My Million Excuses

I sit here frozen at the keyboard. All the words that have been rattling around in my head for the last two hours have disappeared, flitting away like figments of my imagination. Wait. They were figments of my imagination, and they’ve left me, the little traitors.

My ailment isn’t a new one, nor is it undiagnosed. I am suffering from the dreaded Rewrite Paralysis. A few weeks ago, I got the bill for Girl-child’s first year of college tuition, and I came to the conclusion that, if I want to continue my day job, I am going to have to sell a book. If you’ve been around a while, you’ll know that leaving the zoo isn’t an option. I love it too much. If you’re a new reader, click the “turtles and tortoises” tab at the top. Yeah, I’m with the zoo forever. So, it’s time to pee or get off the pot.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don't talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn't she beautiful? She's very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going "Longest Tongue competition over at Animal Couriers.

Lampropeltis knoblochi, or Chihuahua Mountain Kingsnake. I don’t talk about my snakes as much because they tend to squick some readers out, but isn’t she beautiful? She’s very sweet, too, and a contestant in the on-going “Longest Tongue” competition over at Animal Couriers.

I have a metric crap-ton** of excuses for not rewriting this novel sooner. Let’s get them out here in the open.

  1. That novel was just for fun.
  2. No one will really be interested in this character.
  3. It’s too hard to sell a book with a niche hobby like showing dogs. No one will be able to relate to it.
  4. It’s a damaged book, too far off the mark for redemption.
  5. I don’t have time.
  6. My kids are still young too young.
  7. My other hand hurts.
  8. Is it lunch time yet?

But if I’m really honest, there’s only one reason I haven’t delved head-first into rewrites.

I. Am. Scared.

The what-ifs are, quite frankly, eating me alive. What if I dedicate my whole world to this book only to discover that no one really DOES care? What if I do just fine with short little blog posts, but I’m not good enough to write a novel? What if I fail?

My answer to that last what-if is simple. I might fail, but I won’t die from it. Unless a potential agent reads it and finds it so horrible that they ouleave their big city office, come to my house, and bludgeon me to death with the e-file. I am still scared, but I am fairly certain this scenario won’t actually play out. I’m unlisted.

So this summer, I am stretching out of my comfort zone by joining Teachers Write, a four-week online camp for educators. If you’re a teacher, I recommend you join. It’s free. We get valuable feedback and a supportive community.

In keeping with the busting out of my wheelhouse, I will share the character sketch I wrote yesterday n response to this assignment. I am uncomfortable with this work because I am conflicted about writing in dialect. But it feels inauthentic not to. It won’t be for everybody, and I need to stop thinking that it will be. Not everyone loved Harry Potter, you know. Also, what is a wheelhouse?

She used to be skinny. She’s not no more, not since she come over to live at Grammy Sparks’. She likes Grammy’s cookin’, especially the hamburgers, fried in a pan. She likes those a lot.

She has brown eyes and blonde hair, but not same kind of hair as Sleeping Beauty\’s got, unless Sleeping Beauty slept a real, real long time and her hair got all dusty and kind of grey.

She don\’t like school. She done been to Principal\’s office so many times that they don’t bother with the teachin’ no more. Teacher puts the sum sheet on her desk but don’t say nothin’ when she crumples it up and drops it on the floor. Most people think she’s stupid. She’s not stupid. She knows better is all. Ain’t no reason to learn two and two when her Mamma done gone to jail for doin’ math.

Her front tooth is gone. It shoulda growed back two year ago when it first come out, but it didn’t. She didn’t even get nothin’ from the tooth fairy for it, neither. But she don’t believe in the tooth fairy, anyways. Except maybe she wishes she did.

She likes Grammy Sparks’ house good enough. Except for that cat. She hates that cat. He don’t like her much, neither. He squinted up his one good eye and scratched her good and proper the first day they met. He’s a mean old cat. He prowls outside her room at night and yowls. The same sound. Ra’o, ra’o, ra’o, over and over again, like he forgot he already said it.

He’s always there, that cat, always bein’ mean. Sometimes he takes the food straight off her plate, just plops up in a chair and snakes out that stripey paw, and next thing you know, he’s got her french fry. No one knows where he come from, but she surewishes he’d go.

Auntie June says Grammy Sparks is good at dragging in strays.

Am I alone? Anyone else ever let fear stand in their way? How did you conquer it?


