Image: Matthew Loffhagen
At university, we used to call it “WABing”—Work Avoidance Behavior—all the random excuses we would think of to avoid studying. Let’s see, there was washing the dishes before they were removed by cleaning staff in haz-mat suits, cooking up gourmet meals with a packet of rice, a lemon and some cheese and, best of all, removing the gherkins from Big Macs and throwing them onto the ceiling to see if they would stick. I’m fairly sure there’s still a gherkin stuck on the ceiling of dorm L2.
For some of you budding writers out there, Work Avoidance Behavior, or Writing Avoidance Behavior, is becoming second nature, isn’t it?
There’s a story that’s been playing through your mind like a movie reel and you’re convinced it will be a best seller. The trouble is you keep thinking of an excuse not to sit down and work on it. And you may have convinced yourself that one or two of these excuses are utterly genuine, but, to be blunt, if you fancy yourself a writer you have to actually write.
I feel somewhat hypocritical posting this article. For a year or so now there’s been a story festering slowly in the back of my mind and, whilst I’ve scribbled down scenes, thoughts and conversations, I have yet to really start writing it. I am rather hoping, by the end of this, I will be taking my own advice.
So let’s address some of these WABing excuses, shall we?
1. I’m not good enough
There is a very loud voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it and that, even if you tried, no one will want to read your work. Well, that’s worthy of a whole article and, you’re in luck, as I have written about this already. Just follow this link…
2. I’m too tired
For those of us working full days, traipsing home, feeding families, walking dogs, cleaning houses, this is an entirely plausible excuse. Sometimes all you really want to do is sit on the couch, watch Dr Who repeats and move as little as possible.
I’m going to ask you, rather frankly: do you really want to write?
If the answer is “yes”, make it an emphatic “YES” and DO IT.
Make time in your already hectic schedule. All you need to start with is just 20 minutes a day. Twenty minutes set aside in the schedule when you apply your mind to writing that story.
Twenty minutes is not long—about half an episode of Dr Who actually—and you will still have plenty of time to wash the dishes, brush your teeth, collapse in a heap, finish an episode afterwards.
If you stick to the schedule, you will be surprised how quickly the pages in the document multiply.
3. It’s too hectic at home
If you’re anything like me, you need quiet to really concentrate and that may not be possible in a busy household. But this excuse is in the same vein as your being too tired.
Add “Go away, I’m writing” to the schedule. Pick the most sensible time, when the children are doing homework or have gone to bed, when your partner is watching football/that dreadful soap opera you hate, and get writing!
And be honest with yourself—if you secretly love that dreadful soap opera and will actually have one eye on the television, you are wasting your time. Your “Go away, I’m writing” time-slot must be when you will be your most productive and if it means writing while sitting on top of the washing machine because the laundry room is the quietest place in the house, so be it.
4. I’ve been staring at a computer all day
The answer is so simple: pick up a pen.
I know, I know—this means using the ancient art of handwriting, no one’s really sure how to do that nowadays and your hand will probably start cramping after five minutes.
But, scratch around in a box of old possessions, find one of your old journals, close your eyes and listen to the satisfying crackle of an ink-embedded page. Isn’t it delicious?
There is something rather romantic about filling up a notebook with actual hand-written words.
Seize that romanticism and use it as further encouragement. Stop being so attached to modern technology that you are lost and useless at the thought of being without it.
5. I’m mortified at the thought of my friends and family reading what’s in my head
This is an excuse that plays through my mind on a regular basis. My family is somewhat reserved—we do the awkward patting on the shoulder thing if someone is upset, while wishing desperately to be on the other side of the solar system to the tears. When I think about people I know discovering the sort of things that wander across my imagination, I have serious thoughts of coming up with a nom de plume.
To this notion apply the “write for yourself” rule. Forget about their opinions for now and get that story down. When you’ve finished it and feel satisfied, send it to an unbiased third party for an honest opinion.
Imagine how satisfying it would be to waltz into your parents’ living room one day and present them with the bound edition of your debut novel. A novel that is garnering critical praise.
6. I don’t have anything new to say
How do you know? Your opinions and your perspectives are entirely unique and, though you may use a tried and tested story arc, you are going to instill your own thoughts and ideals within the narrative.
I feel the “write for yourself” rule can be applied here as well. Clearly you are enjoying thinking about this story and spending time in the world you have created. Where is the harm in setting it down for yourself?
A further point to think about: there are several well published, well loved authors who pretty much stick to the same recipe when writing a new novel. They apply the “if ain’t broke” rule and people will still buy a favorite author’s latest book because it’s comforting, they enjoy the style of writing and they know the story will have the desired, satisfying outcome. Reading, for them, is escapism. It’s not necessarily about reading a great literary work, or finding a new perspective on a subject—it is purely reading to forget about the real world for a while.
7. The book I’m reading is far too good to put down
I find this excuse particularly hard to argue. First, I love reading and, second, the more you read, the more you learn.
BUT … wouldn’t you love it if someone felt that way about the book you wrote? And the only way for that to happen is if you put down that “other” novel and start writing.
Much of the “WABing” will derive from lack of confidence or lack of discipline. Both of these can be overcome—it is a question of whether you want it enough.
From my experience, applying that discipline is very difficult to start with, but if you are strong and you do want it enough, writing soon becomes part of the routine and, best yet, that part of the routine becomes a joy.
And as for the lack of confidence, I will ask you simply, how do you know until you try?