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Writing Excuses 5.8: The Excuses You're Out Of

Writing Excuses 5.8: The Excuses You're Out Of


Key points: Pay attention to the excuses you make. Figure out how to resolve them, and then write. "I don't have a muse" often means you're not comfortable -- figure out what works for you. Sometimes it means "I don't any good ideas." This usually means I don't know where to start. Just start! "I'm discouraged, I'm not very good." The more you write, the better you get. "I don't have time." Cut something out, fit writing in. "I'm working, but nothing gets done." Use a timer to control email, blog, etc. time.

[Brandon] Did we just use a hanging preposition in our title of our podcast this week?
[Dan] Hey, stop making excuses.
[Howard] You used it, I wrote it. So I think we're both to blame.
[Brandon] All right. We always, these days, end our podcast with the line, "You're out of excuses, now go write." We want to talk about those actual excuses. This was prompted by an e-mail saying, "Well, sometimes I still feel like I have some excuses." We're going to take them away from you. We did this by compiling a list of excuses that we feel people generally make or that we ourselves make. We're going to talk about why they're bad excuses. So the first one we came up with... I think Dan suggested it... was "no muse." Was that right?
[Dan] It was Howard or I.
[Brandon] Howard or you.
[Dan] I lose track of which of us is which.
[Brandon] Sometimes I do as well. Howard's the one with the beard.
[Howard] I'm 15 minutes long.
[Dan] And I'm so smart that I don't fall for that anymore.
[Howard] I think he was you who said... I think it was me who said, "No muse," but that's so huge.
[Dan] I would've said it, but I'm not that smart. Oh, dang it.
[Howard] Victory!

[Brandon] You said... people do say, "I don't have a muse." I challenged you on this. What does that even mean? That can mean so many different things. What do people mean when they say, "I don't have a muse?"
[Howard] I'm going to step in for just a moment and acknowledge the existence of people who actually have faith in some sort of spiritual entity who is watching over their shoulder and helping them write, and who feel that that spirit is not present and they are therefore not able to write. I will acknowledge that some people have that belief, and then I'm just going to step away from it and say that when I say that, I am just making an excuse, that something isn't right. That my pants are too tight, I need to take off my shoes, I need... I want a bath, I...
[Brandon] I'm glad you didn't say pants.
[Dan] Your shoes are too tight... and... OK.
[Howard] I'm not comfortable.
[Dan] Uncomfortableness is a big one.
[Brandon] OK. And how do we fix that?
[Howard] I change my pants.
[Dan] You take your pants off. I thought we went over this.
[Brandon] Oh, boy. This podcast is going nowhere fast.
[Dan] No, what that means... that is a symptom, I think, of a larger problem which probably means you don't have a good space in which to write. You're trying to write on a couch when you should be at a desk, or you're trying to write at a desk when you should be on a couch. Figure out what works for you. Make yourself comfortable.

[Brandon] OK. I...
[Howard] Sometimes I've found that when I... sorry, Brandon. Sometimes I've found that when I'm having those little quirky discomforts, it's my brain saying let's pay attention to something besides what's on the page. Let's pay attention to the fact that this chair's kind of squeaky right now, or my keyboard isn't adjusted right, or is there a glare on my monitor? Whereas when I'm actually writing, those things vanish.
[Brandon] You don't notice that stuff. Yeah, I think there are deeper problems than any of these things. I think if we dig at it, it's going to be one of several things. I think one of them might be... and I've actually had people say this to me, "I don't have any good ideas." That's foreign to me, because not having ideas has never been my problem. Not knowing which ideas to use at the time, sometimes that can be a better problem. But not having ideas has never been my problem. I don't know. Have either of you had this issue? You sit down and you just don't have any ideas?
[Howard] Well, yes and no. If... do you guys ever do jigsaw puzzles? You ever sit in front of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, looking at all the pieces and saying, "I can't find any pieces that fit together?" I'm sorry. There's 1000 pieces on the table in front of you, and every one of them fits with another one. You just need to start picking them up and putting them together. I have too many ideas.
[Dan] Yeah. Not knowing where to start, I think, is a big one, and the answer is start wherever it's exciting. Start wherever it's cool.
[Brandon] Right. I often suggest to people if they make the no ideas excuse, well, that's one of the reasons why we give a writing prompt at the end of every podcast. We want you to not... never be able to make this excuse. If you are running out of ideas, I really suggest the brainstorming session with your friends. Where you say, "OK, throw a profession at me. All right, why can't my main character... my main character has this profession, what something completely incongruous that goes with that profession? OK. Let's put that together. OK. Who would you never think to have these two combinations?" Build a character out of this. Say, "OK, what's some strange thing in this person's past that drives them, that isn't normally what would drive somebody?" Build three or four characters like that. You will build a story.
[Howard] Tracey Hickman's XDM has the... some story maker tables in it. You just roll dice. You come up with a princess... A 1 is being something'ed by a something with a something. You realize that, "Oh, the ogre is being attacked by a pie with a..." You go through this and it starts generating ideas and shaking things loose.
[Dan] The great thing about freewriting is it just gets your brain into the right zone and then you can put that aside and go straight into your own work that you actually care about and you're there, you're ready to go.
[Brandon] I really think no idea is a pretty weak excuse, because they're all out there. So go find those ideas.
[Dan] The more you write, the easier it will be. The more ideas you will have.

