When it comes to our writing, we are full of them.
Here’s the thing with excuses: They’re natural. They’re common. They’re sometimes even completely understandable. The baby did really keep you awake all night. There really was an emergency you needed to attend to. The car really did break down or your alarm really didn’t go off when it was supposed to.
But excuses, over the long haul, are incredibly limiting. They’re scapegoats to keep you from having to do the thing you’re afraid to do, from facing the fact that you might fail.
Excuses keep us safe. They also keep us trapped and small.
And when it comes to excuses that writers and other artists use to keep themselves from having to face the fear of their own creativity, they mostly fall into three categories.
1. I don’t have the money.
How many times have you wanted to invest in something new — a class, a gym membership, a therapist — and thought, “It’s too expensive.”
“I could never afford something like that.”
The simple truth is: we allocate money for the things we decide matter.
So what have you decided matters? When you actually look at the numbers in your bank account, do they line up with the words that come out of your mouth? And most of all, what would happen if you decided that the dreams and desires you have in your life matter?
How would it change your money excuse if you were able to believe you matter?
2. I don’t have enough time.
There are two faces to this excuse.
The first face is, “I don’t have enough time to pursue the things that matter to me because I’m busy taking care of everyone else.”
The second face of the “time” excuse is the productivity face. It looks like this: “I don’t have enough time to paint or draw or write or start a business because I am an incredibly busy, productive person and I don’t see how that thing is going to produce measurable results in my life.”
We live in a culture obsessed with productivity. Everything is measured by how much money it can generate, how much progress it can help us make (thank you industrialization). And while there’s nothing wrong with productivity, the problem comes when we begin to worship productivity and forget that some of the most valuable things in life produce results so slow, they are hard to measure.
In fact, consider some of things that might be considered “unproductive”:
- Getting more sleep
- Taking a long walk
- Daily journaling
- Spending time with your children
- Reading books
- Working out
- Saying “no” to an opportunity
- Going to therapy
Are these things unproductive, or are they just slow-producing?
Over time, you will begin to see the fruits of your labor. But if you’re desperate to see progress right away, you might feel disappointed. Some of the most valuable progress you can make in your life often happens under the surface, where nobody (including you) can see it.
3. I’m Scared
More than the time and money excuse, fear is the driving source of most excuses people give for avoiding their creative projects. When someone can finally say, “I’m scared,” at least they’re getting more honest. They’re on the right track.
Remembering these few things about fear can help you when that fear becomes the primary reason for not moving forward.
Three things to remember about your fear
1. Everyone has it.
This might seem sort of elementary, but if you stop and think about it for a second, you might realize you think you’re the only one who feels the fear you do. You’ll think, “So-and-so can’t be afraid of writing a book. He (or she) already hit the New York Times Bestsellers list!”
Or maybe you think, “There’s no way so-and-so is scared of running out of money. He (or she) has a million dollars in savings!”
The truth is no amount of success, progress, momentum, money, time, or anything else will keep you from feeling afraid.
In fact, just the opposite.
The more you have to lose, the more you have to be afraid of.
Which means your only hope for moving forward in life in spite of fear is to remember everyone gets afraid, fear is natural, and you can in fact make friends with your fear (keep reading).
2. Fear can be good for you.
A certain amount of fear is actually good for you. Take this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic:
All of us humans were equipped with the same basic fear package when we were being knitted in our mother’s wombs. And not just humans: If you pass your hand over a petri dish containing a tadpole, the tadpole will flinch beneath your shadow. That tadpole cannot write poetry, and it cannot sing, and it will never know love or jealousy or triumph, and it has the brain the size of a punctuation mark, but it damn sure knows how to be afraid of the unknown. Well, so do I. So do we all. But there’s nothing particularly compelling about that.”
Fear is a biologically-imparted impulse designed to protect us from harm — but it can sometimes can go a little haywire. While we’re supposed to be scared of lions jumping out of the bushes at us, we end up being afraid of things that are totally illogical and unreasonable and that will probably never happen.
What if you had a conversation with your fear? Ask your fear what it is trying to tell you. What would you do if someone were not listening to you? You’d probably YELL LOUDER. Don’t you think?
So once you listen to your fear and it imparts it’s weird wisdom on you, thank it for its contribution, and move on.
3. It can be a neutral companion.
When you do this with your fear—actually begin to listen to what it’s trying to tell you—fear can become a neutral companion. It’s always there, lurking in the background. But it’s not threatening to steer you off course or hit the breaks just when it seems you’re starting to get some momentum.
Because, like Elizabeth Gilbert points out, fear can come on the road trip—it’s just not driving the bus anymore.
What would it look like for you to listen to what your fear has to say to you, but to kick it out of the driver’s seat? How could this help you make a little progress with your goals? How can this help in your writing practice?