** Little known fact: the official system for measuring excuses is metric.

46 thoughts on “My Million Excuses

  1. My first book had very little exposure. (I edited it too severely, actually.)

    I wrote another one much better in first draft than the first was in final draft. I know this could be a much more ?successful? publishing endeavor, but that knowledge is not enough to sink those hours into editing.

    My first book will never be a bestseller, but you know what? It feels fantastic to have done it, and grown.much from having done it. 🙂

    • I want to add my $.02 building on what Deborah has said here. What helps me shush all that “what if I fail? what if I put in all this work…only to find the book I’ve written is no good??” whispering (which never serves anything but to stop one from even trying) is thinking about it not as “the” book — but as “my first” book.

      You are finishing YOUR FIRST BOOK. Isn’t that amazing?! In and of itself, completing a novel puts you in some pretty rarified air; how many people talk about wanting to write a book, only to never do it? And *first* books, even fantastic ones written by folks who’ve since become hugely accomplished authors — well, almost every last one of them has at least a touch of the “first book” feel about them. The only way you get better in your second book? Is by learning through writing your first book.

      Even if you don’t plan (or aren’t planning right now) to ever write another one, this one will still be the first. Love it as such. Nurture it like something newly-hatched. Don’t you want to know what it will look like, fully grown-up?

      My bet is, it sprouts wings.

  2. I don’t know you personally, but from reading your blog, I’d bet a large sum that you could not write a boring character. I hope you will finish the book.

  3. I am in your same boat. Fear is paralyzing, but in the past couple of months, I said to myself that I don’t care if it is good or not, I just want to try. Try. And, so I write and revise. I am almost finished my novel–I just don’t know how to end it. So, I am seeking feedback from friends.

    I love the dialect you used. It sounds quite natural, and adds a dimension to your character. Keep at it.

  4. 1) As much as you might wish otherwise the darn thing isn’t going to re-write itself
    2) All it might take is one terrible incident with the blue screen of death to wipe away months if not years of work, so you might as well publish it before that happens – hitting the publish button doesn’t mean people will actually read it, so it’s really not as risky of a mood as you might think
    3) Okay, so people might actually read it, but wasn’t that the point?
    4) People might not like the book, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. People are unpredictable like that, but you’ll like you because you did what you set out to do.

  5. The biggest what if is “What if you never try?”

    You are an excellent, vibrant writer and – judging by this excerpt – have great potential as a fiction author. You know as well as I that if you were reading this post on someone else’s blog, you’d say something like, “Babe, you got everything it takes except a dose of courage to stiffen your spine. If you don’t do this, you AND your potential readers will feel that void of what could have been.”

    You have plenty of company in writer fear, writer challenges and writer triumphs. There are plenty of online support groups with big community shoulders.

    What if you never do it?

  6. I’m always afraid. My best trick is that sometimes I skip ahead in time and imagine life two different ways: 1. Q: What if I let fear win, how will it be? A: Certainty, sameness, cozy death. 2. What if I dare? Possibility, alive-ness, allowing one thing in a long chain of things, that want to happen for me.
    Then, there’s the 3rd quesstion? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

  7. You’ve gotten me hooked with just the character sketch. I want to know not just about her – where she came from, how old she is, why the narrator is telling us about her, but I want to know the narrator too. You dole out intrigue with a practiced hand! The way you describe her and the odd connections you build between the character and readers was unexpected and very compelling!!!

    YOU NEED TO WRITE THIS BOOK! I WANT TO READ THIS BOOK!! And I’ve never read Harry Potter and only saw one movie.

    So PLEASE do the rewrite!!!

  8. I’m familiar with the excuses. I have probably eight semi-started and abandoned book projects. I don’t even like talking about my abandoned books because even my abandoned books feels too cliche! I’m trying to get motivated to just do it though because the rational part of me recognizes that everyone has these fears. You actually help motivate me when I see you updating how many words you’ve written on a day and I’m like, “See, she can take care of baby tortoises and write! So no excuses!” Anyway, you’re an amazing writer and I will be the first one to buy your first book, so do it and take my money!

  9. I very much fear the monumental task of writing a book. I’ve got several rough outlines, and one or two strike me as being rather good. But I don’t even know how to use the Word program so you can write something with chapters and such-like. How can I possibly write a book? So i don’t.

