A novel and short story writer, Jon Gibbs blogs at An Englishman in New Jersey. He’s in the process of launching FindAWritingGroup.com, a free to join/free to use ‘database’ for writers from all around the world who want to find or set up writing groups near where they live.
He can usually be found hunched over the laptop in his kitchen. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.
Never shy about giving people the benefit of her opinion (whether it was asked for or not) my old gran was always telling someone their ‘but’ was too big.
On the face of it, that seems a little rude, even for my old gran, but she wasn’t talking about pants’ sizes. She was referring to those built-in excuses we like to keep handy, in case our sub-conscious starts prompting us to chase our dreams.
“But I’m too young/too old.”
“But he/she’s out of my league.”
“But people might laugh at me.” [Not a problem if your dream is to do standup comedy]
Writers too, have built-in ‘buts’ as it were:
“I’d love to write, but I just don’t have the time.”
“I’d love to write, but I don’t know anything about grammar.”
“I’d love to write, but there’s no writing group where I live.”
If you ask me, none of those ‘buts’ matter. They’re all just a way of avoiding the real problem, the biggest ‘but’ of them all:
“But I might fail.”
The fear of failure can stop a person from even trying. Have you ever almost pitched a story to a high-paying magazine, almost sat down to write a novel, or almost entered a writing contest? If so, then join the club. I imagine just about every writer has had that experience at some point or other.
I’ll bet there are thousands of great (or potentially great) storytellers out there who’ll never get published. I suspect for most, it’s because they let their ‘but’ get between themselves and the chance of success. You’ve probably met some of them.
Be wary of such people. Many of them carry a virus, Excusitis, a mental affliction which can kill writing dreams by causing the person suffering from it to doubt themselves and their ability. Symptoms include excessive use of the phrases like ‘I wanted to be a writer, but…’, ‘I’ve always thought I had a book in me, but…’, ‘I love writing, but…’
While not always contagious, many sufferers become bitter, unable to wish other folks success in endeavors which they themselves once dreamed of pursuing. Instead of support they offer mockery, instead of encouragement they try to plant seeds of doubt in your head.
Avoid these people at all costs or risk becoming infected yourself.
So what’s the difference between writers who go on to achieve their writing dream and those who don’t?
I don’t believe it’s talent – though it would be naïve to think that talent isn’t a vital part of the equation.
It certainly isn’t luck – that’s just a silly excuse used by folks who think there’s an easy path to success.
I believe the difference is simple.
Successful writers refuse to allow their ‘buts’ to get in the way. They see a ‘but’ as an obstacle which must be overcome rather than an excuse to quit… at least that’s what I’m hoping.
Me, I’m nearer fifty than forty; between leaving school at sixteen (with a poor academic record) and my 42nd birthday, I’d never written a word of fiction. Believe me, I could come up with a dozen more great excuses. The point is who cares? I figure all those things will just make my ‘How I done it’ story a little more interesting if and when I become successful as a writer.
How about you?
What ‘buts’ have you put behind you as you chase your writing dream?
Amen, their are stupid buts to everything in life!
But what if I really am a terrible writer? But what if I really am a great writer who is too afraid to show her work to anyone? BLARGH!
Great post, Jon! I'm heading over to check out FindAWritingGroup…maybe that will help me surmount my pile of 'buts'.
funny, but very helpful.
What a great post. I didn’t take my writing seriously until I was in my fifties. I had the ‘but factor.’ Like, ‘But I can’t spell and don’t know where commas go.’
I left school at thirteen to look after my sick mum. I had little education due to childhood illness and moving a lot. I worked all my life, but at fifty three, I bought my first computer. First I had to learn how to use it, so I enrolled at TAFE and did an IT Cert 11 course. Then I started writing and boldly posted my first story on a writing forum. My story made people laugh. Not only because my character was funny, but because I had no idea where commas went, how to format a document, or how to structure a story.
