Happy New Year, everyone! Hope you all had a fantastic holiday. Now, for the love of all that is sacred, can we please get back to business? As a matter of fact, I had whole blog for today, written, revised, and ready to roll by Saturday afternoon, on that very subject. It was an okay blog, nothing terribly special. In fact, the title was “In Celebration of Ordinary Time” — how’s that for, well, ordinary? Here’s a snippet of that blog post:
Well, hello Tuesday after New Year’s Day! I simply couldn’t be happier to see your pretty face on my calendar this morning. You are my absolute number one very most favoritest day of the year. Today is the start of Ordinary Time, that glorious, productive, promise-filled day that we Return to Routine.
Any Catholics out there, lapsed or otherwise? I hope you’ll forgive my hijacking a phrase that the Church coined to capture those event-free months that fall between Christmas and Easter where nothing too holy hits the calendar. While my kids were attending parochial elementary school, my husband and I latched on to the term and now use it in a non-religious way to describe the months from January — May when life is just as blissfully ordinary as it can be. I, for one, unabashedly celebrate the days we call Ordinary Time…
WAIT! DON’T CLICK THAT MOUSE! I canned that blog and let me tell you why.
The post was fine, a snappy little essay on the glories of routine and normalcy after the chaos of Christmas. Clever and universal, but…lacking in emotion. I could give you a hundred reasons why I should have merely proofed those 900 words this morning, added a nice prize to entice a lively comment or sixty, then moved on. Wanna hear some of those reasons? I’m busy! I don’t have time to write passionate, inspiring blogs! I have a book due! I have kids who need me! I have laundry, errands, pages, copyedits and galleys, and did I mention I need to get to the gym today? I have a husband who needs attention, a dog who needs a walk, a new Kindle that needs reading and, for heaven’s sake, guys, I’ve got a fictional couple who need a love scene! That blog’s all I got and it’s good enough.
You know what you just read? A litany of excuses. And that is really what I want to blog about today. The ugly, clumsy, sad, and wretched crutches we call excuses.
After I finished writing my Ordinary Time blog, I happened to have an email exchange with a friend of mine. She’s a reader of this blog and if she wants to out herself, that’s her choice, but for the sake of today’s blog, I’ll just call her my friend, because that’s what she is — a dear friend who started as a reader and infiltrated my heart.
My friend wants something in her life very, very badly. Unlike many of our dreams, this goal happens to be well within her control, completely hers for the having. I won’t say what it is because that’s not important — she wants something that is life-changing and life-saving, she knows exactly how to get it, and she has everything she needs to succeed. She wants something many of us want, but all of us know this something takes an indescribable amount of work and sacrifice to achieve. No luck involved, and no particular God-given talent — that’s important to note — but a commitment to viciously hard labor that taxes a person physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Still, she claims to really want it.
But…my friend has…excuses. All valid, all real, all completely understandable and relatable. These excuses, like crutches, are propping her up…but really, they are crippling her. No, worse. They are paralyzing her. They are keeping her safe from the possibility of failure; they are giving her a reason not to start the difficult journey; they are holding her hostage in a place where she’s been for a long time, denying her the ability to seize the key to her prison and escape.
She wrote me a heartfelt email detailing her excuses. How she got to this place, why she is there, and all the many reasons she can’t make this change in her life. Yet, how much she wants it! I know the letter was hard for her to write and I know she wanted what my agent calls a “there, there, darling” reply — tacit approval of her excuses, like any good friend would do. She wanted my agreement that she has all the reasons in the world to stay right where she is in her own personal hell. It’s not so bad, where she is. She’s not dead. (Although if she stays there, she might be.)
I read her email while I was standing in the driveway — in my pajamas, my dog taking care of business on the grass, just to give you a full visual — and I screamed at my BlackBerry. Scared the heck out of Pepper, too. These are &*$#!* excuses, I hollered at my handheld. They don’t fly with me.
I sailed back to my computer (grabbed coffee on the way) and poured out some seriously tough love. Paragraphs of why she was using these excuses as a reason not to even try to get what she wanted instead of putting one foot in front of the other and walking straight toward her goal. Yes, it’s uphill. Yes, it’s gonna hurt. Yes, it might be the hardest thing she’s ever done in her life and there will be tears, pain, sweat, maybe some blood. But excuses are holding her back.