    I admire your determination.

  10. You did a fine job on that assignment. Writing in dialect is what draws the mind away from the present place (unless you really talk like that I guess) and into the world of your book. I, for one, love to be transported away. Isn’t that the whole point of reading?
    As for your daughter’s college bill. Are there other scholarships she can apply for this summer? They are hidden everywhere, but she will need to help. Maybe she can pitch in by paying for her books and pizza next year. That’s what we require of our kids in college. We pay room/board and they pay for their books/labs/food not on the food plan/movies, etc.

    • Thanks for your feedback!

      Regarding college, we’re having the Girl-child look for an on-campus job this year. She had hoped to work all summer, but she hasn’t been able to find a job. Our goal is the same as yours – cover the books, kid. Books ain’t cheap!

  11. I should probably just save myself the pain and strife of writing my own post and copy this one… to answer the often asked: “IF you’ve written two books, where are they??” Am I going to publish them? Uh….. Read Becoming Cliche.

    Love the character sketch!

  12. I have never written a book myself, and perhaps i am too young to comment. But i really do like the way you write, especially your sketch. If nothing else, i can assure you that i would love to read the book you write.. so go on with it and cross the bridges when you come to them. 🙂

  13. I found the character sketch very interesting (after I made the type much bigger-guess my vision is still a bit off lol). Was it difficult to write in dialect? I would have a hard time maintaining it throughout.

  14. Fear of doing anything is awful I think we all have that fear when it comes to the things we care about, that mean a lot to us. I’m not a writer, but a reader, I love a good book. I don’t know yet if yours is going to be a good book, but I do know for sure, after that little taste, I want to know more…….please keep writing. I started popping in to visit when your turtles were hatching, from Celi’s blog, I love your zoo stories.

  15. I don’t think you’re alone. I’m afraid of just about everything. I haven’t found a very good way of coping with it, though. I just tend to laugh at things that frighten me and tell myself they can’t hurt me. (Then they hurt me.)

    I don’t have the talent to write a novel, sadly, but judging from the excerpt in this post, you certainly do. I say to hell with fear (in a quiet voice, from behind the sofa). Write your work, send it to umpteen publishers and wait for one of them to have the sense to recognise your genius!

    Seriously, you should go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? There really is nothing to fear. (But just to be on the safe side, only give potential agents your email address rather than your postal one. Oh, and remember to change the locks on your doors regularly.)

  16. I know you know this: you just have to go for it–jump in naked into the frigid waters and see if you sink or swim. My advice is don’t count on the book making you rich enough to pay tuition (it will be what it will be), but write because you have to . . . because no one can tell that story but you. I liked the character sketch very much and the dialect was not too much–just enough to start to form a picture in the fog of who the narrator is.

    I’ve been on the move and just started to surface. I have been drilling down through your posts to see what I’ve missed. This one caught my eye. Go for it, Lady. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Write them all down, and if they won’t kill you, start to write!

  17. I know you definitely don’t have the time for this, but I’ll throw it out anyway – I’ve seen other bloggers on here who have a huge following online and then build up on the hype through social media. Twitter-ing, Facebooking, selling their *brand*, so to speak. Which they segue-way into some kind of commercial endeavor, whether it’s a book thing, or some site that sells something. And frankly, many of them don’t even have enough talent to fill up a petite iguana egg.

    For example- and I won’t name names – this middle aged woman, childless, has the sarcasm of an unmotivated teenager and mouth of a jiffy jon on acid and maintains a blog She’s written several books about dating…for MEN, how to hook women (small books, equally sarcastic and utterly useless – the books, not the men), and got a guest spot on TV or radio…something to do with cooking (food, not men). She’s a social media whore, but she doesn’t censor herself. Her thoughts fly like bats in the belfry, and I guess people find that refreshing. I can also name two more bloggers with kids who’ve built a similar brand.

    I think your blog deals with subject matter – family, getting through stuff day-by-day, your job at the zoo, dealing with kids, growing up kids – are subjects many people can relate to. And you’re funny and sweet and snappy without losing your sincerity or adding a lot of @#$ to capture people’s attention. There’s definitely something you could build and make successful commercially, if you sat down and planned around it. But then again, what do I know – not having written a thing for months. This comment, and a Yelp review about pork belly are the only significant things I’ve written in the last 2 months. So, you’re in good company 🙂

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