By Brett Battles

We’re all perpetrators. We find reasons not to do the things we really should be doing…going out with friends, cleaning out the garage, learning to cook that meal we always told ourselves we wanted to learn.

It’s amazing the things we can talk ourselves out of. “I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I’m just not in the mood.” “There’s that other ‘thing’ I want to do first.”

We can be especially good at this when it comes to writing. “I need to mental be in the right frame of mind.” “I only have an hour or two to write, so it’s not even worth it.” “I’ve got writer’s block.”

I’m here to tell you, if you want to write books, those are all just excuse. Sure, there are going to be days you just can’t write because life gets in the way. But if you’re making excuses, it’s not life getting in your way, it’s you.

I knew when I was in fifth grade that I wanted to be a novelist. I didn’t know all the parameters of being one at the time – the work I would have to put in, the amount of time it would actually take to write a full book – but I knew I wanted to write stories. The dream obviously stayed with me, and I wrote a lot over the following years. What might be surprising is that I didn’t complete a full novel until just after I was thirty-two. Why? Because there were years I didn’t really put the effort in. I was busy living (something all novelists need to do in some way or another), and was not serious about being a novelist. Even when I finished that book, I wasn’t ready.

For seven years after that, I wrote very little. Then, when I turned thirty-nine I told myself if I really wanted to fulfill the dream of that ten year old me, I needed to buckle down and do it.

The biggest obstacle was finding time to write. I had a fulltime job, after all, and that pretty much ate up most of the day. But if I just gave up because of that, it would be because I was making excuses again, something I had done for years. So I had to find a way to work writing into my day, or just admit I was giving up.

My solution? I adjusted my habits and got up early, allocating two hours every morning to write before I went work. I also decided any time I had free time in the evenings or the weekends, I’d write. That’s how I wrote two novels that I haven’t published, and also three that I have. THE CLEANER was written this way.

I could have easily said it’s not worth it after one of the unpublished novels failed to sell, and given up. But I kept going. A) because I was still holding tight to the dream, and B) well…because I’m a writer, and writers write.

Sleeping would have been great. I could have stayed up later, done things with friends, had a life. But I was (and still am) a writer. And that meant, as I’ve already said, I had to write. Still, just because I did didn’t guarantee I’d achieve the goal of being published, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve it if I didn’t write anything.

If I may repeat myself, if I was going to be a writer, I had to write. This could apply to anything. If I was going to be a ball player, I would have to practice. If I was going to be a scientist, I would have to study. If I was going to be a professional photographer, I would have to take photographs…a whole hell of a lot of them.

Now maybe you might not be able to get up early, or even carve out a couple hours somewhere else in your day, but you can find an hour, or a half-hour or even fifteen-minutes…somewhere in your life is a block of time you can set aside. But setting aside the time is just the start. You need to use it, too. No excuses.

Excuses will get you a free afternoon. Working on what you love could get you a lifetime of satisfaction.

Here’s something you should check out. An example of improvising, and not letting obstacles get in your way. I love this!



So what excuses do you give yourself? How do you move beyond them?


19 thoughts on “OBSTACLES

  1. JD Rhoades

    "I'm too tired."

    "I worked really hard all week, I deserve a night of vegging out and watching TV"

    "I already wrote today, I did a newspaper column/Murderati post" 🙂

    How do I move beyond them? Sadly, sometimes I don't.

  2. chris2

    "Excuses will get you a free afternoon. Working on what you love could get you a lifetime of satisfaction."

    wow, that really drives it home! and it will resonate for a lifetime

    and ditto on what JD said, especially the tv, since I'm trying to get a handle on plotting these days

    thanks, Brett, for the wake up call!

  3. Debbie

    Sacrifice: the word of the day. I've got a family, specifically kids. Something's got to give and I think of Stephen everytime it's the kids.

    Woke up with a story idea that had conflict and character motivation. There was a fully developed society for them to move around and interact. Turned on the computer (still in nightgown), ready to write. No sooner was the boot up sequence completed when my daughter asked if I would put my son's hair in a mohawk. Yes the door was closed, yes most of the story disolved, but he has a mohawk and a memory. Can I be brutally honest though? I felt resentment and guilt and more guilt. I want to write, I really do, but with only myself to blame for the interruptions and distractions.

    Btw, love the video. Very inspirational. Going to make use of the time I have!

  4. Shizuka

    "I'm so tired anything I write now will suck."

    "Watching this movie (TV show, reading this book, etc.) will help me figure out my story."

    "I'm better off going to sleep and waking up really early to write."

    "I need to let my book sit and percolate for a while."

    etc, etc.

    I have no writer's block when it comes to making up excuses. The only way around them is the "just ten minutes" deal. Telling myself if I don't feel like writing after doing it for ten minutes, I'll stop. This works. Sometimes.