[Brandon] What about the people who say, "I'm discouraged that I just am not a very good writer."
[Howard] [whistle] says
[Brandon] I think that happens. I think that's really the no muse people.
[Dan] That happens all the time. That happens to me all the time.
[Brandon] What they're saying is this just stinks. What do you say?
[Dan] A few weeks ago, we went to a conference. The writing for charity thing. Afterward, I went out to have dinner with Brandon Sanderson, Brandon Mull, and James Dashner, all New York Times best-selling authors. I came home so depressed from that dinner. Because I'm like, "They're all so successful and I'm just... man, I suck and my books are crappy." It took me a few days to get over that hump.
[Howard] I had the same thing happen to me. I mean, I wasn't at dinner with best-selling authors. I didn't win a Hugo award on the same day that we won a Parsec award. Coming off of that, I felt like, "Oh, gosh. I really need to write better. I need to write stronger. I need to make this better. What can I do to make it better, because it's just not good enough now." That's kind of crippling. What I really needed to do...
[Brandon] Bad reviews do this to me.
[Howard] Bad reviews will do that. The only solution to "I don't feel like I'm a good enough writer" is write more.
[Brandon] Right. I think hearing that all of us get that feeling is very helpful to people. Knowing all through our careers, we feel this all the time. Even if you're very confident, you occasionally feel it. The thing that helped me most with this is realizing writing is like playing the piano. The more you do it, the better you will get. So if you're discouraged about your writing, stop stressing so much. Stop feeling like you have to be a New York Times bestseller next week. Just go write. You will get better. You will improve. The next books will be better than the ones before. That's what this is all about. Just keep doing it.

[Brandon] All right. Let's do our book of the week. This week's book, I'm actually going to promo, it's Hyperion by Dan Simmons. I can't remember if we've ever promo'ed this book before, but this book is one of those that I read that literally blew my mind. Like, really. You read these books occasionally that you say, "Wow!" It's a mixture of why-didn't-I-come-up-with-that and I-could-never-have-come-up-with-that at the same time, mixed with this is... there is genius to this book beyond levels of what I can even comprehend. The story is about... basically, it's Canterbury tales in space, but that doesn't do it justice. It's about a group of people who get together who have their last... they have a very desperate situation. Each of them has a story about why they've gotten together to go on this pilgrimage on this planet where this terrible creature lives that sometimes grants people's desires. There is a strong implication that they're all going to die or maybe one of them will get their wish granted and the rest of them will be slaughtered and massacred in terrible ways. They each tell their stories along the way of what drove them to such desperation. They're these just wildly different stories. Some more bizarre than others. Some kind of just more action-y than others. But they all have this twisted sort of weird creepy element going through them. It's a brilliant book.
[Dan] it is totally the kind of book that you will read and say, "Well, my books all suck. I'm so depressed. I'm not going to write anymore."
[Brandon] But it will make you a better writer for having read it.
[Dan] Absolutely.
[Howard] It's a book that will remind you that Dan Simmons' muse is smarter than your muse.
[Brandon] One warning. It is only half a book. You have to actually read the sequel.
[Dan] The sequel is actually my favorite of the two, but...
[Brandon] So, I mean, they're both great. Read the books. It is on audible. You can download the audio book 15 day free trial. Go to and you support our podcast and you get a great book. Thank you very much.

