We have all faced the excuses. They are so tempting, especially in the busy times in life. For me that’s right now. I’m spending my weekends at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival leading people around the grounds and helping them find things. The garden is getting past the growing stage and I have a lot of harvesting and food prep to do. And since it is the end of summer, it is also the end of my hiatus from my day job. On top of all that Sweetie and the Kitties want my attention and it’s already time to start planning for November (because when you are in charge of herding cats that’s what you have to do). So it is really tempting for me to let the writing slide – just until things “stabilize”.
Yea right. You and I both know that isn’t going to happen. If I let it slide now, the next time things get a little tight in the time department, the stories are going on the back burner again. After that the threshold will get ever lower until I’m no longer a writer, just a person who says I write sometimes. Not really my goal in life, and I know from experience that such a situation is the fastest way to drive me insane.
Here’s the thing, I am tired. I have been burning the candle at all three ends. There is something to be said for not trying to be creative when I’m tired like this. That’s the insidious nature of excuses. They have a nugget of legitimacy. Kind of like the nugget of truth in an effective lie.
What’s a writer to do?
Don’t take the excuse. If you are tired, don’t skip your writing time, but make your choices appropriate. For me that means I’m better off working on a short story than a novel. It’s easier for my tired brain to hold all that need to for a short, and later it will be easier for me to iron out the rough patches caused by the lack of energy. I will allow myself to ease off a little during these tight times: I won’t set my daily word count goal too high and loosen my deadline schedule a bit. Reality must have it’s place.
Keeping the excuses at bay is all about knowing yourself. What are the excuses that call to you? What are the ones you can resist and which ones come with chocolate ice cream? When are they most likely to show up? When are you least able to resist? What helps you resist?
I know that there are certain times of the year when I’m more likely to face excuses. Now for instance. At the other end of summer when I’m working on CONvergence. December, just after NaNoWriMo. So I plan on it. I make my schedules knowing full well that I’m not going to be as motivated at these times of the year and will struggle to pull the time from my busy life. So I schedule these times with a lighter roster of deadlines and expectations for myself. Then, when the the “I’m tired” or “I just don’t have the time” excuses come calling I can tell them to back off – I’ve already lightened my load so there is no need for excuses.
It doesn’t always work. Sometimes they still manage to convince me to use them. Of course when that happens, I’m a lot more motivated to kick them to the curb when they come calling the next day.
At other times of the year, different excuses show up. “I want to do something else.” “All my friends are doing _________”, “I don’t have any ideas”, “The dishes need to get done”, you get the idea. There are a million of them. If you let them, they will use up all your time and you’ll be left at the end of the day wondering why you didn’t get anything done. No need to wonder, you were excused to death.
There are some tools to help you with keeping the excuses at arms length (sorry, I have yet to figure out how to keep them all the way out of my life – when I do I’ll let you know).
First is to set a schedule, preferably a regular one. If you write at the same time everyday, then it will be harder for the excuses to break in, because they will be fighting another powerful force: habit. More on habit in another post, for now, just know that habit is a force like “The Force” it can be used for good or evil. If you wield habit against excuse, most of the time habit will win. Yea for you. Of course that means setting up a schedule and sticking to it through all the excuses until habit is yours.
Deadlines are also helpful. A deadline wards off excuses by giving you something more important than sleep (or fun or whatever it is that the excuses are trying to tempt you with). Missing a deadline, if you are like me, is a fate worse than death. I can hold off tired, not just sleep, with the thought of a deadline. Deadlines are the inspiration for most all nighters (actually the combination of deadline and procrastination). The thing about deadlines is that something bad happens if you don’t do your stuff, which when trying to decide if you should listen to an excuse or not is really strong on the “or not” side.
Failing to have Deadlines, accountability also works. Get your friends and family involved. Tell them what you are planning, that way they will ask about it. If they could ask you about it at any time, you don’t want to have to admit that you gave in to an excuse. You don’t really want your friends and family to know that you aren’t holding up to your own goals. That’s just embarrassing. So talk about it. Tell as many people as you can about it. Talk about it at your day job. The more people who know, the less enticing the excuses will be.
You can also use the motivational techniques popular among poster makers. Post your goals where you will have to see them. Then when the excuses are breathing down you neck, you just have to look up and there they are – all the reasons why you should sit down and write even when you don’t feel like it. You don’t have to go out and buy posters for this. It is enough to scrawl a few words on a sticky note, so long as you stick it where you will see it everyday.
Excuses will find ways around anything you throw up to protect yourself, but if you are savvy it will only happen once in a while. Don’t beat yourself up for giving into an excuse now and then. You need the break anyway. The trick is to keep it limited. No more than one excuse per week and you will stay on your track toward being a professional writer or what ever it is you are trying to achieve.