Six Common Writing Excuses (And How to Overcome Them)

by Ali on November 22, 2011

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Image from Flickr by lowjumpingfrog

I promised I’d share some of what I learnt at BlogWorld, which took place from 3rd – 5th November. It was a fantastic three days packed with great teaching and awesome friends. Most of the session I went to weren’t very on-topic for writers (they covered things like webinars and community management) – but this one was.

Marty Coleman, also known as The Napkin Dad, delivered a great, inspiring presentation called Six Stop Signs on Creativity Road … and in this post, I’m going to take those stop signs and apply them specifically to writing.

The bits in bold text in this post are taken from my notes from Marty’s talk, paraphrased from what he said; the regular text is my thoughts.

#1: I Have No Money

Marty: Money doesn’t make you more creative – or guarantee success.

Let’s not get too idealistic here: I doubt you want to be the starving-in-a-garret type of writer. Money is important, and I’m not suggesting you quit your steady day job to write a novel, without any safety net in place.

As a writer, though, you have a huge advantage over other creative types: your materials are virtually free. It costs you very little to put words on the page – a bit of electricity to power your computer, or a pen and paper if you write longhand.

Get around a lack of money by:

  • Using free writing advice online, or writing how-to books from your local library.
  • Looking for ways to make money from your writing.
  • Settling for basic notebooks, not luxury ones (bonus: you won’t worry about “messing them up”)

#2: I Have No Time

Marty: We all have the same amount of time (even if it doesn’t feel that way). Focus on actions that actually take you towards your goal: don’t mistake activity for achievement.

When I coach writers, I find that one problem crops up again and again: finding time to write. It’s such a universal issue that I even wrote a short ebook to help address it – you can get How to Find Time For Your Writing free when you sign up to the Aliventures newsletter.

If you’re not too sure where all your time is going, find out! Use an application like Rescue Time on your computer, or keep a detailed time log for a few days. I know that I often feel that I’ve got no time – when the reality is that I’m not using my time very effectively.

Get around a lack of time by:

  • Waking up 15 minutes earlier, and writing at the start of the day.
  • Deliberately setting aside time for writing sessions – schedule them a week or two ahead in your diary.
  • Taking a notebook to work: you can write (or plan your writing) during your lunch hour.

#3: I’m Not Educated Enough

Marty: Bloggers don’t have degrees in blogging or in social media – but that doesn’t stop them being very successful.

In my experience as a writer’s coach, everyone feels that they could do with more education. Sometimes, though, education can actually stifle your creativity: recently, several clients have come to me and said I didn’t do very well in English at school…

Frankly, the skills that you need in school to do well in essays and exams are not the skills you need to write a great blog post or a gripping short story. Outside of school, no-one cares about your impressive vocabulary or your fine use of the semi-colon: they care that you can write engagingly, in language that resonates with them.

Get around a lack of education by:

  • Getting books that help you: there are how-to guides on every aspect of writing.
  • Taking a course. If you truly feel that you’re lacking an essential writing skill, then find a local or online adult education course that can teach you that skill.
  • Placing real value on your experience: clients care much more about what you can actually do than about your educational background.

#4: It Has to be Perfect

Marty: None of us are perfect – and creative processes are inherently messy.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. I pride myself on producing high-quality writing: I’m no fan of the idea of online “content” as purely a way to draw in people who’ll then click on ads.

However … I also recognise that perfect is often at war with finished. Nothing I write is ever going to be perfect – there’ll always be a word that could be improved, or a sentence that could be tweaked. When I published my novel Lycopolis last week, I knew it wasn’t perfect – but it was good, and that was enough.

Get around your perfectionism by:

  • Limiting how many times you’ll revise something (whether that’s for your own purposes or for your clients).
  • Treating writing as play. Spend some time free writing: grab a piece of paper, write for 15 minutes, and see where you end up!
  • Putting your writing online. If you do later want to tweak a sentence or fix a typo, it’s very easy to change. Once you’ve printed 100 copies of your book or 500 leaflets, there’s no going back.

#5: I Had Bad Stuff Happen

Marty: Your problems are real and valid. It’s good to address them. Be careful of bad habits (e.g. drugs, alcohol) that may seem to be your friend, but can damage your creativity.

It can be tough to write when things aren’t going so well in your life. Perhaps you’re facing illness, financial problems, bereavement, stress or something else. You might have suffered past experiences that still hurt today (whether that’s through physical injury or emotional pain).