[Brandon] All right. Let's talk about other excuses people make. A big one here. I don't have the time.
[Howard] [whistle]
[Dan] Liar.
[Brandon] Dan, I'm going to throw this one at you. Dan Wells, sitting among us, managed to get published after writing six novels while being married, working a full-time job, and having multiple children. If there was anyone busier than Dan, I don't know them, during these times.
[Dan] Well, they're... the people busier than me are women. When people ask me, "How can I do this? Where can I find the time?" My first answer is "Get a wife." Because they're great.
[Brandon] OK. Today on Sexist Excuses...
[Dan] No. Yes. I've said this before, when you say you don't have time, what you are making is a value statement, that you value something else more than writing. That doesn't mean that you're bad, it just means that you have to take a step back and consider what you're doing with your time and what you should be doing with your time. When I got published, I had to cut out video games from my life because there was simply not time for them. It was painful. But I did it. I think that's a big part of why I eventually got published.
[Brandon] I've said before, I cut out television many years ago.
[Howard] My first four years of Schlock Mercenary, I was putting in 60 hour weeks on the average at Novell...
[Brandon] Oh, that's right. You were even busier, because you had multiple, multiple children.
[Howard] Yes.
[Brandon] You had more children than Dan, a job that took longer, and...
[Dan] Hey, wait. Let's get back to when I was the cool one.
[Howard] And I had to write and draw.
[Brandon] Yes. Oh-ho.
[Dan] Well, fine then.
[Brandon] Well, I got to write my books while I was at work.
[Dan] Yeah, you keep quiet over there.
[Howard] We were both married.
[Brandon] Yes, I was not. I was a single guy working a graveyard shift.
[Howard] But in order to do what I did, I gave up lots of other things. We've never had cable television in my house. There were not... there were video games I would have loved to play that I never got to. There were all kinds of things that I would've liked to do, but I wanted to cartoon more.
[Brandon] Let's just put in here. You shouldn't cut yourself off from entertainment completely, if you want to be part of... if you're wanting to write great literature.
[Howard] If you want to be part of culture...
[Brandon] But one thing that I found with television in particular is you don't just generally turn it on to watch a show. You turn it on to see what's on. That was the distinction for me. I still watch television shows. I just get the DVDs. Which is a very different experience. So I highly recommend doing something like that. But there is kind of a bigger problem here. I know you experienced this, Dan. I don't know if you did, Howard. When people say I don't have time, what they're really generally meaning is yes, I have time, but I'm so mentally and emotionally exhausted from a demanding job that there's no way I can put anything on the paper.
[Dan] Well, demanding job and demanding family. Again, so many women who are stay-at-home moms and just do not have time to write. And talk to us at conventions all the time.
[Howard] There are countless solutions to this.
[Brandon] OK, what are they? Some of them.
[Howard] I think all of them center around looking for a time during the day when you are not yet mentally exhausted where you could spend at least 30 minutes writing. I've known a lot of people who wrote on their lunch breaks. And on their lunch breaks were able to crank out 800, 900 words. If you can do 900 words a day for a month, there you are, a third of your novel is finished. The other approach is to look at your day and to say I need to start going to bed at nine, and getting up at five in the morning and writing for couple of hours before the rest of the family gets up.
[Brandon] Yeah. That can be it. For me, if I were in this situation, I would probably look at the... I'm a block writer, I've got to have a block of time. Dan, I know you wrote during your lunch break a lot of times. I probably would've done that if I'd had to, but I really like having four or five hours. I would have probably said Saturdays. I am going to give up Saturdays. Whatever it is I normally do on Saturdays, we're going to find a way for me to take five hours away from everything and write. I mean, it's true. You get home from work, you play with the kids, and when it's time to write... it's not that you think that writing is less valuable than video games. But playing video games is what keeps you going.
[Dan] Your brain is just not ready. Especially if... I worked for years and years as a corporate writer. So I would write 8 to 9, 10 hours a day and then come home and try to write novels at night. It was just too much. What I eventually did to solve that problem was to come up with some kind of palate cleanser in the middle. For a while, that actually was first-person shooters. Or whatever other thing that I could do to get myself out of writing brain, and then when I got back into it a couple of hours later after everyone in the house was asleep, it was much easier and I didn't have that burnout anymore.
[Brandon] So you went from first-person shooter to writing about serial killers?
[Dan] No, I was writing fantasy novels back when I was doing the first-person shooters.
[Howard] One thing to note here with what Dan's trying is that in order for that to work, you had to be disciplined enough to say I'm not going to fall into the one more level trap. I'm not playing this game in order to beat this game, I'm playing this game in order to beat down the portion of my brain that needs to be hammered into submission so that I can write again.

