January 4th, 2010

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?