The Seven Scariest Excuses People Make to Avoid Writing

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If you’re like most people, you’ve probably made a myriad of excuses for not getting any writing done – lack of time, fear of failure, too busy, no privacy, nothing to write about, etc.

Below are the seven most common excuses I’ve heard people use to explain why they aren’t writing. I call them the Seven Deadly Excuses because they can kill a person’s writing practice before it has a chance to flourish. Many of these excuses are influenced by negative messages and assumptions you’ve heard since childhood. By reframing these messages and taking positive action, those fears will diminish over time.

Excuse 1: “I don’t have time to write.”
A lack of time is the most common excuse people make about not writing. If this is your biggest fear, chances are your writing practice has never gotten off the ground, or you write in fits and starts. You always talk about wanting to write, but you never do anything about it.

The problem isn’t that you don’t have time to write, but the expectation of how much time is needed for writing. If you expect a writing practice to take up two, three or four hours every day, that is unrealistic. No one has that kind of time. With full-time jobs, clients to take care of, families to raise and other important responsibilities, there’s little time left over for writing.

The truth is, you don’t need hours at a time to write. When you’re just starting a writing practice, only ten or fifteen minutes a day will suffice. For example, while working as an attorney, A Time to Kill author John Grisham set a goal of writing one page per day, roughly 200 words. Grisham shows it is possible to fit writing into your schedule.

Excuse #2: “I’m too busy.” 
When you say that you’re too busy to write, what you may actually be saying is that writing is a low priority compared to other responsibilities, such as a work, school, taking care of kids or aging parents, etc. Who has time to begin a writing practice when all these other priorities compete for your attention?

Perhaps you learned in childhood that school work and household chores came first before you could watch TV, play with your friends, or write in your diary. If this was your experience, writing became a low priority.

But maybe it’s time to rethink those priorities. Maybe it’s time to make writing a higher priority than before. When you make writing a priority, you’ll find it’s easier to begin a regular writing practice. If all you need is fifteen minutes a day, that’s time well spent, no matter how busy you are.

Excuse 3: “My writing isn’t good enough.”
From the first moment you put pen to paper, your writing probably won’t be very good.
That’s normal for most beginning writers. But it’s true for experienced ones too. Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale, writes as many as 10 drafts of each novel because she knows the first draft isn’t her best or final work. It’s simply the starting point that she can build on.

If you continually tell yourself that your writing is not good enough, ask yourself why you feel that way. What is your writing not good enough for? Publication? For other people to see?

Instead of berating yourself for not writing well, make a plan to keep improving. Read authors whose work you admire, so you can learn from them. When you write something, ask for feedback. Constructive criticism can help you spot recurring errors. Most important, write, write, write.

Excuse 4: “I don’t know what to write about!”
Do you suffer from blank page syndrome – the act of staring at a blank page or computer screen with no idea what to write about?  Or when you do come up with a story ideas, do you dismiss it as uninteresting?

When faced with a blank page, you may be overlooking the best source of story ideas: personal experience. You have plenty of life experience to draw from, so explore those events from your past to adapt to your stories. One way to access this reservoir of life experience is with writing prompts. You can find hundreds of prompts on sites such as  Writer’s Digest and DIYMFA.com.

Excuse 5: “I don’t have a private space to write.”
If you share a home with a spouse, three children, a dog and two cats, it may be difficult to find a quiet, private space to write. Others believe that without ideal circumstances, such as a desk and comfortable chair, their favorite coffee mug and favorite pen, they’re just not able to write.

You need to ask yourself if the problem is an actual lack of space, or the expectation that you need a lot of space to write. I’ve drafted blog posts on breaks at work, on buses and trains or while waiting for appointments. If you wish you had ideal surroundings and your current environment is far from ideal, you may be waiting forever to start writing. The truth is, your environment does not need to be perfect to begin writing.

Excuse 6:  “I’m afraid to fail.”
Another common excuse writers make is “What if I fail?“  The answer depends on how you define failure. What does failure look like to you? Not getting published? Not finishing your current work-in-progress? Not having anyone read your work? Not having anyone take your writing as seriously as you do? Everybody has their own definition of failure, but in reality, there is only one true failure: not writing at all.

To remove that fear of failure, it might be helpful to start small and work your way toward bigger projects. Start with stories of 100 words, then increase it to 200 words, and so on. Every week or so, add to your daily word count. When you reach these smaller goals, you gain confidence in yourself and you achieve small successes that you can build on.

Excuse 7: “What if I’m successful?”
While fear of failure is common among writers, others suffer from a different malaise:  fear of success. “How can anyone be afraid to succeed?” you ask. You’d be surprised at how many people fear success, myself included.

