Have you ever found yourself making excuses for not writing?
As an editor and writing coach, I’ve heard every reason in the book as to why someone’s avoiding penning that masterpiece. Mostly when it comes to revision (which is rewriting), but often about first drafts as well.
Doesn’t much matter which it is though, does it. I mean, if your butt isn’t in the chair, you’re not getting anything done.
These stories abound. But here are just a few:
► Filled with “Fabulous” Ideas that Flitter into the Ethers
Sometimes writers get so caught up in generating ideas for books that they never actually write the dang things.
A guy contacted me a few weeks ago, all excited! A developmental editor was exactly what he needed—he was certain.
“Great!” I said. “What’cha got?
“Well,” he began, still all excited, “I have all these ideas for great books! Let me tell you about this one . . . “And off he went, laying out a long plotline.
“How much of this have you gotten down on paper?” I asked.
“You mean, like printed on the page?”
“None yet! But the ideas are so good, surely someone will write them into a novel for a small percentage!”
Needless to say, none of these has yet been written, and publication continues to be out of his grasp . . .
Real writers write the story.
► “I ain’t got no, Inspiration (sorry, Mick Jagger)
The pros among us are already laughing at this one. Because, as we know, inspiration is a fickle sprite.
Not long ago, a very nice lady contacted me about wanting to sell her partial novels. Seems she had started 6 of them, and all were in various stages, although none more than halfway done.
“Why aren’t you finishing them?” I asked, puzzled.
“I write until I’m no longer inspired,” she replied.
“And then?” she repeated.
“Um, so how do you ever get one finished?”
“Well see, that’s the thing—I know once I get a publishing contract, I’ll be inspired to finish!”
Anybody want to punch all the holes in that statement? Because I just bet you all can.
Of course, a new writer can’t get a contract on a partial novel. And if you think you’re blocked now, just wait until you have a deadline looming.
No pressure there!
Professional writers bang on the keyboards, whether they’re feeling it or not. And know that sooner or later, that muse will return. In the meantime, they’ve written some good stuff, even some of it isn’t.
► Time just ain’t on my side
Let me take a wild guess—everyone knows this feeling. Time is one of those ever-lasting writerly issues.
Because of course, the vast majority of writers have day jobs. Active lives. Things to do, people to see, places to go.
“Well, you see,” this wonderful older lady said to me, over the phone from her home in Sweden, “I just love to write the books. I don’t have time to revise them! Why, with my bridge club on Monday, my quilting on Tuesday, my grandchildren on Thursday, if I were to spend time rewriting my novels, I’d never have time to write new ones!”
“Wait,” I said, as we were supposed to be having a discussion of her Cozy Mystery, which I’d just returned to her. It was a lovely story, and yes, she could write. But it had a lot of elementary mistakes—the kind revolving around skills, which of course can be learned. “How many have you written so far?”
“So you have time to write 28 novels but don’t have time to revise even 1?”
“Maybe,” she said, softly, “I just don’t want to . . .”
Pity. She really did have talent. But she never ended up publishing a thing.
And I know you’re saying, boy, if I had all her free time, I could write like a maniac.
But the thing is, the folks who really want to, make the time. They carve it out of thin air, if need be.
► Chaos! Chaos! That’s my Life!
While this may sound like the above, it’s different actually.
In order to write effectively, you have to have not only the time, but the space within your psyche to go within and create.
And while yep—sometimes life really is insanity central (and you do get a pass during those times), if that persists then it’s a habit, not a happening.
“I just don’t have the brain space,” one of my clients said recently.
As I understood exactly what she was saying, I dug a bit deeper into what was going on in her world.
All the usual stuff—demanding husband, kids going 9 directions at once, dog had to have surgery, etc. All the things we can surely understand.
“What was your life like a year ago?” I asked.
“Oh, it was even worse!” and she went on to explain another litany of woes.
“Okay,” I persisted, “how were things 5 years ago?”
See where this is going? You guessed it—5 years before, and another 5, well, her life was in chaos as well.
Yep—you have to have that brain space in order to write.
But only you can create that. I have clients who are up at midnight, or, get up at 4 in the morning, in order to write. You know—when the world is quiet and they’re in their clean well-lighted place alone . . .