[Brandon] All right. We took a little bit of extra time on the advertisement. Let's go on with one more. Let's just cover it quickly. One of the other things that we talked about when we were brainstorming this is the idea that sometimes we convince ourselves we're working when we're not. We checked twitter, we have to answer e-mail, things like this.
[Dan] Have to update my blog.
[Brandon] How do we avoid this? How do we keep the things that are actually good things to be doing for our writing, keep us from actually doing the writing?
[Howard] I would rather not dispense with the precious myth that I am working while I am taking a nap. I'm letting the voices in my head talk. They need to work this out. I just need 45 minutes for the caffeine to kick in, so I'm going to take a nap.
[Dan] You know what? I am all over power nap's midday if you can get them. I think that's a very valuable thing.
[Howard] Oh, yeah. Knuckles across the studio.
[Dan] I find if I spend 20 minutes taking a nap in the afternoon, I will be much more productive than if I spend two hours trying to force myself to write when I'm tired.
[Howard] We're totally making excuses. You guys should sleep in the middle of the day like we do.
[Dan] No, seriously. It's the same issue we said at the beginning. Identify the problem and solve it. If you're tired, get rid of it and then go back to work.
[Brandon] 20 minutes is different from two hours. I mean, I think that's what we need to look at here. Checking twitter is different from answering e-mails for three hours. Or reading blogs for three hours.
[Howard] Do you want to resolve this excuse? Nothing is as effective as buying a little three dollar oven timer at Wal-Mart or ShopCo or wherever -- five and dime -- and setting it next to your computer and saying, "I need to trawl the Internet, but I only need to trawl the Internet for 10 minutes." You discover, after you set that timer three times for 10 minutes, you discover that you are chewing up all of your writing time playing click.
[Brandon] Well, what I do is, I just get a really bad router so the Internet goes out every few minutes. That's why I do it, Dan.
[Dan] That's why the router here is so bad.
[Howard] So, we haven't updated the firmware here at Chez Dragonsteel?
[Dan] I actually turn my wireless card off. After I... I will set a time for myself. I don't use a timer, but I'll say, "OK, I'm going to check all my e-mail once." Then I'm just going to resolve myself to the fact that no one has e-mailed me in the last five minutes and turn my thing off and write.
[Howard] This is one of the reasons I do all of my penciling and inking at Dragon's Keep. Because I don't need my computer for it, so let's put me as far away from my computer as we can.
[Dan] I don't need any distractions, so I'm going to go work in a game store?
[Howard] We'll talk about that another day.
[Brandon] If none of these things help, you can always just go back to changing Howard's pants.
[Dan] Is that our writing prompt?
[Howard] No. No. That should not be our writing prompt.
[Dan] It's three in the afternoon and Howard needs to be changed.
[Howard] Shoes. We can change his shoes.

[Brandon] All right. Writing prompt is, for some reason, you need to change your shoes or else something extremely terrible is going to happen, but there is some really, really bad... some reason why you don't change your shoes.
[Howard] Oh. Thank you for saving us, Brandon.
[Brandon] You're out of... this has been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses for real...
[Dan] For real this time.
[Howard] We mean it.
[Brandon] Now go write.
Tags: ideas, writing excuses
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