on November 15, 2012

We all make excuses for why we do or don’t do things we know we shouldn’t or should.

My big excuse relates to exercise.

I know that exercise will keep me healthy, that I’ll lose weight and feel good. Intellectually, I know that. But I have a million excuses about why I don’t exercise. The time factor is always a good excuse (writing three books a year and raising five kids takes a lot of time!) I walked 2 miles a day for a month and didn’t lose a pound–another excuse.

But today I ran into my former trainer and for the first time realized that, while I didn’t see the results when I was working out with him, there had been results. I just didn’t realize it until I quit and gained 20 pounds over the last two years.

Sometimes, God calls you on your excuses. Mine was running into Deric and realizing that I’d procrastinated myself into gaining weight I didn’t need to gain. I have a treadmill in my office, so there is absolutely no excuse. I need to convert my 2-days-a-week-1-mile-walk to a 7-days-a-week-2-mile-walk. And go from there.

People who think that they’re writers but procrastinate away their time are not really writers. They want to be writers, but don’t want to put in the work. They use every excuse in the book. Their spouse. Their kids. Their job. If they want to be a writer, they would write. They would find the time. I gave up television for three years and gained three hours of writing time every night, while working full-time. So “don’t have the time to write” excuses don’t fly with me.

But there’s another more insidious excuse that I’ve seen creep up on message boards and writers loops time and time again. It’s cyclical, like every quarter someone needs to bring it up. It’s unimportant details that stop writers from finishing or submitting their work.

* “The story fell apart, I’m going to start something new.”
* “I don’t think it’s any good, I’m going to start over.”
* “I need to do more research before I can start writing.”
* “Contest judges told me they don’t like my (fill in the blank) so I’m going to take more classes until I can write better (fill in the blank).”

The one that recently popped up that put me on this mini-rant is about formatting. I’ll admit, I used to be anal about formatting, too. (And, honestly, I still am … I still write my books in 12 point courier. I know, I’m weird.) But formatting never once stopped me from submitting to agents.

There is a legitimate concern among writers that they need to submit their best work. Absolutely. But I know too many people who will write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and never send out their project because it’s not “perfect.” Let me tell you: it will never be perfect. Get it in the best shape you can and submit. Then start something else.

All writers should have a basic understanding of grammar and story structure. I can’t list all the grammar rules, but I usually know if something is right or wrong. And I absorbed story structure through reading thousands of books in my life and watching hundreds of movies. I couldn’t plot using the three act structure to save my life, but I can take any book or movie and tell you where the second act begins or which scene is the midpoint. And, unfortunately, I can usually tell you what’s going to happen in a movie after the first ten minutes. I recently saw A PERFECT GETAWAY and knew immediately who the villains were. Still a good movie (it has Timothy Olyphant, of course it’s good!), but a little too easy to figure out. (The twist at the end was nice, but I figured that out early, too.) (My kids hate it when I tell them what’s going to happen.)

So if you’re a decent writer who has a good grasp of grammar and structure, why are you obsessing on what font to use and whether numbers are written out or in numeral form? I guarantee if the story is good and the writing is strong, no editor is going to reject you because you wrote 27 instead of twenty-seven. And if the story sucks, no editor will sign you just because your book follows the Chicago Manual of Style to the letter.

* Write a good story.
* Edit ruthlessly.
* Choose a readable font and double space.
* Don’t sweat the small stuff.

It’s my assertion that writers who are obsessed with the small stuff–fonts, copyediting style, whether to capitalize Fed when talking about a federal agent–are unconsciously making excuses not to write. It’s all self-defeating behavior. Just like I make excuses not to exercise.

What’s your excuse?