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Is your ‘but’ too big?


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’ buts.
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 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?


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( 73 comments — Leave a comment )
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norda
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Are you a fly on my kitchen wall, Jon? Because I just had this conversation with my best friend last night.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
Dang! My secret's out :)
wendigomountain
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
The only "but" I have a problem with is the one I should be putting in a chair when it comes time to write!
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
'The only "but" I have a problem with is the one I should be putting in a chair'

Hehe, good one :)
(no subject) - sandrawickham - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
naomi_jay
Jan. 4th, 2010 04:57 pm (UTC)
"But I'm just not good enough." Man, that was a hard one to shake!
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:44 pm (UTC)
Says the girl who's just had a book published :P

I figure that's why we should have fun while we're trying. That way, even if we never make it, we had a good time trying.

Thanks for sharing :)



Edited at 2010-01-04 06:54 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - naomi_jay - Jan. 5th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sandrawickham - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - naomi_jay - Jan. 5th, 2010 09:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:46 pm (UTC)
I take your point about the luck thing, but all too often I've heard it used as an excuse.

Thanks for sharing :)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 4th, 2010 09:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
bogwitch64
Jan. 4th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
I have no but. Since I started seriously learning and writing back in 1996, I've rejected all notion of but. I've never succumbed to excusitis. Neither am I delusional. I learned a lot. It took me a long time. The last manuscript I wrote before Finder was the first book I truly felt was worthy of publication. Ok. It's too long. Maybe it can be cut. Maybe it's just not going to work at this time. Now I'll start submitting Finder while I start the next project. The only failure is in giving up. NEVER SURRENDER! So says the bogwitch.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:47 pm (UTC)
Good for you!

I look forward to celebrating your future successes :)
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Jan. 4th, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 4th, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
mtlawson
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
I swear that my wife was just chuckling over an article about how fashion people were appalled over Jennifer Lopez' catsuit on New Years' (including commentary about her rear) when I updated my listings for the day and found your article.

No buts about it. ;-)

Nice article, Jon.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:48 pm (UTC)
Oy :(
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
txtriffidranch
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Not only is your advice to avoid these people at all costs valid and valuable, but I have to add a rider. No matter how fond you are of them, no matter how much you think you might inspire them to give up the excusitis, no matter how badly you think you need to get laid, DO NOT GET ROMANTICALLY INVOLVED WITH ONE OF THESE PEOPLE. This always ends badly, as the wannabe will always find ways not only to scuttle any effort you make to bring them up to your level of success, but then will find further ways to prevent you from going further. If you suspect that this person might actually get something going, ask to see some of their latest work. If it's always "in outline form" or "being polished up for release," you're talking to someone who's going to be at that same stage in another five or ten years, with nothing changing. And if this person is reading Publisher's Weekly or Writer's Digest, don't even consider a quick roll in the hay, because you'll regret giving them that much attention later.

I say this not only because my ex was so notorious for her bitterness over being a wannabe writer that she earned the nickname "the Nancy Spungen of fandom" at conventions for her ego trip temper tantrums. It's that another wannabe, with whom I was involved twenty years ago, recently called up to see what I was doing. She still hadn't had anything published since we broke up in 1990, and she'd completely forgotten that we broke up partly because she did everything in her power to screw up contacts and opportunities. When she discovered that I'd quit writing years before, she honestly couldn't accept it, and kept nuhdzing me about returning, just so she could namedrop her famous writer ex-boyfriend at readings and workshops. Even if I weren't already married to a wonderful woman who refuses to live in the past, I wouldn't have gotten back together with her, because that road is paved with pain.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:49 pm (UTC)
That must have been tough, for both of you.

I consider myself extremely lucky that Senior Management supports me 100% in my dream.
(no subject) - txtriffidranch - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
out_totheblack
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
What an awesome post, Jon, and one I really needed to read today. My but was growing exceptionally huge and leading up to another case of excusitis.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
Well, thank you. :)

Now get back to your writing, and be quick about it! ;)
karen_w_newton
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)
" ... but if I never get published, then it's all been wasted time and effort."

I don't think so, actually. If nothing else, I've learned a lot from writing.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
All the more reason to make sure you have fun along the way, right?

Thanks for sharing :)
sandrawickham
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
Great post, thanks.

I'm just a newbie into the writing scene (again, after over a decade) so I think the biggest one for me is the "but I'll never be THAT good"...when I read my favourite authors.
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
I wonder if you'd feel the same after reading those great writers very first novels.

Better yet, wouldn't it be great if they'd let us see the ones which never got published? :)
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 4th, 2010 07:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jan. 5th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mtlawson - Jan. 5th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jan. 5th, 2010 03:05 am (UTC) - Expand
sandrawickham
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC)
PS-I'm going to tweet your blog post! ;)
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 06:52 pm (UTC)
Ooh, thank you :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC)
Lol, as those who heard me sing during my Gentleman Jones days will testify, I've never let lack of talent stop me from
doing anything :)
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 5th, 2010 12:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
peadarog
Jan. 4th, 2010 07:31 pm (UTC)
My problems are more about "just" than "but".