Fear of success might manifest as an unfinished project – or two, or three or ten. You have several projects in various stages of completion but never seem to finish any of them. In your mind, finishing one of them means you’ve achieved success. Then you worry about what happens when you finish that project. Perhaps you edit your piece over and over again, never fully satisfied with what you’ve written – a useful delay tactic preventing you from finishing your work.

If you fear success, then you may need to rethink what success means to you. What does it look like? It may look and feel differently to you than to your spouse or your best friend. Are you defining success on your terms or someone else’s?

When you define success on your terms, there should be no reason to fear it because you’ve defined it based on real, concrete and meaningful terms. It’s when you follow the path of success that others have defined for you that can strike fear in you. Write  according to your definition of success, not anyone else’s.

When you manage your expectations to conquer your fears, the writing life won’t seem so scary.


15 Writing Ideas for Your 15-Minute Writing Session

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So you think you don’t have time to write. That’s very possible, considering all the demands on our time these days. Work (or looking for work), home schooling your kids, household chores, cooking, and all the other responsibilities we have that can get in the way of our writing time.

Don’t get discouraged if you’re not able to accomplish as much writing during your writing sessions. If you can make time for 15 minutes of writing, you can accomplish more than you think. You just have to go into your session with a goal. Know what you want to accomplish or what you want to write about. When you know what you want to accomplish, you can make the best use of your time. Then get down to work.

Here’s what you can do with your 15-minute writing session.

1. Freewrite for 15 minutes straight without stopping. Let the ideas flow from your brain to the page. Aim to write 100 words every session – at a minimum. Do not stop to edit or rethink what you just wrote. Just keep writing. You may be surprised at the ideas that you see on the page afterward. If you do this consistently, over 10 sessions (aiming for those 100 words), you should be able to complete a 1,000-word essay.

2. Draft a dialogue between two characters. Start with one character asking the other person a question. See where that dialogue takes your characters. Avoid writing back story or other narrative. Focus only on the dialogue.

3. Choose an object on your desk or somewhere in your room. Describe it in detail including the color, shape and texture of it. How did you acquire that item? Is there a story behind where that item came from?

4. If you have a pet, give the animal a voice. Write a few paragraphs as if the pet is speaking to you. What would the animal say? Would he lavish you with praise, or whine and complain that you don’t pay enough attention to them?

5. Create a bullet list of stories you’d like to write. Use a prompt like “I remember” or “What if?” to kick off your ideas.

6. Write a brief review of the last book you read or the last movie you watched.

7. Write the final chapter of your current work in progress. Sometimes by writing the ending first, you have a clearer idea of how to start your novel.

8. Browse through old vacation photos. Describe the place as you remember when you visited it. Add as much detail as you can recall.

9. Create a character sketch of your protagonist, antagonist or other major character. Describe their appearance, then write as much detail about what they are striving for in your story. What is the character’s back story?

10. Recall the last dream you had. Rewrite it as you might read it in a book or see on a movie screen.

11. Write a letter to a friend or loved one, especially someone you have not seen in a long time. Or write a letter to a historical figure you admire and wish you could meet. What would you say to them?

12. Play writing games. For example, choose three words at random from the dictionary (close your eyes, open to a random page and let your finger stop on a word) and write a story using those three words. The story can easily be two to three paragraphs.

13. Think of a book or movie in which you did not like the way it ended. Rewrite the ending. Remember you only have 15 minutes, but you can jot down the key ideas.

14. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. What do you hear? Describe the sounds and the images that come to mind when you hear them. Are there birds chirping? Is there a plane flying overhead? Is someone playing their stereo loudly?  You can do this same exercise with other senses as well, such as touch, taste and smell.

15. Listen to a piece of music, preferably instrumental. Close your ideas as you listen to it. What images come to mind? Does it bring back any memories? Then write about your listening experience.

No matter how busy you may be, there is always time for writing, even if it’s only 15 minutes. Your writing practice shouldn’t suffer because you believe you don’t have enough time. There is always time, as long as you have the desire to write.

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How to Juggle Multiple Writing Projects Without Losing Your Sanity

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Like most writers I know, I tend to work on several different writing projects at one time. In addition to writing this blog, I’m currently writing a novel, I have several essays in various stages of completion, and I just completed a freelance writing assignment for a client. The work certainly keeps me busy, but sometimes it can be difficult to keep them all straight. If I decide to work on one project, it means I can’t give my attention to the others.

Add to that all the extra administrative and marketing work that goes along with writing for a living, and you can see how easy it is to get overwhelmed.