Bad stuff happens to us all. Sometimes, it’s directly related to our writing: you get a rejection letter; someone leaves nasty comments on your blog; you lose your notebook full of ideas. These things might be objectively small, but they can dampen your motivation for writing.

Get around the bad stuff by:

  • Looking for the silver lining. If you had some harsh feedback on a piece of work, is there anything in there that helps you improve?
  • Asking for support. Friends, family or fellow writers may be able to comfort and advise you.
  • Using it! Your worst moments can make for extremely powerful pieces of writing (you can always fictionalise them).

#6: I’m Not Brave Enough

Marty: The reality is that you will fail. And yes, there’ll always be someone out there who’s better than you (but they can still learn from you, and they might not be so big and secure as you think).

I might come across as pretty self-assured here on Aliventures, but I’m not a very brave person. Face-to-face, I can be a bit shy. I often feel nervous when I’m trying something new, whether it’s writing-related or not.

Believe me, I know how scary it can be to show your work to an audience. It’s twelve years since I first read a piece of my writing to my writers’ group – and I still remember how shaky I felt! When I started blogging, I was anxious about the reaction I’d get. When I published Lycopolis last week, I worried about what people would think of it.

I don’t have a magic formula for becoming instantly brave, but I do have a few tips.

Get around your fear by:

  • Going ahead and acting like you’re brave. Eventually, you’ll realise that you’re no longer scared.
  • Telling yourself “this is just practice for the real thing.”
  • Focusing on the work itself, not on your feelings about it. Concentrate on making it good and getting it out there.

 

Huge thanks to Marty for an excellent talk at BlogWorld. If you check out the Napkin Dad site here, you’ll find lots of fantastic advice (and fab drawn-on napkins!) for creative folks.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Ewer November 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

#5 is one of the biggest problems for me, although I would expand it into a more general “not feeling motivated”.

I was speaking to my house mate yesterday, who is a golf pro and does a lot of teaching. I was musing on the fact that if she has a bad day, she still has to get out there and do her lessons, even if she is a bit rubbish that day. But it’s different with writing. If you’re just feeling uninspired or down in the dumps, it is REALLY difficult to produce something of worth.

That is something I occasionally struggle with.
Tom Ewer’s last blog post ..How To Make Money Online Now

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Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad November 22, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Hi Ali, Thanks so much for jamming on the themes I put forth at Blog World. I love that it motivated you to develop the ideas specifically for your creative world.
Tom, perhaps the key is your statement ‘something of worth’. What would happen if you gave up trying to make it worth anything and just allowed yourself to write garbage? You probably wouldn’t end up using the garbage you wrote BUT the very act of writing it might stimulate your thoughts and words into directions that aren’t garbage. In other words START writing no matter how you feel and the actual act of writing might turn it all around, who knows!
Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad’s last blog post ..Tell Them You Are Proud

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Ali November 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Thanks, Marty! I thought you made excellent points; I’m glad you’re happy with me sharing them here. :-)

Tom — I think Marty’s got some great advice here. I absolutely sympathise with how you feel — there are times when I simply can’t face writing! What helps me a lot is to write at the *start* of the day (that way, even if things get me down later on, the writing is done). That used to mean getting up at 5.45am so I could write before work (ugh) but it really did help.

On the other hand … if it’s just an occasional struggle, rather than a regular occurrence, it’s probably not worth worrying about it. We all have bad days, and sometimes it’s good just to take a break and go easy on yourself.

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Tom Ewer November 23, 2011 at 9:59 am

Thanks for the advice guys! :)
Tom Ewer’s last blog post ..How To Make Money Online Now

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Tracey November 23, 2011 at 12:06 am

I love your stuff. It’s always helpful. And every time I read one of your blogs I’m like, “Yes, I’m not alone! I can do this.” Please keep ‘em coming (and your “not” instead of “no” typo –about no longer being scared made me appreciate you even more.

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Ali November 25, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Yeah, I’ve sadly not yet developed immunity to typos. ;-) (Fixed it, ta!) I’m winning the war against my perfectionist tendencies, though…

And you’re absolutely not alone. I know it can feel that way with writing — it’s such a solitary, in-your-own-head sort of activity — but there are plenty of other people going through the exact same stuff, facing (and overcoming!) the same struggles. You absolutely can do it. :-)

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Zac | Turning Point Motivation November 24, 2011 at 12:12 am

These are definitely common excuses. I’m a perfectionist, and I get distracted easily, which is why I feel like I never have time.

Great post, now that I don’t have any excuses, I’ll get back to writing.

