Dont Make Excuses

Writers are a favorite subject for cartoonists, from Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame to those who contribute to The New Yorker. (You can't blame them for picking on writers; we are sort of weird) Over the years I've haphazardly collected such cartoons, and some of my favorites are taped to the door of my office.

One of these shows a nonwriter telling a weary novelist at an autograph party, "Gosh! I know I could write a novel too, but I've just never found the time!"

Another, in two panels, is titled, "Writer's Block". The first panel shows the writer standing idle in his writing room; that panel is captioned "Temporary". In the second panel, the erstwhile writer is standing in the doorway of his fish store; that panel is captioned "Permanent".

A third cartoon shows a writer at his typewriter, telling his wife, "I just can't start until inspiration strikes". Subsequent panels show him in the same position - nothing done -and getting older... and older... and older.

I don't know how funny these cartoons really are, but I like them because they illustrate the primary habit that separates the writers from the pretenders. The world is brimming over with people good enough to make a living as writers. Thank goodness - for those of us who are working, and don't need any more competition - most such talented people spend their creative energies making excuses, and never quite get around to the job at hand.

If you are serious about the craft of fiction, you must never make excuses for yourself. You simply cannot allow yourself to:

• Postpone work until "later"

• Fail to work because you're too busy right now.

• Wait for inspiration.

• Plan to get right at it "tomorrow"

• Give up because (editors) (agents) (readers) (critics) are unfair. (Fill in as many as you want)

• Tell yourself you're too old (or too young) to start.

• Blame others in your family for your lack of free time.

• Say your job is too demanding to allow you any other activity.

• Tell yourself that your story idea isn't good enough.

Or any of a host of other excuses you may dream up for yourself.

No. Let's get this straight right away: Writers write; everyone else makes excuses.

Nothing short of a genuine tragedy in your life should be allowed to intrude into your regular work as a writer of fiction. Do you really think successful writers have unlimited time, face no other demands on them, are always peppy and eager to face the keyboard? Of course not! Writing can be tremendous fun, and wonderfully rewarding. But writing is hard work.

Let me repeat.

Writing is hard work.

Nobody really enjoys hard work day after day, week after week. Everybody wants sometimes to get away and play, or just be lazy. When a project such as a novel is going badly, the writer never wants to face her day's stint at the keyboard. At such times, excuses come easily. But the professional simply does not let herself off so easily. All the excuses, all the complaints, all the alternatives to work, must be fought through; the real writer will work. And regularly.

Consider: If you write only one page a day, by the end of one year you will have a 365-page novel. Take the next year to rewrite it at the same pace, and you will have a finished novel to show to an agent or editor, which is about the same output that many best-selling novelists have.

If, on the other hand, you make excuses for yourself half the time, then at best it will take you four years to have a book ready. That's too long.

And if you make excuses for yourself three-fourths of the time, you will probably lose so much momentum that you'll never finish your project at all.

Consistent, persistent, even dogged work, day in and day out, is the professional's way. And if at the end of a long period of dogged work, your story happens to be rejected, you can't afford to use the rejection as an excuse to quit producing, either. All writers produce some unassailable work. All writers get discouraged, tired and worn down. The good ones don't make excuses. They keep going.

Let me suggest a simple device that may help you avoid the trap of falling into excuse-making. Go find a cheap calendar, the type that has a small open block for each day of the month. At the end of each day, write down in the day's block two things: 1. the number of hours you spent at the typewriter or word processor, working on your fiction project; and 2. how many pages you produced (rough draft or finished, makes no difference) in that working day.

For those days when you don't have anything in terms of work to report,

type one double-spaced page of excuses, date it carefully, and file it in a special place. Make sure your excuses fill at least one page, about 250 words. You must do this without fail every time you don't work.

I guarantee you one thing: If you follow this system religiously, you'll soon get so sick of writing down your flimsy excuses that you'll either start investing your time in writing that's more creative, or you'll quit.

In either case you'll have stopped kidding yourself.

No excuse is good enough. Think back to that young man I mentioned in the "Forward" Blind and deaf, yet he wrote everyday! You can do no less if you really want to succeed.

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