No More Excuses!

This post originally appeared December 3, 2014, on the blog of Susan A. Wall as she celebrated NH Writers’ Week. Follow this link to her blog (http://susanannwall.wordpress.com/blog-writing-the-journey/) and discover other writers from the Granite State!

I write sexy, heartwarming romantic comedy. My second release, STACKING THE DECK, came out in October—so I know what you’re probably thinking. “She’s living the dream! Her life must be filled with sunshine and unicorns! I’ll bet her husband makes her breakfast in bed every morning!”

Um, no. And for the record, I would settle for him taking the dogs out first thing. No, the reality is, I’m plopped in front of my second-hand laptop that only occasionally overheats feeling a bit wonky from the after-effects of the Nyquil I took last night, mentally recalculating the revolving commitments and grocery lists (and associated chauffeuring responsibilities therein) for the kids’ activities between now and the end of December, and wondering what in holy jalapenos I’m going to blog about today. Because, when my brain is full of stuff other than brilliant story ideas, well, it’s like every other day of the year.

Many of us dream of writing our opus magnificat in a remote cabin or on a tropical isle away from distractions and worries. We tell ourselves that if we could only cut ourselves off for just [fill in magical number here] days we’d finally get that next bestseller written. If you’re like me, this is what would really happen: I’d spend several days (or weeks) catching up on the reading I’ve put off and then waffling between the conviction that my work is just as good and wallowing in self-doubt that I could ever write stories that fabulous. I’d wander around feeling lonely or bored and would either write letters about the weather or imagine that that spot on my left forearm is growing discolored and irregular. Does it look irregular to you? And obsessing about what it might mean if it is, in fact, cancerous. I’d spend hours making elaborate culinary creations just for myself, because I’d want to fuel my body and soul for the creative work ahead. Then, I’d plot my book like I’ve never plotted before. And color-code the POVs. And re-read writing craft books. Then, because I could I’d do an illustrated story-board… and collage… and create mock-ups of my future book cover as inspiration…  In short, I’d find excuses not to get the work done even while pretending to do the work.

We writers are especially good at making excuses about why we’re NOT writing. I’ll bet I’ve used every one there is. See if any of these sound familiar:

  • Excuse #1: My muse isn’t speaking to me. I think I’ll go make some coffee/have lunch/go for a walk/do laundry/[fill in the blank with preferred diversionary activity.] Now the thing about this is that all of these other activities ‘must’ be done at some But now? Probably not.
  • Excuse #2: My significant other/parent/best friend doesn’t support me. This is a toughie, because writing is a lonely business, but I’m here to tell you that I’ve been writing for years, and my husband has yet to read my books. He’s started them… but never actually finished. I used to feel somewhat snubbed. Didn’t he value them? Or me? But I have good tires on my car, and the lawn is miraculously mowed on a regular basis and the water filter gets changed without my actually knowing where it is… so it’s okay. I’ve learned that my beloved is not my target audience. Not everyone will be beating the door down to read your work. That’s okay. Find those who will and make them your beta readers. Win-win!
  • Excuse #3: I’m sick. Remember when they used to require doctor’s notes for absences from work/school? Same thing should apply to writing. If we quit working every time we got the sniffles, we might as well take half the year off. Here’s the rule: fevers and vomiting are automatic passes. If you’re well enough to sit up and hold a laptop, you’re well enough to work.
  • Excuse #4: I’m REALLY sick. You know what? Life’s curve balls happen. If you qualify for extended disability, then working from home had better be something that makes you fulfilled and happy, and that includes writing. If writing is instead taking away from family time or time you’d use to tend to ‘you’ then that’s not a healthy balance and you won’t be returning to ‘work’ any time soon, because you’ll be…
  • Excuse #5: Dead. This is a tough one to argue with if it’s actually YOU who is the dearly departed, but what if it’s someone close to you?  A family member. A friend. A beloved pet. Grief is a powerful and unpredictable fact of, well, life. But here’s the reality: it’s unavoidable. While launching my self-pub novels, our family lost two friends and two aunts in the course of four months. It felt, for a time, we did nothing but attend funerals. Writing comedy and uplifting romance felt like I was the rude person in the back pew snickering, and yet I longed to have something happy to lose myself in.
  • Excuse #6: So, we got another dog. Which, as anyone knows, is a whole ‘nother kind of diversion from writing. The adjustment of a new pet in the household—“Quick! Take a picture! S/he’s so CUTE!” to “Ack! S/he just chewed the arm of my antique wing chair/left something I stepped in!”—makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. Also true with babies. But, life is all about changes, and sometimes the worst distractions of all are the changes we’re HOPING for.
  • Excuse #7: I’ve send out my contest entries/agent queries/partial manuscript/ full (SQUEE!!) manuscript, and now I’m going to take a break and see what they have to say. Oy. All I can say here is don’t ever let your forward writing progress hinge on waiting for something else to happen. Been there. Done that. Wasted too much time waiting for someone else to validate me, tell me what I already knew, or kick me in the butt to do what I’d already planned and didn’t have the courage to start. The truth is, no one, NO ONE, cares about your writing future more than you. So, if you’re looking for feedback, join a critique group or writing group and share your work. If you’re looking for an agent, query your work and keep producing new stuff to share. If you want to be published, by all means submit to editors and pitch at conferences, but also keep writing so if you decide to go it alone and self-publish, you’ll have a pipeline to market.

