Why aren’t you writing?
I’ll bet you have a host of reasons lined up. You’re ill, you’re busy, your writing stinks, your house is a mess, your kids are a pain, and you don’t have any time, money, or motivation.
Writing is important to you—but it’s also scary. I get that!
You risk embarrassment, failure and the scorn of your friends and family. These reasons for not even trying are handy because they keep you safe from these horrible feelings and experiences.
So now you’re safe in your little box, never risking failure and humiliation… because you never tried going after your dreams.
Is that what you really want?
I don’t think so.
So let’s bust the five most common excuses for not writing:
Excuse #1: My writing stinks!
Let me start by saying that if you think your writing stinks, it probably doesn’t.
I know a lot of writing teachers, and we all agree on one thing: Great writers tend to have low self-esteem when it comes to their work, while writers who think they’re wonderful are the ones who need major editing.
Most of my career has been in magazine journalism, and some of my first pitches were embarrassing — like the time I sent a query letter to Family Circle for an article called “Quik Dri Cheez: Why Advertisers Can’t Spell.” (*cringe*) But I kept pitching, learning from every rejection and every editor comment, and within a couple of years, I was writing for top magazines.
Still think your lack of skill will keep you from success as a writer? Then learn to write better! Try these tactics to improve:
- Get a grip on grammar. If you have issues with grammar and style, they are easy enough to correct. The Elements of Style is available free online and will help you learn to write in a simple, effective style that works for most magazines. I also like Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips.
- Read up. If you aren’t one already, become a voracious reader of everything, from literary fiction to industry trade magazines. You’ll start to recognize what makes good writing, and will absorb the basics of grammar, style, tone and cadence.
- Get help. If you feel you need more help than you can get from a book—or if you write and write but still feel that your writing needs work—you can hire a coach to help you with your writing, or an editor to go over your work.
- Write anyway. They say experience is the best teacher, and they (whoever they are) are right. When I first started getting assignments — mostly for trade magazines — I would print out the article and go over the draft multiple times with a red pen. Now I can write and edit an article on the screen, and my editors are happy with my work. You’ll experience the same growth in your abilities and confidence if you just keep pitching and writing.
Don’t let the (probably untrue) thought that you’re not good enough keep you from writing. If you truly do need to improve, you can.
Excuse #2: You need to have a trust fund to be a writer.
I occasionally see nasty forum posts telling aspiring writers that if they don’t have a rich spouse to support them, they can forget about their writing dreams. It’s a common misconception that writing is a career or hobby fit only for moneyed ladies and men of leisure.
That’s a big, gross lie. Having been in the business for two decades, I know many, many writers who make a good living from their writing, with some of them being the only breadwinners in their families.
Then, there’s the fear that going after your writing passion requires a separate office, fancy equipment, an expensive website, professionally designed business cards, and a contingent of coaches, accountants and lawyers.
The happy reality is that you can get started as a writer for close to nothing. For example:
- A few weeks ago I built a website for my new book from scratch in under four hours—for free.
- You can score free business cards if you don’t mind a small ad on the back.
- Some professionals are happy to barter their services for your writing. I’ve bartered for web design, ad placement, and more.
- No need to spring for fancy software when you can find free word processors online, use Google Spreadsheets for tracking assignments, try no-cost online scheduling systems to set up your calls, offer teleseminars using FreeConferencePro.com, and more.
- Lots of services offer free trials up to a certain threshold. For example, if you want to start a mailing list for your blog, MailChimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers.
You get the idea. No cash? No worries. All you need to start writing is creativity and great ideas.
Excuse #3: I’m a busy person! Who has time for writing?
It may feel like you have zero spare minutes in your day; you’re working 80 hours per week, and you don’t even have enough time to sleep.
However, time-use studies show that we work less, do less housework and childcare, and sleep more than we think. We don’t exaggerate on purpose, but in a culture where it’s a badge of honor to be overworked and underslept, it’s natural for us to over-report work hours and under-report sleep hours.
So let’s say you work 50 hours per week at your day job, sleep 8 hours per night, and do 20 hours of housework and childcare per week (which is a stretch for many of us). Even that busy schedule leaves 42 hours free for other things. That’s enough for a second full-time job! (Maybe a writing job?)
The problem is, those free hours are scattered in bits and pieces throughout the week, so it feels like we never have a good, solid chunk of time to do our writing.
The secret is to take a hard look at your schedule and figure out where you can move things around to create more continuous blocks of time. For example:
- Batch them up. Can you batch errands, phone calls, email checking and so on to get them all done at once?
- Be picky. When scheduling an appointment, don’t take the first slot offered if it’s not good for your schedule. You may have to wait longer if you’re picky about the time slot, but it’s worth it if it helps you arrange your time in a more efficient way.
- Save your day. If you work at home, stop scheduling things for the middle of the day just because you can. For instance, I used to have a private yoga session every week at 10 am. I realized these sessions were breaking up my day in a bad way, so I rescheduled them for right after I knock off work for the day.
- Schedule your writing. Instead of telling yourself you’ll write when you have the time—which somehow never happens—schedule writing time into your calendar just like any other important appointment. That way, you’ll schedule tasks that crop up around your writing time, instead of letting them suck up your whole day.
If you examine your schedule, change what’s not working for you, and set boundaries around your time… you’ll find you have plenty of time to write.
Excuse #4: I want to write, but when I’m ready to get to work, I’m so not motivated!
You’re passionate about writing. You’re driven to write. But when it comes time to sit down and actually, you know, write… suddenly, your motivation is at an all-time low. In fact, your body and mind are actually screaming at you to not write.
In his book The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield calls this problem “Resistance,” and says it tends to rear its head when you’re about to do something creative, launch a business, or attempt to advance spiritually or morally. Writing can fit into all of these categories. It’s a trifecta of Resistance!
I’ve found that many writers, at this point, plop down on the sofa and attempt to psychoanalyze themselves. “Why can’t I write? What am I afraid of? What’s the problem here?”
But the fact is, you can’t think your way into motivation.
What you need to do push past the fear and lack of inspiration just long enough to take action. Once you’re in action mode, your motivation builds, you get on a roll, and you want to keep going.
Here are a few tricks that can help you break through the initial fear and resistance, and start writing:
- Take five. Set a timer for five minutes and tell yourself that you need to write only until the timer goes off, and then you can stop.
- Negotiate with yourself. Make a deal with yourself that you need to write only the title of your new work and your byline. (I do this when I have a magazine article assignment I really, really don’t want to start.)
- Start in the middle. For example, instead of starting a blog post with the lead sentence, start with the tips and then write your beginning later. Write a middle chapter of your novel instead of the first chapter. If you’re working on an article, start with the kicker (ending) instead of the lede (beginning).
Chances are, once you start getting words on paper, you’ll be on fire to keep going.
Excuse #5: I’ll write when the kids are grown/I take just one more writing class/my health improves etc.
We tend to put off what’s most important to us until the Universe aligns all the events in our lives exactly in our favor.
But it never happens. We always need more money, we cure one illness only to come down with another one, the kids move out but then you need to wait until you’re over the “empty nest” syndrome. The list of requirements never ends!
“I’ll write when X happens” is a handy excuse that keeps us from ever having to take action, so we’re never at risk of embarrassment or failure. It keeps you nice and safe from these scourges—but it also prevents you from living your dreams.
Don’t wait. Instead of requiring that every aspect of your life in perfect form and order, take action now — in your messy, imperfect, beautiful life. Write!
The fact is: there are innumerable reasons (excuses?) not to write.
And one overwhelming reason to write—because you want to.
How do you find the time and motivation to write? Tell us in the comments!
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