Thanks!
Zac | Turning Point Motivation’s last blog post ..The Day I Almost Drowned In Barbados, Please Learn From My Lesson: Have Respect For The Power Of The Ocean

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Ali November 25, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I think we’re all rather prone to distraction (and perhaps it’s almost a symptom of perfectionism: we’re so stressed out trying to get everything JUST RIGHT that it’s a whole lot easier to go and giggle at DamnYouAutoCorrect.com … at least, I hope it’s not just me who does that ;-))

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Chad November 25, 2011 at 10:38 am

Great article. I have All of those!

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farouk November 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

true Ali
they are similar to the root causes of procrastination
when it comes to writing i sometimes face the problem of not finding new ideas, not sure if that’s an excuse as well :)

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Ali November 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm

You write such an amazing amount that I’m not surprised you struggle for ideas! ;-) I find that it helps to set aside time *just* for idea-generation. I also get a lot of ideas from questions that readers ask…

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Paul M November 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I keep a list of all ideas as they come farouk, I might open a new document and just put a title on the page and that’s it. It might just be someone’s idea that I want to expand on.
‘Being brave’ – Just publishing my first post was the first step that helped give me courage, to say, ‘hey that really wasn’t all that painful.’
People generally don’t comment if they thinks it’s a bad post, poorly written or otherwise, and if they do, delete the comment. Self doubt and fear, it’s so freeing when we overcome those two obstacles.
Paul M’s last blog post ..Comment on What Did You Discover Today? by Will the Word Proccessor Ever Replace the Typewriter? | CanadianWrites

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Ali November 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Yeah, I know how terrifying it can be to take the plunge but (much as it pains me to say it) the reality is that you probably don’t have many people reading your first few blog posts.

In 3+ years of blogging, I’ve had very very few nasty or negative comments. There’ll always be the occasional one, but it usually says more about the person commenting than about the blogger’s work…

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Michael November 29, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Hello Ali,

Your a great blogger, your post is packed with a good information and details. This really helps a lot on how to overcome the six common excuse. To be honest I’m lacked of confidence in front of many people. Thanks for sharing this post! # 6 is very crucial for me.
Michael’s last blog post ..how to get a girl to like you

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Ali November 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Thanks, Michael, really glad you found this helpful! :-)

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Tara @ Startup Freelancer December 3, 2011 at 2:34 am

Ah, I liked this and especially number one. Money is an energy tool! Ditch the scarcity mentality and be prepared to be amazed.
Tara @ Startup Freelancer’s last blog post ..December Goals

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Ali December 5, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Thanks, Tara! :-)

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Martin M December 3, 2011 at 5:37 am

good ones .. but I just procrastinate whole my life.. I’ve wasted so much of my time and I’m really sorry I did not act. I’ve been listening to writers who don’t have time .. but I had plenty of time and did nothing, that’s much much muuuch worse! (I do not have enough time now though :)) )

I’m easily taken by the big idea, but when it comes to the point to sit down and write the stuff then it’s horrible. I could not keep up with writing everyday and I was coming up with new plots, new stories and new characters… I actually could have taken it for accomplished when I had finally come up with a story I quite liked.

but I guess you have your own problems .. just tried to expand on mistakes .. so KIDS !! … learn from my mistakes!

well .. good night folks .. and wish you all good luck with writing !!!

MM

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Ali December 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Ah, if only we could have our wasted days back…

There’s always a gulf between what we imagine in our heads and what happens when we put words onto the page. The good news is that the more you write (and edit … and edit some more), the better your writing will be.

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Penny Cruz December 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm

I, too, suffer from procrastination when it comes to writing new posts for my blog. I’ve recently found a method to overcome it – just get started!

Nice blog post – thanks for sharing!
Penny Cruz’s last blog post ..female psychology

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Ali December 5, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Great method, Penny! :-D

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Tony December 8, 2011 at 1:23 am

Hey Ali, great post! Number 4 is a big one for me. I’ve realized that you have to give yourself permission to suck as well. Especially for new bloggers like myself, we think we have to be pros right off the bat.

That could be further from the truth.

I’ve embraced that I won’t be great at this at first. But as time goes on, I KNOW I’ll improve. I’m happy to report that I’ve (for the most part) let go of my tendency to be a perfectionist.

To prove it, I only edited this comment once! :)

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Ali December 8, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Cheers, Tony! And yeah, we all have to begin — and fail, learn and improve — on our way to success. Hurrah for letting go of perfectionism! :-)

(I only edited this comment once, too. Perhaps we should start a club. ;-))

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