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Excuses Are Like Plot Holes

Posted August 17, 2018 4:53 pm
Excuses text on TV

So you’ve got a fantastic idea for a story. You’re sure that if people saw it in its finished form, on bookstore shelves, they’d scoop this thing up in bunches. They’d recommend it to their friends, who would devour it, drive it up the New York Times Best Sellers list, and you’d sit back watching all your delighted new fans sing your praises while your bank account fattens. One of these days, you tell yourself, you’ll sit down and get this baby written. More often than not, sadly, that day never comes for far too many writers and their stories evaporate into the ethereal library of unwritten stories. Excuses are like plot holes; every writer’s had a few.

This all-too-common string of events plays out all the time for writers new and old, and the culprit is almost always the same: excuses. These gremlins have poisoned the minds of writers, artists, musicians, designers, athletes, doctors, chefs, shoemakers – you get the idea. At some point, excuses have been responsible for killing everyone’s productivity. Let’s take a look at the most common ones and how we can knock them down so we can focus on the job at hand: getting our freaking books written.

“I don’t have time.”

This is probably the most common excuse, and I’d venture to say, the least valid of them all. More than likely, you have time and it’s a question of prioritizing what you care about. How many people do you know who repeat this, but then go on to tell you about the three seasons of an “awesome Netflix show” they binge-watched over the weekend?

You may have heard the now-famous story of how John Grisham, while working full time as a lawyer to support his growing family, wrote his first book, A Time to Kill, by waking up at 5 am every day and writing a single page (300 words) until it was finished. Another example is one of the most popular developer courses online which the author recorded, one video at a time, by going out to his car on his lunch break every day until he had finished dozens of tutorials and was able to cash in on all his hard work. A friend of mine who transformed into a well-known triathlete while parenting and working as a Vice President of a software company. You’ll find countless stories like these online: the single parents, college students, busy workers who somehow carved out time. Don’t let the excuse machine whisper, “yeah but they’re Type A people and that’s not me.” All it takes is feeling passionate enough about something to make the time, whether it’s half an hour or living and breathing it all day long.

“I’m not that good [yet].”

Here’s a little secret: most people are awful when they start something. Oh sure, there are rare prodigies out there such as Larry Bird who tells of how, when he first shot a basketball as a child, it went in, then he did it again, and again. But this isn’t the path of most successful people. Most start out as complete novices, sometimes with talent, who had to work to get where they are, getting better through constant practice. Expect your early efforts to suck. Welcome these failures. Wear them as badges of honor that prove you put in the work. Talent really is cheap and doesn’t go far, but doing the work, and discovering all your missteps as well as triumphs, is invaluable to becoming a great writer. Write today and you’ll immediately have learned so much more than the version of you that didn’t. Remember the words of Hall of Fame wide receiver, Jerry Rice: “Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.”

“I feel hot/cold/tired/hungry/distracted/etc.”

These are the excuses that are obviously valid sometimes, but because they’re so convenient, your mind will trick you into using them too often. When you find yourself waiting for “perfect conditions” before you sit down to write, it’s a red flag that your mind is trying to make you procrastinate. If you find yourself constantly making coffee or snacks, endlessly browsing fancy notebooks online, or tidying up just a bit too much to the point that you run out of writing time, it’s time to plunk yourself into your writing chair and get to work.

“I’m too old.”

Some well-known examples that disprove this one are: Laura Ingalls Wilder who began writing in her 40s, Tim and Nina Zagat who didn’t start writing their restaurant guide until their 40s, Bram Stoker who wrote Dracula at 50, Charles Bukowski who published his first novel at 51, Frank McCourt whose first book was published when he was 66, and Millard Kaufman who didn’t write his first novel until age 90! Join some writing groups online and you’ll immediately meet published authors who didn’t start until after they retired. It’s never too late to start.

It would be impossible to cover all the excuses that interfere with our writing, but by learning to identify them you’ll understand how to dismiss them. It goes both ways with excuses: it’s easy to fall into their clutches, but once you know how to beat them and move on, you’ll find they come up less often. Make writing your habit and you’ll be invincible to their temptation, laughing them off as you pile up page after page. Happy writing!

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