Your Excuses About Writing Are Vitally Important!

Writers are often commanded to “stop
making excuses” for not writing. You know the drill:

Stop saying you don’t have the time.
Stop saying, “You’ll get to it when …”
Stop wasting your time with less important things.
Start the sacrifice.
Start the schedule.
Find the commitment and discipline to write.

I hear this advice so often, I’ve stopped hearing it. You probably stopped hearing it, too, and have internalized it to the extent that you feel guilty for not following this advice.

Let’s get real for a minute:

We’re all “guilty.” We all waste our time, or don’t have the time, or will “get to it when.”

Must we feel guilty?

The best-selling authors who make a living at this game offer this advice because writing has become a job, and when you work at a job, you stop making excuses and man up. And you tell everyone else to take it seriously, and man up, too.

Today, I tell non-bestselling authors this: You’re living a life where not every moment needs to be defined (or should be defined) by when you next sit down to write.

Our obsession with productivity and achievement has created more angst than is healthy.

It’s time to let go of this need to be “productive” writers, and realize that, if we listen to ourselves closely, watch our actions closely, we know exactly when and how we should write.

Sometimes it’s not RIGHT now. Sometimes it’s 5 years from now. Or 20 years from now. What if you don’t make it that long? That idea shouldn’t bother you if you’re comfortable in your choices.

I was lucky enough to wake up to this a few years ago. (A little more on that here.)

Act with purpose. Be confident in your choices. Bid adieu to commands to stop making excuses.

Truth is, those excuses are important.

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18 thoughts on “Your Excuses About Writing Are Vitally Important!

  1. Jane Friedman

    @Marta – I wasn’t thinking of queries when I wrote this. My gut reaction here is that either (1) you are indeed avoiding rejection, or resisting it (2) you don’t yet feel comfortable/confident about your query, or there is something about your work that doesn’t make you feel good about sending it out.

    A good book to read to identify what the block might be:
    THE WAR OF ART by S Pressfield


  2. marta

    Does this count for query letters? I’ve got several novels written, piles of short stories, and while I’ve sent out a few queries/submissions, I can’t seem to make myself send things out. I don’t even know what my excuses are because the obvious one (worried about rejection) doesn’t seem true. Unless rejection seems so inevitable I don’t know why I bother. But that’s no excuse. Anyway, thanks for all the things you say here. They are useful.

  3. Susan


    Thanks for writing this…I’m so happy I read it. I have been writing and journaling off and on for almost 35 years. I beat myself up all the time for my lack of published work, but sometimes relationships and work and other things come first. I agree with Vanessa that you have to live to have something to write about. And afer all this time, I should know by now that I will always go back to writing. You don’t have to be a published author to be a "writer".

  4. Alison Wells

    I really love this kind of post as an antidote as you say to the constant pressure to produce, to be more, faster, younger. I’m a mum of four young kids and we’ve had extra stressors recently. Its a kind of madness but even when times are extra tough I still beat myself up over all the writing I haven’t done, why I’m not further in my writing career. Amazingly its so easy to forget just to live and do what you can, and if you love writing you will do it no matter what but hopefully not at any cost. Thanks for a great post.

  5. Lynnda Ell

    Jane, your article left me smiling and shaking my head at my own behavior. Not ten minutes prior to reading your blog, I was beating myself up for buying so many books about writing that I have not read past the first page.

    Writing, improving my writing skills and learning about the business of publishing are big parts of my day, but they are not the only parts…



  6. Cathy Shouse

    What you say is true, Jane. But I still need to be sure there’s a valid reason for not writing. 🙂

    I am also realizing there is more to writing than putting words to the page, although that is critical. Taking time to "sharpen the saw," as Stephen Covey says, is important. So is "keeping the end in mind," like learning marketing so someone reads the work when it gets published.

    Speaking of which, I’m not sure I can swing it, but would love to see your presentation in Evansille tomorrow. Are you doing something similar at Midwest Writers Workshop in July, or is this different?

  7. Doug Spak


    Even though I don’t know you personally, I would like to give you a hug for this post. So, consider yourself "e-hugged."