Just one more level of this video game.
Just ten more pages of the book I'm reading.
Just two more scratches of my fat, lazy ass :-p
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
Lol, thank you for that vivid, though somewhat disturbing, image :)
plattcave
Jan. 4th, 2010 09:34 pm (UTC)
Nicely done. Almost too good for a blog post!
jongibbs
Jan. 4th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you! And don't worry, you'll see it again in next month's issue of The Graveline :)
a_r_williams
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:17 am (UTC)
I used to have a BUT
this big, but with Jon Gibb's writing plan I can now write with out a single 'but' to stop me.

Great post, Jon!

I think for me the biggest buts were "but I don't have enough time" and "but I'll wait till I have more life experience."

I would post more, but I gotta go get my writing quota for today. Heh, battle scene to write.
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 11:55 am (UTC)
Battle scenes are fun :)
(Anonymous)
Jan. 5th, 2010 01:06 am (UTC)
(1) "I'd like to finish writing my story, but I'm too busy blogging!"
(2) "I'd like to finish writing THAT story (that means the world to me), but I'm too busy writing THIS one (that doesn't mean as much to me)!"

Evil isn't it, how The Anti-Muse uses our own passion against us?
And yes, it boils down to fear of failure...
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 11:58 am (UTC)
Although they're related, I treat blogging and writing as two seperate entities, with time allocated to both, otherwise one can encroach on the other.

#2 is a good one. It took me a while, but I've learned to walk away from a story or novel if it's not panning out in a good way, though I sometimes come back to it later.
tracy_d74
Jan. 5th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
I'm odd. I have but's. Or I think I do, because I get so insecure about much of what I do. But . . . when I see my insecurity taking root I tend to tell myself "move that but." At some point I realize I'm the only one gettin in my way. I may grumble and doubt, but if I'm not good at something I find a way to get better (if it is truly important to me). I hate quiting more than failing. With failing I know I tried. Quiting . . . well that is just unacceptable (if it is truly important to me).
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:00 pm (UTC)
"move that but."

Lol, sounds like a catchphrase from a TV show, Extreme Story Makeover :)
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jan. 5th, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
bodgei
Jan. 5th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
the one I strugle with is (oddly enough) but what if people like it. what if I suceed.

I let that one keep me from finishing stuff. I'm working on it this year.
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:01 pm (UTC)
'...but what if people like it?'

I hope you find out this year :)
(no subject) - bodgei - Jan. 5th, 2010 12:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jan. 5th, 2010 01:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bodgei - Jan. 6th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC) - Expand
writerjenn
Jan. 5th, 2010 02:21 am (UTC)
I've heard writers say that the people who make it are the persistent ones.
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
For sure, persistence is a key ingredient, but there's more to it than pitching the same poorly written novel to a new agent every week for ten years, don't you think?

Do you have a 'but' that caused you problems?
(no subject) - writerjenn - Jan. 6th, 2010 10:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
jl_johnson
Jan. 5th, 2010 02:26 am (UTC)
Excellent post!

My biggest 'but' was the old 'I don't have the right equipment to write with.' I used that a long time, before I realized just how stupid I was.

And considering the successes I had last year, I think I've kicked that 'but' good. :D

jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:05 pm (UTC)
Thank you, and yes you have :)
cathschaffstump
Jan. 5th, 2010 03:27 am (UTC)
The time thing was one I grappled with for years.

I still don't have time. Really. But I am writing. :)

Catherine
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 12:07 pm (UTC)
'If you want something done, ask a busy person' - another one of my old gran's sayings. She was right too :)
wldhrsjen3
Jan. 5th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
Here via a friend ~ and I'm so glad she pointed me to this post! I definitely let the "but what if I'm not good enough?" thing get in my way, and one of my resolutions this year is to ignore it. This is just the post I needed to get my but (and butt) moving. :D Thank you!
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 04:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading, and good luck with your 50 new recipes :)
camillealexa
Jan. 5th, 2010 04:35 pm (UTC)
Avoid these people at all costs or risk becoming infected yourself.

Kind of an epidemic happening out there.
jongibbs
Jan. 5th, 2010 04:59 pm (UTC)
Hehe, like a literary version of the zombie apocalypse :)
justin_pilon
Jan. 6th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
Excustitis is seriously virulent. For writers I think it's something we instinctively fall back on in the face of rejection. But why would they choose my story when there are stories from tons of already known writers coming through the slush. It's dangerous to think like this because it steers our minds away from the real goal of improving our own craft. That's my "but" anyway. "But" I'm too stubborn to give into it.
jongibbs
Jan. 6th, 2010 09:14 am (UTC)
'But I'm too stubborn to give into it.'

Those kind of 'buts' can never be too big :)

Edited at 2010-01-06 09:14 am (UTC)
kmarkhoover
Jan. 6th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
You make an excellent point. In writing, like everything else, you have to have the courage to fail.
jongibbs
Jan. 6th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
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