Excuses #8 (and beyond): The biggest and most used excuse, of course, is “I’m too busy” to write right now. Between shuttling children and aging parents to activities and appointments, shopping, cooking, homework help, exercise and more or less cleaning the house before major holidays, NO ONE has oodles of free time. The question is: what are you willing to give up to write? If it’s not AT LEAST as important as folding laundry (hello?) then it’s never going to rate high enough on the priorities list to allow you to finish a book.

And despite what it looks like, I’m not here to give you excuses, because even though I have used every one of these excuses over the years, I’ve: completed 5 ½ books (some rewritten multiple times), entered multiple contests, e-mailed over 60 agent queries, attended major conferences, sent out over a dozen partial and full manuscript requests, ‘won’ NaNoWriMo… and published 2 books. And, I did this all while serving 8 out of 10 years on the board of the NH chapter of Romance Writers of America, while homeschooling two kids, helping my aging and widowed mother and MIL as they moved/dealt with medical crises and loss, lived through renovation/construction on our home, adopted pets, buried pets and generally lived life. Just like YOU will. The key to staying productive as a writer is simple: make it a priority, commit publicly and build a support network.

Make writing a priority. We all have that little pile of crapola on the end of the kitchen counter that never seems to move, odds and ends and mail that wasn’t quite junk but not urgent either. Rate your writing time higher than dealing with that pile. If you have to [fill in the blank] at 1:00 p.m. today, figure out when you have to write. And be specific. Do you have to plot the first half of the book? Figure out the next twist in your story? Get words on paper for a scene playing out in your head? Figure out what your next mini-goal is and allot time in your schedule to meet it. We can all dicker around aimlessly for an hour, but that’s like wandering around at the mall killing time. If you need pickles, go buy pickles. That’s a five minute stop. Give yourself ten minutes and check it off the to-do list. But, if you need a dress for the party, you’ll want to allot enough time to find it. Plan ahead. Your future book deserves to sparkle at its release party.

Commit publicly. Tell your friends your writing goals.  There’s a reason NaNoWriMo and writing buddies are so helpful. They are public announcements of our writing ambitions. It’s like standing outside your office each morning and announcing what you’ll accomplish that day. We don’t want to look like slackers, so we tend to achieve what we’ve publicly announced we plan to do. So, check in with your writing buddies via e-mail. Put it out on Facebook. Then check back in at the end of the day and toot your own horn over what you’ve accomplished. Your friends and readers are watching and cheering you on. You can even promise yourself a reward for reaching your goal.  It’ll taste all the sweeter for having earned it.

Build a support network. Thankfully, I don’t live on an island. During NaNoWriMo, I had friends like Susan Wall to cheer me on when the words were flowing and to brainstorm with me when they weren’t. And when I would have forgotten this blog post because life got in the way of writing, she was there to remind me and hold me accountable. From the gal friends that keep me grounded and sane when life turns topsy-turvy to those that check in with me to see if I’m meeting my daily goals, my support team is there for me.

So, despite the Nyquil fog and demanding/adorable pets and a social calendar that rivals the Duchess of Cambridge’s, I’ve gotten it done. Because that’s what writers do. And so can you. Writers write.

(And eat chocolate. But that’s a blog for another day.)

Sharing time! What are your tips for getting it done? What’s your biggest excuse and how do you stay productive?

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