Writers: Leave Your Excuses At the Door

You might be making excuses for not writing and you don’t even know it.

I am not perfect. I have never pretended to be perfect, regardless of how hard I may have tried to come as close as possible to it.

But one thing I am, or at least try to be within reason, is honest. If this isn’t your first time reading this blog, you know that I am not one to sugar coat the truth when it comes to writing, or life in general. I will say it like it is, always, while trying to simultaneously offer as much encouragement and help as I possibly can.

Something that isn’t difficult me to be truthful about is how much I am just like the rest of you — especially when it comes to things like making excuses to justify the things I want to do, but have not done, in my own life.

I am someone who has dreamed of traditionally publishing a novel before self-publishing was even an official option (this makes me sound much older than I am, but that is beside the point). But I still haven’t done that — not because I have tried and failed, but because I haven’t really tried. I have written plenty of first drafts, but have never really pushed myself beyond that point. Why not?

Well, the truth is, sometimes I’m tired. And sometimes I’m terrified, both of what will happen if I never publish a book of my own and what might happen if I do. Sometimes I start to question whether or not I am even supposed to be a writer in the first place.

As you can probably guess, I could go on and on for a while listing off a million explanations for why I am not “technically” an author.

But here’s a fun secret: All these things I have and haven’t told you? They are just excuses.

And it’s up to me to shut them up if I want to achieve even my smallest writing goals.

There is a difference between an excuse and a legitimate reason for not doing something. Most importantly, knowing the difference could completely change your writing life for the better.

A reason is a real answer to the “why haven’t you written a book yet” question — something like “I’ve been focusing on earning my degree” or “I’ve been helping to take care of a sick family member.” These are totally legitimate and forgivable things for which there is zero room for judgment. In life, sometimes things get in the way that are completely out of your control, and you have to set your writing aside to focus on things that are currently more important. Do not ever feel guilty about not writing when you have something else to take care of first — especially if that something is you.

An excuse, on the other hand? It’s something you use to justify the fact that you haven’t done something you should have, even though you are technically in complete control of whether or not you could have done it. For me, being tired is an excuse: I have proven to myself time and again that I can write while tired, and it should not stop me from getting my work done.

The tricky thing is that reasons and excuses are different for everyone. Some people are physically and/or emotionally exhausted because of things going on in their personal lives, and they aren’t just using “I’m tired” as an excuse. By no means am I suggesting it’s OK to judge someone for the answers they give when asked whey they haven’t done X thing.

If it helps, make a physical list of your answers to the “why I haven’t done x” question. Separate your list into your reasons and excuses. Forgive yourself for your reasons and take a long, hard look at your excuses. Decide whether or not it’s a good time to focus in on one of those excuses so you can figure out how to move past it.

Your “somedays” aren’t getting you any closer to achieving your ultimate writing goals. You know exactly what I am talking about even if you don’t want to admit it. I am, of course, referring to those things you say you want to do but continue to put off, even subconsciously, every time they cross your mind.

Somedays are the novels you say you want to write when you have the time, the energy, the money, the space, even though you aren’t exactly sure when “someday” might be — if ever.

They are the things you want to do but don’t know if you can. The things you are even afraid to admit you want to try — even to the people you trust the very most. You will get to them “someday.” At least, that’s what you tell yourself. But do you really mean it?

I have encountered many writers over the years who walk around carrying guilt, shame, and frustration because of the things they have not done. It sounds so simple to think you could just say: “Well, it’s not too late — you still have time. Go for it!” But as inspirational as this can be for some, it does not fix the “someday” problem.

In order to fix that, you not only have to know what your go-to excuses are: You also have to figure out what you are going to do to quiet them down. The truth is, excuses will almost always be around, lurking in the shadows, waiting until you have a weak moment to spring up and remind you how scared or inexperienced you might be.

Waiting isn’t going to help you heal from all the time you have spent not doing what you want to do. It’s time to put together an action plan and put your ideas into words for real — whether you think you are ready to do so or not.

So, be honest: What’s your excuse — and what are you going to do about it? We have all made them in the past and will likely make plenty of them again. I have been putting off editing the first draft of my novel for months because I know it is going to be hard and I … well, honestly? I’ve been lazy, and that’s no one else’s fault. Only mine.

So what I need to do — at the start of the New Year, because I have a lot of writing to do between now and then and there really is not time for editing and revisions quite yet (my reason) — is set a start date and a deadline and commit to editing one section or chapter a day until my first run-through is done. I have dealt with laziness before, and I have learned that the best way for me to combat it is to make a plan that’s as simple as possible and stick with it as best I can.

You need to do the same thing I just did with your excuses — especially if you are really committed to meeting whatever writing goals you have set for yourself (or will set very soon). Admit what they are and come up with a plan to begin the fight against them.

For you, it might be a little more complicated than countering pure laziness. And that’s okay. Even coming up with a plan to improve your personal creative process takes time and effort. But even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself a planner, you might be surprised how much putting together action steps can actually help motivate you to get started … instead of continuing to put it off for many more months or even years.

Leave your excuses at the door. Find your writing space, enter it (excuses not allowed!), sit down, and get to writing. It will feel a lot harder than it probably is. You will more often than not build up expectations of how hard it’s going to be before you even start, only to realize it’s much easier once you actually get going.

If it helps, feel free to share your excuses for not writing in the comments. This is a judgment free zone, at least where I’m concerned. I am here to help, not point fingers and shake my head. Remember, I have made plenty of excuses in the past. Don’t dwell on that. Dwell on what you are going to do to change the way things are — and don’t wait! Get started now. You can do it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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