There’s a constant struggle to maintain balance in my work schedule. Every morning, I ask myself, “Which piece should I work on today?” It’s a problem I don’t mind having because the alternative is spending hours in an office doing work that sucks the life out of my soul.

However, managing multiple projects does have a few upsides, writes author Heather Webb at the Writer Unboxed blog. It alleviates “manuscript fatigue,” she says. Switching between projects prevents you from getting too tired of one project. After a few days away from it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.”

Having multiple projects also takes the pressure off of trying to create the “perfect” piece, Webb adds. Since you’re not putting all your eggs in one basket, you have more freedom to experiment with your writing. That can only help you produce better quality writing.

Managing multiple projects has its upsides, but it has plenty of challenges too.

Challenge 1:  There’s a limited amount of time to work on any one project.

When you’re working on several stories at once, you don’t have as much time to work on each of them as you’d like. Obviously, the paid work comes first because there are deadlines, and if you don’t make those deadlines, you don’t get paid. Once you submit your paid piece and return to an essay that’s closer to your heart after an extended time away from it, it can be difficult to get back into the flow of the story again. You can begin to feel disconnected from the story altogether.

Solution:  Re-read the last chapter of your novel, the beginning of the essay or review your notes. These are obvious starting points that will allow you to pick up the thread of the action. With fresh eyes, you might even resolve a plot point or come up with a new character.

Challenge 2:  Characters and story lines can blend in with one another.

Sometimes characters and protagonists begin to blend in with one another when you switch from one story to the next too often. This is even more disconcerting if those stories happen in different cities or eras of history.

Solution: Much like challenge #1, re-read the previous scenes to get inside the character’s mindset, or as Webb suggests at the Writer Unboxed blog, try journaling in the character’s voice to get inside their head again.

Challenge 3:  Creative burnout can occur.

When working on many projects, or worse, when you’re up against multiple deadlines, things can get a bit crazy. Working at that level of creativity for too long can produce creative burnout, writes Mark McGuinness, author of Productivity for Creative People (a book I definitely must read). That’s not a sustainable routine for the long term. (See this article in The Write Life for details.)

Solution:  Create a sustainable workload by limiting yourself to two to four writing projects to keep yourself sane. Make a list of the most important activities you need to work on, such as client work, family obligations and recurring tasks. These activities form the base for your time obligations. Next fill in what’s left – your spare time – with one or two writing projects. That approach, says McGuinness, will give you the time and space you need to work on what’s important to you while keeping you sane.

While it’s easy for writers and creative professionals to have several projects going on at the same time, it’s not so easy to manage them efficiently without ruining your life. When you set priorities and allow some downtime to transition between stories, you can manage multiple writing projects with greater ease and better results.

Five Lies About Writing That Can Derail Your Writing Practice

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When it comes to maintaining a writing practice, we tell ourselves a lot of lies – not being good enough, not having enough time to write, not having any good ideas, writing is easy, etc.

Why do we tell ourselves so many lies? More important, what are we basing them on? Whose voices do we hear when we hear those lies? Perhaps it was some offhand comment someone said to you many years ago that you took to heart? Or perhaps it’s someone else’s belief that you adopted as your own, even though that person is no longer alive?

Those lies often act as barriers to your writing. If you get too far ahead of yourself,  you may hear that voice again. That’s when self-doubt kicks in. You slow down or stop writing altogether. That’s no way to engage with your writing.

Maybe it’s time to dispel those beliefs and get real about your writing practice. Maybe it’s time to re-frame those internal messages into more positive ones so you can enjoy writing again.

Below are the most common “lies” that you may have told yourself at one time or another and how you can dispel them once and for all.

Lie #1: “There’s not enough time to write.”
An old friend of mine once told me that he didn’t realize how much time he wasted until he started grad school. Once he started classes, he became more aware of how he was spending his time. “We waste a lot of time,” he told me with a shake of his head.

The truth is we fill our days with busy work, much of it meaningless. If you claim that you’re too busy to write, what are you “too busy” doing? How do you know that you don’t have time to write if you have never tracked your activities throughout the day? Are you using your time as efficiently as you could?

Try this exercise: For three consecutive days, keep track of how you spend your time. Include one weekend day (for example, Thursday, Friday and Saturday). Set up worksheets from midnight to midnight with fifteen-minute increments for each day. Be honest with yourself. Once these worksheets are completed, take note of any gaps in your schedule. Are there pockets of time where nothing is happening? Can you split up a segment of time? For example, if you get an hour for lunch, can you set aside a half hour for writing? Or if you spend most Saturdays watching marathon episodes of your favorite show on Netflix, could you swap out one hour for writing instead?

