Excuses, Excuses – Five Tips for Zapping Stagnation

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As a writer who works with first-time novelists, I hear it all the time. Well, I hear multiple versions of it:

“I haven’t had time to write, because life has been really busy.”

“I’ve got a best-selling idea for a novel, but I’m too tired to work on it.”

“I want to write, but I’ve been having a hard time getting over the loss of Guppy, my goldfish.”

People! Please.

Let me tell you a secret. Anyone can come up with a reason not to write. Okay, so that’s not really a secret, but I swear the excuses sometimes make me want to slap my head and say, “This isn’t easy, folks!” News flash: Most writers don’t skip off to some mountain retreat to work on their novels. Nope. Most of us have lives to live, and books don’t write themselves.

If only.

But I get it. I do. Life is crazy complicated, and sometimes finding a moment of peace and sitting your butt in front of the computer feels like the last possible thing you want to do. Then, even when you’re finally at the computer, distractions abound.

So here, quick and simple, are the tips I share with writers both new and experienced to keep their novels out of the “incomplete” pile:

Make a schedule. Some writers eschew schedules as creativity killers. I disagree. I give myself an achievable word-count goal every week. However, my family members (and multiple paid writing gigs) come first, so if that means I have to get up at 5:30 one morning—or earlier—to reach my word-count goal, I do it.

Don’t wait on divine inspiration. Inspiration or not, you can’t work with something you don’t have. Some days I really get carried away with what I’m writing; on others, I feel like my brain got lost in a big black hole. No matter. Write something. Put it down. You can always fix it later.

Watch out for time suckers. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools are the new-age author’s best friend. But you know what? Don’t make the mistake of spending all your time online talking about writing and not doing it. Why? Because you’re likely to get stuck watching videos of cats doing hilarious things, and while that’s certainly good for a laugh, I’m afraid it doesn’t do much for reaching the final chapter of your novel.

Don’t always be a panster. I find when I develop a good-hearted but flawed main character, the story begins to write itself. For my first several novels, I knew how I wanted to begin the novel and how it would end, but I didn’t think too far beyond that. Once I started teaching writing classes, however, I realized some people needed to learn how to outline. The result? I discovered outlining did wonders for my novels as well. As a writer, you should give yourself permission to depart from the outline at any time, but let me tell you something: an outline can keep you from sitting in front of the computer while your brain fires blank after blank (Hah! I’m a sucker for puns).

Get to the end, and then go back. I’ve known several writers who write a scene or two and then go back over and over it, hemming and hawing over each textual decision.

Knock it off! Once you start on a project, limit how much you go back and edit the beginning until you reach the end. Once you have the entire story down, only then will you know exactly how the rest of it should play out. And often, we use revision as a way to procrastinate from writing. Now, that doesn’t mean that multiple revisions—separated by weeks or maybe months of time—aren’t necessary after you write that final word, but mindlessly reviewing what you’ve already written while patting yourself on the back or hating every bit of it does nothing to get you to “The End.”

Gosh. I didn’t mean to be preachy. And folks, this is just my personal opinion after years of trial and error. I want to inspire you. I want you to keep those negative thoughts from hijacking your writing journey. My novel writing does not come first in my life, but I do make it a priority. And remember, it might not be that first novel that gets you an agent or contract. It might be the second, or even the tenth. But if you want this, you will hang in there. And through each step of the process, you will grow into the writer you want to be.

So, get moving! Find your own personal drill sergeant inside of you and learn to chant: “No excuses! No excuses!”

Because that’s the only way to succeed.

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