    I have a good friend who always gives me this piece of advice when I’m down on myself: "the next time you beat yourself up, use a feather instead of a two-by-four."

    When it comes to my writing (or, as the case may be) lack of literary production, I have opted for a two-by-four much more frequently than the feather. The thing is, I don’t give myself enough credit for the stuff that I do crank out in formats other than the standard novel. For example, I do a few "ghost blogs" for various clients.

    Anyway, it was good to see someone say: ease up!


  8. Dorraine

    Jane, very well spoken. If we love doing something, we do it out of love. Not guilt.

    Seems like the problem lies in everyone comparing themselves to everyone else. Well, she finished another book, and he got some poetry published. Of course, that’s most likely always been the problem, but maybe more so with writers.

    Having the elaborate technology now, which allows everyone’s business in our business, certainly keeps us on our toes, unless we choose to relax them for a bit. In resting, we sometimes discover our stories. 🙂

  9. Janet

    This is a great post. I find my ability to write changes with the seasons and it’s anti-productive to feel guilty about things you have little control over. Now, can I apply the same guilt-free excuses to not exercising?

  10. Vanessa

    This is something I agree with fully. One of the problems I think that many writers, published or unpublished have today, is that we’ve been taught to define ourselves as one thing, and if we’re not doing that thing that defines us, we’re slacking off.

    Yet we need experience to write–especially if we’re to "write what we know"–and that doesn’t happen if we don’t step away from the word doc and go live.

  11. Theresa Milstein

    This is a good post for me to read right now. Last night I wrote a depressing post about my worry over not finding a full-time job, yet worrying when I do get a full-time job, I’ll have have even less time to write. But I write something everyday, even if it’s just a post. And when I get big bouts of inspiration, I let other tasks (laundry) slide in order to ride the wave. But there are other responsibilities I can’t set aside no matter how important writing is to me.

    This is the first summer since I started writing that I’m going to make sure to focus on working on a rough draft, editing an older piece, or querying every day. Sometimes I wish I’d started writing earlier in life, but I wasn’t in that place yet. The more I write, the better I get. And when someone pays me to write full-time, I’ll write every day all year.

  12. The Storialist

    What an interesting post!

    3 years ago I was writing poems sporadically, but still WANTED to be a poet, a writer. But I was very apologetic in telling people this…"yeah, I sometimes write poems, it’s nerdy."

    2 years ago I started a poetry blog that I update every weekday. My writing has grown enormously because of the practice…but more than that, it’s because I finally figured out what I wanted to say in my poems, and clarified my voice.

    Guilt and defeat can be paralyzing…I think you are right about timing and writing. It takes time to feel like a writer, I totally agree with you.

  13. Margaret Duarte

    So true, Jane. I remind myself of this every time my granddaughters show up unexpectedly and want me to play, or when my husband tells me he feels neglected or when my mother used to call for me to take her to church or to the doctor (I miss doing that for her now that she’s gone), and when my sons stop by for a "snack" or need my help running errands. Yes, I write when I can and as often as I can, but there are many reasons to stop for other things as or more important.

  14. Nora Lumiere

    I agree.
    I think we like to guilt ourselves up it makes us feel virtuous.
    But staring into space and frittering (so-called time-wasing) are as essential to writing as is typing.
    MRIs have proved that the brain is at its most productive during space staring.
    So, drop the guilt and stare into space guilt free. <a href=”>stare into space guilt free</a>

  15. Wanda

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. My excuse – I’m tired. I work a regular job, ten hours a day, four days a week. I get up early – not to write, but to go to the gym. When I get home, I’m just too brain tired to write. And I only have about three hours to wind down, eat and do some housework before going to bed. When do I write? On weekends when I am relaxed and not so tired. I think about writing everyday. Does that count?

  16. B Jas

    Great post and wonderful insight. Writing is work, and work can be fun. Excuses will follow us everywhere (an excuse named twitter, for one!). I think it takes time, maturity, and acceptance to truly get into the writing groove. Commitment is key and if you really want it bad enough–it’ll happen.