Other writers critiqued my work and helped me to learn. I didn’t care how silly I looked because readers liked my character. I kept posting my work and learning to critique until one day it all clicked. I wrote a full MG novel and submitted it to agents and publishers. I’ve now finished my second junior novel and the first three chapters are with an agent after receiving a Notable Mention in a recent competition. I’m now fifty six and hoping to be published one day. Some relatives laughed at me when I told them I would be an author one day. They thought I wasn’t capable of writing a book because I couldn’t spell or write properly. Well, I’m still learning, but I write better than them now. They also tell me that they would write too, but don’t have the time.
I should probably give up, but I'm too arrogant. That's mine.
Dawn Maria says
This is a fantastic post! Thank you! I felt like you were speaking directly to me.
I'm a bit late to the writing game myself. I spent many years dreaming of writing, "but" my life wasn't set up to reach that dream. I let go of that "but" four years ago and have moved slow and steady toward my goals ever since.
Elaine 'still writing' Smith says
What if writing is making your but bigger?
When you realise the adverse affect writing is having on your but – is that when you know it's time to let the dream go?
But…butt… Need to do more lunges for that plump little gluteus maximus.
Seriously, great post. I'm on board, "The Wall of Wisdom." Thanks!
What a down-to-earth and thoroughly enjoyable presentation of a timeless subject! Actually, this really gets to the heart of my own personal 'but': "…but it has all been said before. Who am I to say it differently?" But as this posting so successfully demonstrates, it is all in the 'how'.
Susan Kelley says
But can I be a writer without whining about time?
I do wish I had started sooner also like so many others. It wasn't that I didn't think I could make time but rather that I hadn't developed the passion until my body recovered from late night feedings and could think about what I wanted in my life.
Sharon A. Lavy says
Great post. I am a high school dropout and 65 years old, but I can't not write.
Jan Markley says
Excellent post. I shared it with my writers' group. We all need to protect ourselves from our inner excusinator!
Really great post. I have used the: I would write but I don't have time, but I'm not that good, but I don't know how to pursue publishing. I was afraid. BUT… I got over it.
Absolutely true…it took me three years to overcome the "but", …but when I finally sat down I told myself I am not getting up before this book is finished. I believe having a mantra to get through the long process can be very helpful.
Mine was…"Don't start what you cannot finish". In the end it's all about tenacity and achieving the mental state of a marathon runner…just run…then finish line, or in as in my case the words "The End", will eventually arrive.
Donna Hole says
This is timely for me. Because, I've always been a "kinda writer", as my family puts it. My little hobby, until someone made fun of it.
Now, like you, I'm closer to 50 than 40 and finally taking a bead on what makes me happy. Writing may never be my full time job, but its what I do that may – like buying lotto tickets – fund my retirement.
My "buts" aren't relevant to anyone but me, but I thank you for bringing them to my attention. As Kahlan Amnel says in Terry Goodkin's WIZARDS FIRST RULE: We can only be what we are, nothing more, nothing less."
Kathy Collier says
Thank you Nathan. I needed to hear that probably more than most. I have a wonderful story to offer, and am looking to perfect it before sending it, not like the first time I tried with rejections. Thank you for not ever telling anyone to stop writing, "but" to keep trying and never give up. This is my dream and I will follow it. Your encouragement has been admired by me for some time. I think you are a super person, and your blogs tell alot. I always say, never discourage, always encourage. I have been discouraged by my own browbeating, thinking I can't do this at times, but then I snap out of it and work just that much harder. I was always raised to never quit, "where there's a will, there's a way." I have the will and I will find the way.
Thanks for the "but" lecture, I needed it.
trying to become a writer but also having to have another job. sometimes you can get inspiration from the job but, its harder to write and also have a job
I'd just like to say a big 'Thank you' to everyone for reading today. I appreciate the kind words.
I'm especially grateful to Nathan for offering people the chance to appear as a guest on his blog. I feel like a wannabe actor who got a guest spot on his favorite TV show.
Thanks for the opportunity, Nathan. No 'but's about it, you're a star 🙂
Margaret Adams says
I used to think I had to be published to call myself a writer.
A few years ago I realised I get paid lots more for what I write that isn't published.
That made a big difference to my writing aspirations and to my use of that word "but".