By seeing your activity in print, you’ll likely find ways to re-allocate your time so you can spend more valuable time writing.

Lie #2: “Writing is too time-consuming.”
How much time do you think you need to establish a regular writing practice? Thirty minutes? An hour, perhaps? Many people believe writing is time-consuming based on some preconceived idealistic vision of what a writing practice looks like. They imagine an overly large oak desk in a drawing room with lots of bookshelves and French doors that open up onto a garden with a view of the lake in the distance.

This scenario is far from the truth. (Hence the schedule assessment). More likely, writers are squeezing in a writing session during their lunch hour or on a bus ride to work in the morning. Most have full-time jobs, families to raise, obligations to the community. They don’t have a lot of time to indulge in fantasy, but they do make time to work on their craft.

The truth is, many writing experts say you only need ten to fifteen minutes a day to establish a regular writing practice. If all you need is ten minutes, you can write anywhere. Check your activity assessment again. Are there gaps in your schedule where you can squeeze in ten minutes of writing?

Lie #3: “There is nothing worthwhile to write about.”
Many aspiring writers stop writing because they think they don’t have anything worthy to say, no interesting stories to tell. But ideas for stories are everywhere if you remain aware and alert for them.

Engage with the world around you. Notice the people walking in the park or through your neighborhood. What are they doing? Riding a bike, feeding the birds, playing with their kids? Observe the other passengers on your next train ride to work or in the coffee shop you hang out. How are they dressed? How are they spending their time? Quietly and unobtrusively listen to the conversations around you. Note how two people speak to one another. In hushed tones so as not to be overheard? Or loud and emotional, as if they are having an argument?

There is plenty to write about. You just have to be aware of your surroundings to be inspired.

Lie #4: “Writing is not a worthwhile career.”
If you believe that writing is not a worthwhile career, go to the nearest bookstore or library, open up a magazine or newspaper or browse the Internet. You’ll find plenty of opportunities for writers. Sure, it may be tough going at the start of your career, or even in mid-career. But that has never stopped writers from writing. You may have to work a dull nine-to-five job to pay the bills while you hone your craft. But ask anyone who has ever been published and they will tell you that writing brings them joy. That in itself makes it worthwhile.

Lie #5: “Writing is for sissies.”
Writing is not for the faint of heart. Especially if you are writing a novel or a work of non-fiction, writing is a slow, agonizing process, complete with false starts and writer’s blocks. Your first draft is usually junk, and you’ll have to go through several editing passes before an editor or publisher believes your latest project is worth sharing with the rest of the world.

The key to progress is consistency. You can work on your latest masterpiece and still it may not be good enough to be published. But writers are the most courageous and heartiest of souls. They risk rejection constantly. Even after they’ve received fifty rejection slips, they dust themselves off and try again.They’re willing to toil for years on one project that is close to their heart, just to see it come to fruition. This writing life is definitely not for sissies.

Remember you are in charge of your own writing practice. You set the schedule and the parameters for success, however success means to you. Once you become aware of the self-defeating beliefs, myths and assumptions affecting your writing, you can flip the script. Rewrite the assumptions as fact-based truths. Then use them to redefine your writing practice.

Are there any lies that you used to believe in that nearly derailed your writing career?

Seven Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Writing Practice

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Some months ago, I attended a writing workshop on a Saturday morning sponsored by a local writers group. Over one of the breaks, I chatted with the man next to me, an attorney who had recently married. I asked him what kind of writing he did. His answer? “I don’t have time to write. I have a busy law practice and I just got married,” he said rather sheepishly.

It wasn’t until later that I realized the inconsistency of his remark. He claimed not to have time for writing, yet managed to find time from his supposed busy schedule to attend a three-hour writing workshop on a Saturday morning. What’s wrong with that picture?

For many of us, it is far easier to think about, read about and talk about writing than to actually sit down and write. We’d much rather make excuses about why we don’t write than to examine the reasons why we don’t.

A writing practice, as I define it, is a regular, consistent routine of putting pen or pencil to paper (though some people prefer to use a computer). The amount of time devoted to the practice differs from person to person. But whether you spend two hours a day or fifteen minutes a day, the key is consistency. A little bit of writing every day slowly and gradually builds up your practice. And the more you practice, the more comfortable and confident you will feel about your writing. The more you practice, the more progress you will see which gives you more momentum and motivation to keep writing.

Not everyone is mentally or emotionally prepared to begin a writing practice, however. They may have questions about starting a writing practice – lots of them. And they may have self-doubts and fears, either about the writing practice itself or about their own abilities as a writer. As a former colleague once told me years ago, “Fear and self-doubt will kill every opportunity that comes your way.”