► Lonely Days, Lonely Nights . . .
Writing is a solitary endeavor. We’re not totally isolated—we attend conferences to kibitz with other writers and agents and editors. We join workshops, in person or online. Or work with freelance editors in a give-and-take scenario.
So it’s not as though you’re alone all the time.
“But Susan,” the man pled, “now that my wife is gone, it’s just too lonely for me to write, to be that solitary.”
Okay, this one I had to think about a bit. Not being widowed, I of course couldn’t truly relate to his plight. But then, it kinda hit me.
“Harry,” I said, “when your wife was alive, was she in the room with you while you were writing?”
“No, no. Of course not,” he replied. “I could never write with someone else in the room. Too distracting.”
“So how is it different that she’s not in the room with you now?”
It was his turn to pause. Then he said, “I don’t know. It just is. It’s just too lonely.”
“Okay, at the expense of playing armchair psychologist,” (which is actually part of my role with writers), “might I suggest that your loneliness is so pervasive, it’s spilling into your writing room, rather than being triggered by it.”
As we talked through this, he decided to get some grief counseling. And then came back a year later, ready again to go to work.
Yes, writing is a quite solitary endeavor. And to write well, you have to be okay with alone, finding that sweet spot between being alone and being lonely. Those who truly want to write, seek until they find that place.
► This is just so Mind-Blowing, Someone will Steal my Idea
You simply cannot imagine how often new writers say this to me. Literally—I hear it about once a week.
Not long ago, a writer came to me through a very good friend of mine (he later apologized!). Danny, the new writer, had finished a Thriller that had everything—just everything! Mystery! Suspense! A fabulous page-turning plot! (Which honestly, was so far-fetched, not even Dystopian readers would buy it. And it wasn’t in that genre to begin with.)
“This is so incredibly good, so unique,” he said, “Bruce Willis will be clamoring for the screen rights!”
“How much of this have you written?”
“All of it. But it doesn’t need to be edited or revised—someone would steal it! We just need to get it straight to Bruce Willis.”
“Okay, let me make sure I understand—you’re not willing to rewrite and revise on account of somebody’s gonna steal the idea?”
“Have you ever even heard of an idea like this? Anybody would steal it!”
News Flash: No, they really won’t!
Here’s the deal: Agents and editors don’t steal book ideas. They don’t need an idea. They need a fully realized, ready-to-publish-and-sell book. Period. Because yep—they know what it takes to get one ready for public consumption.
► The “It’ll Never Sell” Despair
But okay, now we’re getting somewhere. This is a reason not to write that actually holds water.
Because, it speaks to the essence of why you write.
“The rejection is just too devastating,” a writer friend said to me not long ago, as to why she was giving up writing.
She had written a really beautiful literary manuscript, and revised and revised and revised. It had almost sold—many times. But in the end, didn’t.
Broke her heart.
Now, this, I understand.
You might too.
This is a brutal business. I’ve discussed many times before the percentage of manuscripts submitted vs. published every year. It’s a frightening statistic. And of all the folks who write, and how few see success.
Yes, there is all of that.
The true core—and the one you have to get to, and answer the questions that reside deeply buried there—is: Why Do I Write?
If it’s for fame and glory, tossing a bit of riches into the mix, well, good luck with all of that. Might you achieve it? Yes.
But if that’s your focus, the devastation that comes along with this ride will cut your knees out from under you.
Is it the beauty of having your baby out there for the world to see?
Be careful here too—the lack of that external validation will cut out pieces of your heart and fling them to the wind.
But if even though the external validation makes you smile well, the point is you must write, then that’s what propels your soul onward.
֎ What all of the reasons not to write come down to, is actually one thing: Commitment.
Are you committed to your writing? To your craft? To becoming the very best writer you can be, producing the very best books?
Do you want this? Just for itself?
Because if you do, you’ll write out your ideas. You’ll find that inspiration—and write even when it’s missing. You’ll find the time and the brain space. You’ll face your loneliness, and your ego’s fears. And you’ll write on, even though the world isn’t watching.
Because you can’t do life any other way.
And in the end, you may well find that fame. But the true riches will come from the doing.
As Patanjali said:
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”