I wrote fast, furious, and unedited. I crafted a response with all the passion of a person possessed with the belief that My Position is The Right One: a long, long email full of bold words and red type and way too many exclamation points!!! This subject mattered to me, because I loathe and despise excuses and see them as the enemy of happiness, contentment, satisfaction, and good health. I hit send and, burning with my own inspiration, grabbed my towel and headed to the gym because that’s what I needed to do regardless of how much I wanted to stay home and make my kids chocolate chip pancakes. And eat them. (The pancakes, not the kids.) And read the paper. And drink more coffee. And enjoy my Sunday. NO EXCUSES. I went to the gym and worked my butt off instead, all the while thinking about the dichotomy between my safe, simple, standard blog and my far more passionate email to my friend.
Maybe it was the workout, maybe it was the New Year, maybe it was just that for a writer, emotion always wins the day. I 86’d the little Ordinary Time post and opted to use my passion to kick you guys in the ass instead. After all, this is that time of year when we make resolutions, set goals, have “key words for the future” and look around for ways to improve the quality of our life. We say we’re going to do it, whatever it might be, but by January 15…we’re shackled by excuses we never really shed.
So, answer me this: What is that one thing that you want? What is your goal, your hope, your desire? What do you want to change? What do you want to accomplish? I’m not talking about a dream of getting a book published or meeting your one true love or winning a guest role on Glee. I’m talking about those goals and desires that are within your reach and control…if you didn’t have excuses binding your hands and heart.
Do you want to lose ten pounds (or fifty or a hundred)? Do you want to finish (or start) a manuscript? Do you want to query an agent (or ten)? Do you want to start a blog, have a baby, launch a business, paint a still life, visit Italy, grow a garden, read The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, get a new job, write a screenplay, learn to cook, sew, quilt, knit, or (as one of my friends is doing now) carve wood into gorgeous salad bowls? Do you want to save money? Climb a mountain? Have sex more often? Quit drinking? Audition for community theater? Put 1,259 pictures from twenty years into photo albums? Organize your laundry room, closet, garage, or basement? Redecorate your office? Make a Facebook page? Finish a marathon? Create a web site? Design jewelry? Self publish a book?
Now answer me this: What’s stopping you?
Cue the Song of Excuses now…
I don’t have time, can’t afford a gym membership, hurt my neck last year and was told “no exercise.” My family likes fattening food, there’s always junk in the pantry, I have 200 pounds to lose and didn’t get picked for The Biggest Loser. I need food for comfort, I love to eat, I’m not that fat, I’m in menopause, it’s too cold to walk, and, oh my God, who has an extra hour every day? ALL EXCUSES!
And the back up singers chime in…
I have writer’s block. My last manuscript was rejected by everyone. I write in a genre that nobody reads. My critique group fell apart. I can’t afford RWA. My husband laughs at the idea of writing romance. I work full time, I have six kids, I don’t have a computer, I can’t get past chapter three without losing interest. I need more craft classes! ALL EXCUSES!
Let’s all sing it now…
I don’t know where to start, I am overwhelmed, I am busy, I am tired, I am old, I am pulled in thirty different directions, the market’s down, the economy’s flat, the money’s gone, my mother is sick, my daughter is going to college, my husband is sleeping with his assistant and I am mired in a divorce. MORE EXCUSES!
Let go of the excuses! Write them all down and throw them away! Silence them! Ignore them! Conquer those bastards and kick them to the curb!! (See, I get exclamation point crazy on this topic!) Excuses are paralyzing you and keeping you from the joy, wholeness, and happiness that comes from achieving a difficult goal.
Throw the crutches down and walk forward. You know the steps you have to take to get whatever it is you want — assuming it’s not something that requires luck, like winning the lottery. But you don’t take the steps. Why not?
What’s your excuse?
You don’t have to share excuses (unless they are oh so creative!) but feel free to share your goals and resolutions, dreams and desires. I have a feeling we’ll all see some of ourselves in the comments…and that might help get rid of some of the excuses.
One commenter wins a $15 gift card to Starbucks so you can sit and drink some coffee, write your excuses on a piece of paper, and drop them in the trash on your way out. And I’ll stick it in the spine of ANY book from my backlist — winner’s choice. No, wait. Winner’s choice!!! That’s better.
PS. I drafted this blog over the weekend, and Monday afternoon I caught this story in USA Today, titled No Excuses! Perfect!