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Oddly, Brett, we are on the exact same page when it comes to Murderati posts this week. Wait until you see what I wrote for tomorrow. I even reference your words of wisdom. The synchronicity is astounding.

    I've spent my life doing "after hours" writing. I wrote my first screenplay when I was twenty and I wrote another nine screenplays up until the late thirties. A couple of them were paid assignments, but most of them were those spec scripts we all write while we're working full time. I didn't know I wanted to be a novelist until I'd burnt out trying to be a screenwriter. And then I applied the same work ethic to that, writing evenings and weekends for 3 1/2 years until that first novel was done. I had to cut that time in half to write the second novel, while still holding down the day job. And I'll be doing the same for the third.

    The hardest part for me is finding time to spend with my family. It's a real balancing act. My boys are at the age where they want me around. If I'm not there for them now, I doubt I'll get another chance. If this means I have to slow down the writing schedule, so be it. I don't want to be that "Cats in the Cradle" father. Still, the book has to be written, and I'm a writer. It's all about balance.

  6. PK the Bookeemonster

    "I have plenty of time."

    "It's only the first of the month…"

    Definitely: "I'm just so tired."

    "I just want to read one chapter because I haven't read in so long."

    And then the mad scramble at the end of the month to get it all done.

  7. Lorena

    Burnout is the evil angel sitting on my shoulder. I write in my day job, and my second job is as a freelance proofreader, and there are days when I'm writing on my lunch hour just to get the writing in. If my lunch hour gets taken up with a meeting or errands that can't be run another time, I might not get anything written or edited that day, because when I get home, it's hard, hard, hard to sit at the computer again.

    Best thing I did for my productivity was buy a netbook. Small, ultra-portable, scaled down (I'm not a fan of lap-tops in general, or wi-fi, so I don't do any web surfing when I'm on it!), and it doesn't matter if I can only grab 10 minutes at my desk or 45 at lunch. If I need downtime when I'm at home, or if I have a proofreading assignment, I've not passed up my writing time. During the day, I'm already in full-blown creative mode, so it's easy to switch over to my story line. Downside (?) is I don't get to use my excuses anymore–they're all gray and dusty….

  8. Reine (Marie-Reine)

    Brett, I love that video– didn't realise their instruments had been stolen until I went through some of the links!

    Everything used to keep me from writing. Now that it's so difficult to do because of quadriplegia, I get more done. Adversity? Maybe. Probably. Like don't tell me I can't do this! One letter at a time. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk. Plunk plunk. Plunk. Plunk plunk plunk. I write tons more now… now that I "can't" write. And I love it more, too.

    My biggest problem is keeping family from checking on me to be sure I'm okay in here with the door closed. I printed up a sign for the door – like the kind you put on your dorm room door when writing an exam, but they check on me anyway. "Well, how do I know you didn't fall out of your chair after you closed the door?" Honestly!

  9. Robert Gregory Browne

    You sent me that video earlier in the week, but I still love watching it.

    Buckling down and doing it. That really is what separates real writers from wannabes. Doing it even when we don't want to do it. Even when we don't have time to do it.

    I've spent the last year or so buckling down and have found that, despite the pain, the rewards have been abundant.

  10. JB Lynn

    Fantastic post! Thank you!

    I try to remember to ask myself if the decision I'm making (aka my excuse) is going to serve my goals. I don't always remember to ask the question, but when I do, it almost always gets back on track.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Reine (Marie-Reine)

    Lorena, I love my MacBook – looking forward to getting an iPad for more portability in reading and writing.

  12. Brett Battles

    Love reading all the posts! Reine, yours obviously stands out because it would be even easier for you to not write, that you do is exactly the point I'm trying to make. If we want to write, we have to write, no matter what (real or perceived) stands in our way.

  13. pari noskin taichert

    Yesterday I only wrote 300 or so words of fiction. (My new client has me doing quite a bit of nonfiction . . .)

    But my fiction streak has been going since July 1. Everyday. Something. Period.

  14. JD Rhoades

    Marie-Reine, I'm printing your comment out and sticking it up somewhere I'm likely to look when I feel all whiny and procrastinatey.

    You got balls bigger'n my head.

  15. Reine (Marie-Reine)

    Brett, thank you. Organization makes it possible for me. I used to have lots of time and got very little done. When I acquired my disability I had to become very organized just to get fucking dressed in the morning. Writing time is now part of my organized life, and I like it. I like life better now. Really.

    JD, balls- heh.

  16. Reine (Marie-Reine)

    Brilliant, Debbie! I LOVE that! I'm making it my new theme song. Thanks! Hey don't worry about spelling Marie-Reine. Just call me Reine. That's what my friends and family call me – with any number of spellings depending on whether they're my Irish half or my French-Métis half.

    You guys have made my day. I really haven't done much, though… plunk plunk.

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