So before you embark on this writing journey, ask yourself the following questions. The answers will help you to ‘get real’ about your writing practice.

1. Why do you want to begin a writing practice? Why is a writing practice important to you at this point in your life? Answering this question determines how strong a desire you have to write. If you’re still unsure of your response, answer this question: On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being not important at all and 10 being very important), how important is writing to you?

2. What do you want to achieve with your writing? To eventually get published? To pass along family lore and legends? Or just have fun?

3. What does your writing practice look like to you? What notions, if any, do you have about how much time you should spend on your writing, or where you write? Many of you may have preconceived ideas about what your writing life looks like – about how much time you should spend each day or how many words you should write, what your office space looks like, etc. However, the reality often looks different from the fantasy.

4. What obstacles, excuses or conditions hold you back from starting and maintaining a writing practice? For most people, time management is an issue. Let’s face it, we all lead busy lives. But some people are more willing to adjust their schedules so they have more time to write. Remember, it’s not about having the time to write, but about making the time to write. Those with the greatest desire to write will make the time to write.

Suspense author Mary Higgins Clark was a widow living in New York with five children to support. She had to work to support her family, so she got a job writing radio scripts. Still her desire to write was so strong that she made time in her busy schedule to write her first novel. For two hours every morning from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., she set her typewriter on the kitchen table and wrote. Clark could easily have made excuses for not writing. She didn’t, and she went on to a very successful career.

5. Do you have a dedicated space for writing? If coffee shops are your thing, more power to you. Or like me, do you prefer quieter places, like the library, so you can think, plan and create?

6. Do you have a support system? Are there people in your life who not only provide encouragement and input about your writing, but also respect the time and space you need for writing?

7. How much time are you reasonably willing and able to devote to your practice? If you were to keep a log of your activities for three consecutive days, I bet you would find gaps in your schedule where you could sneak in a writing session. We’re not nearly as busy as we think we are.

The more you understand your motivations and desire to write, the more prepared you will be to begin writing. If the motivation and desire to write isn’t strong to begin with, no amount of encouragement from others will get you started on your practice.

A healthy mindset is also important. If you are not in a good place mentally or emotionally, it will be more difficult to begin a writing practice. When you are in a good place, the stories seem to flow more naturally and organically. You won’t have to ask, “What do I write about?”

Over the coming weeks, I will continue to explore some of these concepts in greater detail. If you have any questions about how to start a writing practice, feel free to post a comment below.

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

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With the holidays fast approaching, we can all expect to be running more errands and having more demands on our time. Time is a priceless commodity at this time of year. We want to get everything done, and still have time for socializing and enjoying the spirit of the holidays with our families and friends. How are we supposed to get it all done in time for Christmas?

At first glance, it would seem that multi-tasking is the ideal solution. Multi-tasking allows us to complete two or more things at the same time. Who hasn’t talked on the phone while shopping for gifts online? It’s easy to assume that multi-tasking allows us to get more done in less time, thus giving us more time to spend enjoying the holidays. But that may not be the case, say researchers.

According to Dale Carnegie Training, people tend to multi-task in one of four different levels.

  1. Simultaneous multitasking. You accomplish tasks by doing two different activities at the same time. For example, entering data into a computer program while talking to your banker on the phone.
  2. Task switching. In this situation, tasks are completed consecutively rather than simultaneously. You’ll finish one task then move on to the next. For example, you finish preparing a presentation then check emails for messages.
  3. Time fillers. We’re all guilty of indulging our guilty pleasures by reading horoscopes, house hunting, reading celebrity gossip or updating our social media profiles. These activities aren’t usually work related, but may make us look busy when we’re not. People often confuse these time filling activities with multi-tasking, but clearly they do nothing to make us productive.
  4. Having lots of things to do. These individual tasks and chores are usually unrelated to each other and represent the busyness of life. For example, getting the car serviced, going for an eye exam or baking cookies for the kids’ school bake sale. Having a lot of things to do is not the same as doing them all at once, which is multitasking.

No matter how much you have to do or where you fall on the tasking scale, multi-tasking is not the answer. Studies show that multi-tasking is counterproductive. Trying to do so many things at the same time, say researchers, actually makes us less efficient. Our brains are simply not equipped for completing multiple tasks that require brain power.

So while it might be easy to fold laundry while watching TV, activities like writing a speech or negotiating a contract require more focused attention because they require more brain power.

Or as the old saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So the next time you need to complete a project for your boss or are faced with a huge pile of paperwork, try focusing on one task at a time. Then turn off the TV, skip checking your Facebook feed and get to work. You may finish your work sooner than you think.