect place to write, it's our upstairs office. That's where my computer is.

    That said, I always walk around with a notebook. my problem is often times whatever I jot down, I need to send out to the CIA or NSA for decryption because I can't read it myself.

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    1. William, you sound like me. I love my little office where I write, but I always get these great ideas just when I'm drifting off to sleep. So I keep a notebook and pen next to my bed. The only trouble is, I apparently write these notes either in Sanskrit or a completely heretofore unknown language, because much like your notes, they are indecipherable by any means. I don't think even the NSA with all its computer power could help.

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  6. Great post, Pat. J.K. is an inspiration to all of us that writing can happen anywhere. When I was writing around my 5 kids, I wrote on the sofa with a notebook because a kid was napping in the room where I had a small desk. I wrote at the kitchen table because hubby wanted to watch TV in the living room.

    You are right in saying that if you have a burning passion to write, you will write anywhere. And forget waiting for the muse.

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  7. Maryann, that discipline is why you've had such a great writing career. I admire you!

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  8. Wow... great post! And boy, you really nail those excuses--I've seen (and experienced) them all! "Just write" is the best advice one can take...

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  9. Thank you, Ann. I confess the only reason I know all those excuses for not writing is that I've used every one of them.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.