Let me warn you: this is gonna be a bit of a tough love post.
Ones of my pet peeves is when people say, “I’d write a book if only I had more time.” I’ve heard this so many times that it’s become a cliché. So I’ve started responding to it with yet another cliché: “You’ll never have more time than you do right now.”
Think about that. I don’t mean that there will never be a time in your life when you are less busy. Maybe one day in the magical future all your responsibilities will melt away and you’ll sit at an antique desk tapping away at your novel while bluebirds sing outside your window. But probably not.
Chances are, a year or ten years from now, you will still have laundry to do, bills to pay, kids to take care of, dogs to walk, social commitments to attend and–for many writers, myself included–a day job. And while you’re running around, doing all these things, time is still moving. A year goes by, then another and another. And you still haven’t done what your heart yearns to do, which is to finish that story that whispers to you, even above the chaos of daily life.
So finish it, already. Here are five common excuses for not writing and some strategies for how you can stare them down and conquer them.
- “I’m not inspired.” Here’s a secret: no one feels inspired all the time. Writing is a job that needs to be worked at steadily until it’s done. Would a carpenter say, “You know, I don’t think I’m gonna finish installing these cabinets today because I’m not feeling inspired”? Bullshit. Writing is your craft. And if you ever want it to be anything more than a hobby, you have to put in your hours and keep punching in until the work is done. And, yes, I just compared it to cabinet making. It’s probably easier than cabinet making, so stop whining and write.
- “I have young kids.” Get up before your kids do and write for half an hour while the house is still quiet. Need to cart them around to activities? Bring your laptop or a pad of paper with you everywhere. Bang out a hundred words in your car while you’re waiting for junior to finish soccer practice or piano lessons. Another excuse related to this one is, “I’m taking care of an elderly family member.” A similar logic applies. Taking grandma to the doctor? Type while you’re in the waiting room.
- “I have a demanding day job.” There are a few different approaches I suggest for tackling this one, none of which involve quitting the day job altogether. I do not advise quitting a day job to write unless you have a very solid plan in mind about how you will support yourself. A less extreme measure would be to look for a different day job–one that doesn’t suck the life out of you physically and mentally. But even this approach seems drastic to me. I’m risk averse and I like paychecks. The “baby steps” approach is to write over your lunch hour a few times a week. You’d be surprised how quickly your word count can climb if you bring your laptop to Panera or Au Bon Pain or wherever it is you like to eat.
- “I wrote something else once and it got rejected by an agent/editor/publisher.” Congratulations! You are now officially a writer. But if you allow one–or fifty–rejections to wound your pride and confidence so much that you’re ready to throw in the towel, then you’ll probably never be a published writer. Putting yourself out there means being rejected sometimes or getting a bad review now and then. Let the rejections fuel you to do better and prove those people who rejected you wrong.
- “I’m training for a marathon.” Okay, this is the only one I will allow as an excuse. Do not train for a marathon while trying to write a novel. Pick either the marathon or the novel. Or, if you are doing both, don’t tell other writers that. The rest of us are sun-deprived and lack muscle tone.