Keith MacKenzie 26 letters. A million and more words. No limit to stories.

The inexcusability of writer excuses

Two of the greatest laments I hear from would-be writers and other artists are the lack of time and the lack of inspiration.

Well, guess what? Those are unacceptable laments. If you want to see your words make it into print – be that via ebook, self-publishing or the traditional print – you have absolutely no excuses.

Well, unless you were walking down the street to your first face-to-face meeting with the senior editor at Random House or Penguin Books and you just happened to look the other way when crossing the street and get bowled over by a bus. All because you were in London the previous week because you were attending the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland, and you got accustomed to looking right instead of left before stepping off the curb.

Maybe that’s a good excuse.

But lack of time?

Lack of inspiration?

Bullshit! Those aren’t excuses. Those are the caterwaulings of an artist who isn’t working hard enough to make it happen.

But that’s OK. I’m just as guilty as the rest of them. I work in a newsroom that demands I be physically present from 12 noon to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and I’m often wiped out by the end of the day, and sometimes even the next morning. I am addicted to the Internet and spend hour after hour just reading up on the latest literary creations out there. No, actually, I spend a lot of time reading about movies and generally e-farting around. Often I take my eyes off my laptop screen, look around in a daze and realize that I’ve just wasted two hours of my precious time reading about how the former interns at Harper’s Bazaar have joined forces in a class-action lawsuit against the publishers at the magazine.

There I go again, running off topic. Let’s get back to excuses, or the inexcusability of using them.

LACK OF TIME

First, lack of time. I was reading this article about how morning routines are creativity killers. In short, creativity comes from the muddled fogginess of early morning, where your brain’s synapses haven’t had the chance to start connecting just yet and you’re just feeling things out. It’s the perfect time to sit down and start writing, because your brain hasn’t had the chance to harden and solidify its defence mechanisms in preparation for the day ahead. The writer, Annie Murphy Paul, suggested setting the alarm a little earlier, taking a few minutes to let the mind off the leash and wander as it may, and jot down the ideas that surface as a result. Great idea.

But I looked at the comments below, and came across this gem:

“Oh….so we are only supposed to take ‘more time’ to wake up and gather our collective selves in the AM to become better thinkers and more creative individuals. I’ll get right on that as soon as I; shower, shave, get dressed get my kids up, brush their teeth, get them dressed, wait ten minutes for them to go on the potty, fed them breakfast, feed myself breakfast, feed the dogs, take the dogs outside, empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, make my lunch, get my kids ready to go outside, brush the snow off my car…..right after that is the 20 minutes a day I will put aside to gather my thoughts….”

My sympathies, but those aren’t excuses. Everyone on this planet has a life. Almost everyone has a family. Many have dogs, children, dishwashers to empty. Yet, they somehow get things done. “Not having enough time” is no excuse for not being able to write.

There is a woman in my writers’ group who has seven children. Seven children. She has written two books in the year and a half that she’s been part of our writers’ group. Don’t tell me you don’t have the time to write – if this person has seven children and has the time to write, then you do too.

How do you make time? It’s simple. Find a place to write, and set aside one hour three times a week and focus on your writing. No Internet. No reading. No dishwashers, cooking, or dogs. Set your alarm an hour earlier where you can get the work done or go to bed an hour later, without daily life getting in the way, and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much you can get done if you stick to a certain routine.

If you have time to fart around on the Internet – as I do – then you have time to follow a routine. It’s just three hours a week. That’s really not that much.

And once you stick to your routine, your brain will train itself to unleash its creative forces at those times. Believe it or not, it does happen. Which brings us to…

LACK OF INSPIRATION

“Oh, I’m just not inspired right now,” says the would-be writer. “I just don’t have the time to reflect, think, ponder and let the ideas come to me.”

Well, either you’re willing to wait for Inspiration to come to you, or you’re going to have to go and seize inspiration. Grab it by the scruff of its neck and tell it to get into the room, because you have work to do. You have to write. You must write that book that you’ve been intending to write.

If you just sit and watch Inspiration from the comfort of your veranda while drinking your third espresso of the morning, then Inspiration will continue to spend its time chasing cats around the yard and barking up trees.

It won’t help you.

You have to grab it and put it to work. Tell Inspiration that you expect it to be on call for one hour three times a week. Give it a schedule and tell it that you expect it to stick to that schedule.

Sometimes, yes, it takes work. Sometimes, yes, you come up with utter crap and you’re just not coming up with anything. That’s OK.

Once you stick to a routine, the ideas will start to flow and Inspiration will find a way to make it onto the paper.

Yes, this all goes against all the ideas of being an artist. You have to have routine, schedules, commitment. But as Woody Allen said, eighty per cent of success is showing up. He’s absolutely right. If he didn’t show up for his meetings, he wouldn’t have been where he is today. Of course, he was careful not to step in front of a bus in Lower Manhattan, but that’s another story.

Imagine that. In some crazy parallel universe, Woody Allen steps in front of a bus in 1972 and suddenly Annie Hall doesn’t exist.

That’s a story right there. Go write it!

 

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Four books in the fire. Dozens of short stories fluttering about. Mission: To get the word out.

2 Responses to “The inexcusability of writer excuses”

  • I’ve made fewer and fewer excuses for myself over the past few months. It’s true that I don’t have any valid excuses and I’ve learned to take responsibility for my laziness.

    I find that the hard part is simply starting. Once I get started, I can keep going with ease. Fear is usually what grips me and prevents me from opening up my WIP.

    Inertia, I think it’s called.

    Have any tips regarding that? Of course, it’s easy to say “Just sit down and start!” and that’s what I tell myself, but… ugh! Much easier said than done!

  • Hello R.J., thanks for your comment, and you’re right, it’s not simply that easy. I thought about it and wrote a new blog entry. Maybe there are some tips in there that might help you along. Check it out.