Saturday, 30 October 2010

Excuses Not to Write...

All writers do it – we come up with all sorts of excuses not to write. For every reason you can’t there’s also another reason why you should. How else will you accomplish anything?

Why we do this depends on many factors. Sometimes it’s because we lose flair and give up, perhaps it’s because we can’t find inspiration and then stagnation sets in, or it’s simply that we’ve grown bored with writing completely and we can’t be bothered to write anything worthwhile.

We make excuses because it’s easy. Sometimes we allow them to fester until our lack of writing becomes a long-term problem – in the end, nothing gets done.

The most often used excuses not to write are:

• Procrastination
• Lack of motivation
• Writers Block
• Writing laziness
• Boredom
• Fear of rejection
• Life
• Indifference

Procrastination is a way of canny avoidance. That novel needs finishing but the goings on in EastEnders or CSI diverts your waning attention. You need to write a story, but instead you decide to take the dog for a walk, or you go out for lunch...which takes most of the afternoon. Another short story has been stagnating in a pile of papers since last year, but no matter how much you want to, you can’t be bothered to tackle it. Even Facebook is far more interesting than your book.

Procrastinators allow too much time to pass since their last creative spurt and seem content to carry on with life as it has become, therefore bypassing any writing or productivity. This isn’t unusual, it happens to a lot of writers – sometimes life just gets in the way, if you allow it. Of course, writers love to talk about all the reasons why they aren’t writing instead of actually sitting down and writing. Writers are master procrastinators.

As Epictetus famously wrote, “If you wish to be a writer; write!”

Lack of motivation is another excuse that writers use. But the very thing that drives a writer is everywhere around them and present in everything they do. Motivation comes from the Latin word movere (to move) and is the driving force behind the desire to write, but why is it so often used as an excuse?

Inspiration is the answer, or lack of it. Inspiration and motivation are inextricably linked, they work together to feed a writer, but lack of inspiration can lead to lack of motivation, and lack of motivation can in turn stifle the amount of inspiration. It’s an endless cycle.

Of course, in reality, inspiration surrounds us, it’s in everything we see and hear, touch, taste and smell. There should be no excuse for not writing - there are always new people, new experiences and new places to stimulate the creative process. It’s whether we choose to pay attention to any of these that matters.

Something inspires us – a word, a phrase, something we see, or hear or touch or smell or taste, it motivates us and we write and we create. This should be your endless cycle of productivity.

I find one of the best motivators to get back to writing is to read your favourite authors. This has an inspiring effect; reading what they have written, and how they have done so, is a great motivator, because they have accomplished something. Never neglect aspiration.

Another widely used excuse is writer’s block. While this affliction can have real underlying psychological causes, too many writers take advantage of it and often complain ‘I can’t write a thing, I must have writer’s block’. More often than not, it has nothing to do with an actual writing blockage, but rather suggests that apathy has set in. Writer’s block is always about the writer, not the project you’re working on. By feigning writer’s block, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to write and create. In truth, you’re being lazy...

We all become a bit lazy with our writing from time to time. We’d rather watch the TV, go out with friends, spend hours surfing the internet or we end up blaming writer’s block. It’s a fact that sometimes writing can become a chore and you just don’t want to tackle it. Perhaps you’re writing something you don’t particularly like or have no real interest in or perhaps you’re writing in a genre you’re not used to. This naturally leads us to avoid doing it.

In reality, writers become lazy because they allow themselves to, but then they’ll blame their lack of writing on just about anything, but the only person they should blame is the person in the mirror.

Perhaps the worst excuse for laziness is the internet - why work on something when you can surf, look for holidays, chat in forums or play online bingo and poker? The internet sometimes affords even the most diligent writers the attention span of a fly. It distracts and allows writers to switch off and forget that they have to write. We all like time to have fun and chill, but in order to avoid becoming apathetic and lazy towards writing, a writer needs to balance leisure time (like the internet) with actual writing and not be too distracted.

Another excuse is boredom with writing. On the surface, this appears a shallow excuse, but it probably means there’s an underlying cause. Maybe you’re working on a project that is out of your comfort zone and you’re not used to writing a different genre, or perhaps you’re trying to force a story from an idea that simply doesn’t work, maybe it isn’t strong enough or doesn’t have the right characters. It doesn’t feel right, so invariably it isn’t. The story doesn’t hold your attention so you become bored with it.

To tackle boredom, switch to something else to gain some inspiration - drum up some ideas for short story competitions, do some research for the next novel idea, sort through all those old notebooks and files and bits of paper to see if there are any ideas for flash fiction pieces, short stories, or even a novel. As already pointed out, everything around you is a source of inspiration. How you exploit that is up to you.

The art of writing is a long creative process which involves planning, making notes, research, actual writing and editing, so there should be no excuse to become bored.

Another problem for writers is fear – the dread of what others will think of their work, the prospect of receiving criticism, or the fear of rejection. Writers equate rejection with failure and turn that fear into an excuse not to write. This fear then takes the form of self-doubt. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle which every writer can fall into and is sometimes hard to get out of.

As Sylvia Plath once wrote, “...everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt”.

Fear can stop any writer from writing, but in actuality, over time it stops becoming a fear and turns into an excuse. It’s wise to remember that winners never give up, losers do.

But what about the biggest excuse of all?

Well, life in general. The biggest and most often used excuse. There is no doubt that it can and does get in the way the creative process. Writers have to devote a large part of their time looking after family and a home, as well as a career, and writing can sometimes become a forgotten pastime, a lost hobby or even a missed opportunity. Life becomes one huge excuse not to write.

All these life factors demand our time and can sometimes suck the creativity from us. Writers often complain about the lack of time to write because of their busy lives, and yet miraculously, they find time to watch TV, read a book, surf the internet or go out for a drink. If you can do any of those, then an hour of writing is not impossible. You can make the time to write because not every minute of your day is filled by being busy.

Life only gets in the way if you let it.

But what if it’s not a lack of motivation, a busy life, or boredom or laziness that you can blame on your lack of writing? Well, I’ve saved the most unusual one for last.

Indifference. It’s not strictly an excuse, but writers fall back on it too often. Indifference is the complete lack of interest in writing. The spark has gone; the creative light has fizzled out, your muse has grown weary and left you for someone else.

This is reminiscent of a writer who has struggled for years to be published, but without success, and eventually he or she gives up without ever returning to it. This happens to a high proportion of would-be writers who start out but eventually give up.

Don’t let this be you. Ask most writers why they write, and invariably most will say they do it because they love to write, published or not. It’s that simple, there is no magic formula.

The reality is, there should be no excuse not to write, but it’s so easy to make excuses and put off writing when so many other things require attention or distract us. Ignorance can be bliss, except it doesn’t get you anywhere, so we should remember that inspiration surrounds us, motivation lies within us and creativity is always present, ready for the next big idea. It’s up to you as a writer how effectively you use these tools and when you use them.

I’ll leave the last word to Benjamin Franklin. “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”.


Next time: Plot v. Character driven stories

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