Why Excuses Aren’t All Bad

As some of you may recall, I wrote my first (yet to be edited or revised) novella during the 3-Day Novel Contest a few months ago. But that wasn’t the novel I set out to write when I started this blog. I’m now super-excited, (and more than a little nervous) to admit that I’m writing that novel for National Novel Writing Month this year.

There were times over the past few months when I wondered if I’d ever manage to tackle it. There are so many ways to scare yourself away from writing a novel (and this novel is historical fiction, so I’ve uncovered a whole well of additional excuses related to research). Here are a few of excuses I’ve made to avoid writing this novel.

Excuses, Excuses & More Excuses:

  • You need to do more research before writing.
  • You’re not ready to write this yet (a.k.a. you need more life experience).
  • You should save this idea for when your writing improves.
  • You should wait until you take X writing class.
  • You should wait until you’ve read more books about writing.
  • You should wait until you can travel to some of the settings you’ll be writing about.
  • You should wait until you have a detailed outline before you start writing.
  • And on and on and on.

Do any of these sound familiar to you? I know (hope!) I can’t be alone in making excuses to avoid writing a particular book or story that you think has great potential.

Why Excuses Aren’t All Bad

Writers are notorious for making excuses. There are books and blogs and podcasts dedicated to helping writers overcome the great Excuse Monster and start slapping words onto the page. But after my experience with excuses over the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that excuses are not ALL bad. Here’s why:

Some Ideas Need Time to Gestate:

The story I’m writing now wasn’t ready back in February. It was tormenting me and swimming back and forth in my head, but it still needed some gestation time. I was frustrated with it because there were gaps in the plot that I couldn’t fill, and characters that had not yet solidified in my mind. I think our excuses can serve to protect our ideas until we’re ready to tackle them. But there’s got to be a limit to how long we protect our ideas, so we don’t use idea-gestation as another way to put off writing that book we really, really want to write.

Excuses Protect us From Our Fears (Until We’re Ready to Face Them):

I believe we use excuses to protect ourselves from failure. I was terrified to attempt to write this novel and fail. But, now that I’m a few months wiser (said with sarcasm, of course), I know that my first draft will fail – if I attempt to consider my first draft the final draft. What a relief it is to give yourself permission to write (and I paraphrase Anne Lamott here), shitty first drafts. Just like idea-gestation time, we need to be careful that our fears don’t keep us from writing something all together.

What do You Think?

Of course, I may be making excuses for making excuses. What do you think? Do excuses serve a purpose in the writing life? What excuses do you use?

If you’re Nano’ing your way through the weekend, good luck to you!

Author: Carrie Mumford

Carrie Mumford is a writer and content manager living in Calgary, Alberta. She write short stories and non-fiction articles, and blogs about technology, editing, writing and (of course) books.

  • Good advice. I try to take some time each year just devoted to generating new ideas, which I then keep on standby in case I run out of steam on a major project. That way I always have something I can work on, which can help me if I find myself stuck with an unresolvable story problem.

  • I can related to all those excuses… and many more. Used in moderation, I believe the excuses can help a writer create a better novel. Used in excess, those same excuses can stop a writer from creating a novel. And the difference between the two is a fine line written in the sand.

    If not for well-intentioned friends, and the not-so-gentle push they gave me, I might still be staring at a blank sheet of paper. Here are the three rules they challenged me to work by:

    #3 GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO WRITE CRAP. Crap can be fixed. (See #2)

    But I have to admit it’s easier said than done.

    Have fun Nano’ing!

    • Fantastic rules! I especially like number two (“You can’t fix a blank page”). I’ve never heard that one before, but I’ll definitely be adding it to my motivation mantra. Thanks for your comment!

  • I definitely believe in letting ideas gestate and waiting until you feel truly ready to tackle them (i.e. deal with your fears). For myself, as long as I am writing SOMETHING, I give myself this time, even if I am making excuses. I won’t say it doesn’t frustrate me at times, though : ).

    • Another great point Pam! Even if one idea is gestating, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be writing something else. Thanks for your comment :)

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly. The problem, I think, is when one allows the fear to stop them entirely. Life is a pile of blank pages you can’t fix. I love J.S.Marlo’s rules too.

  • This was a marvelous post. Sometimes I beat myself up about my tendency to procrastinate and find excuses not to write on a work in progress. Sometimes I’m write and I’m just being lazy. but sometimes, my unconscious is stepping in and saying “wait for a better time”/ As you say some ideas need to gestate or as I often say “cook a little longer”. So I go out and do some gardening or take a walk or clean the house (ugh). And those thoughts churn around in my brain and resolve into something, that once I sit in front of the computer, flow quickly onto the screen. I’m in the zone then.

    • Yes! This happens to me too. I find (like you) that doing something that requires very little brain power, like cleaning, is a great way to let a story float to the surface. Thanks for your thoughful comment, Sharon!

  • Carrie, I agree that excuses can at times give us the buffer zone that we need when we are trying to compose. I know that when I write a blog article I am constantly finding things, excuses to interject into the process. I think that at times we do it almost unconsciously to give us the space that we need to process what it is that we are trying to say. I know that for me there is always that one other thing that I have to do or check or person that I need to call or more research that I want to do before committing to a course of writing. This article does a lot to put what I thought was simple procrastination into perspective. Thanks for the insight.

    • Hi Dan! You raise a really good point: excuses and procrastination go hand in hand. I like to think of procrastination as excuses’ little brother. I find that I consciously make excuses, but procrastination sneaks up on me just the way you described above: a phone call here, a little bit of research there… and suddenly your writing time is gone. Thanks for the reminder!

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