I'm older than you. It's been so long since I saw 50 I can barely remember what it looked like. 🙂
My excuse was always that I didn't know how to write anything but flat expository paragraphs – reports, technical notes, etc. But one day I discovered a compelling reason to write poetry and found I was sort of half-way good at it. And then, a few years after that, I found a compelling reason to sit down and start writing a YA novel. I was amazed that I could write dialogue, description, action – all the things I'd thought for years I didn't know how to write (despite having read such material long and regularly all my life).
Not sure where that will take me, but it sure is interesting.
The fact that there are a few people out there that hate my writing so much that they have made it their life's mission to harass/stalk me abou in the chat rooms.
I write not only to accomplish something, but to irritate those who don't like me.
Jon, your post is so encouraging and inspiring! Thank you for sharing your personal experience.
On of my 'buts' about following my passion(s): …"but it's crazy!" (i.e. you do not choose that path if you expect to make a living).
My biggest 'but' about becoming a writer has always been, "I can barely speak English (I'm not a native), why think I can write a book?"
I let the "But my kids need me" rule my life when my kids were small. Now that they're older, I *make* time every day to write. Even if I only edit a single word. I sit down and work on my novel.
Rick Daley says
Thanks for the excellent post, Jon!
My biggest but is but I don't have the time. My best solution is to get my butt in the seat in front of the laptop and write anyway.
CMR Prindle says
Great post, Jon.
I've been living with 'buts' for so long…it's amazing how internalized they become. My buts are all about having a story someone will want to read. I just remember a workshop teacher asking me "Well why does anyone care about what happens to your character?" He was trying to provoke me into thinking about the char, but I of course took it as No-one-finds-this-interesting-but-me and have just sat for so long.
I have a golden opportunity now (got laid off), and it's amazing how difficult it is to make myself make time to work on the novel. Yes I need a job, but I need to try this professional writer thing, too.
I'm afraid people will laugh at my but, no wait, my but is I am afraid people will laugh at my writing. In a mean way.
Barbara's Spot on the Blog says
I had so much fun writing my story… but I'm not sure if others will enjoy it as much.
Kristine Overbrook says
What a great blog. I'm totally there with your gran. People should get rid of their buts.
I guess my only 'but' is my family. I'm learning to get around this by using a crock pot, writing when the kids do their homework, and carrying a notebook to their activities, appointments etc. Editing is hard this way, but I can get the dirty first draft done.
CMR Prindle says
I have gotten into the habit of taking a notebook with me everywhere. I started when I was younger and wrote scary poetry, and got back into it when I started writing fiction. I probably wouldn't have gotten this draft done without it. Go you!
"but what if my final product is not what I imagined it to be?"
It's much easier to believe that I can write a fantastic best-seller if I don't have tangible proof in front of me proving otherwise.
All that wasted time worrying about what ifs!
Back to writing – whatever the end result may be!
Samantha Clark says
Great post. Thanks.
Writers often have buts floating around in their heads — I do — but if the desire to write is strong enough, it doesn't matter how big the but is, it will be overcome.
Jaycee Adams says
I have a re-'but'-al for you, Nate:
Thanks again to everyone who read/commented.
I've enjoyed reading about all of your buts 🙂
Jan Markley says
I enjoyed this piece so much I cross posted it to my blog in a post called: "My wings are like a shield of steel" Batfink, buts and the inner excusinator.
Courtney Cantrell says
The "buts" I've put behind me:
But I won't make any money off writing, at least not at first.
…I'm not doing this for the money.
But _________ thinks I'm wasting my time.
…I'm not doing this for him/her.
But I'm not as good a writer as ___________.
…I'm not in competition with him/her.
Those are just a few of my "buts"–and I'm happy to say that most days when I look in the mirror, those particular ones no longer rear their ugly…um…rears.
I've never let my big "but" stop me from chasing dreams.
… but my kids keep me so busy. So, this will keep me sane.
… but I already have a great career. So, that experience should help me.
… but do I dare start another adventure of this magnitude? Well, I'm not dead yet.