How to Use Your Excuses to Get More Writing Done

Writers are master excuse-makers.

Whenever we don’t get the writing done, we have a library of excuses ready to use.

I was too tired.
I was in a bad mood.
I didn’t feel well.
I had a hard day.
I didn’t feel creative.
I thought I’d have time later.

My personal favorites are “I didn’t have time,” and “My brain was fried.” You probably have a few you regularly use too.

Excuses are dangerous, though. They prevent us from achieving our writing goals. They can also make us think that it’s not our fault when we don’t meet our daily writing quotas.

Something else happened, we say to ourselves, or someone else got in our way. It was out of our control!

But of course, nothing could be further from the truth. We are in complete control of our schedules and our choices.

How can we shake ourselves loose from all this excuse-making and boost writing productivity? Here are three methods that might work for you.

1. Keep Track of All Your “Why I Didn’t Write” Excuses

Usually, our excuses come and go and we never think of them again. This allows them to stay hidden from our consciousness, where they are rarely recognized as the devious monsters they are.

Bring your excuses out in the open by keeping track of them. One way to do that is to create a chart, table, or Excel document on which you record your daily writing progress. On those days when you write, mark down the time you spent writing, the words you completed, or both. On the days you don’t write, record your excuse.

This can be a very powerful tool. When you review your progress document each week, you’re going to feel a positive hit for every day that contains writing time and/or words, but you’re also going to “feel the shame” for every day you allowed an excuse to get in the way.

Some excuses, of course, are legitimate. If you had to take a family member to the doctor or get emergency help for a broken water heater, you’re not going to feel bad about that. But if you look back and see you didn’t write because you binge-watched a favorite TV show, for example, or decided you were uninspired, you’re going to come face-to-face with your own failure to follow through.

“There is just something about being forced to write it down,” author Leigh Stein told NBC News, “being forced to look at what [excuse] it is that you’re using that I think helped me as a corrective.”

2. Stop Using the Word “But” Before Your Excuse

Excuses often begin with the word “but.”

For example:

  • I wanted to write, but I was too tired.
  • I was going to write, but my brain was dead.
  • I had planned to write, but I had to fix dinner.

The word “but” allows us to let ourselves off the hook way too easily. It makes it feel like it’s okay to neglect what’s important to us—our writing.

Try taking this word away. When you do that, the above three examples become:

  • I wanted to write.
  • I was going to write.
  • I had planned to write.

All of a sudden you can see your true desire under the excuses. You wanted to write, but you allowed your excuse to draw you away from that desire.

From now on, decide you will no longer use the word “but” when it comes to your writing schedule. When you find yourself about to say, “I wanted to write, but…” just stop. Sit with the first part of that sentence for a minute: “I wanted to write.” It may inspire you to write immediately, after which you’ll probably feel much better.

3. Use Your “Why I Didn’t Write” Excuses as Clues

Most of the time, when you don’t write, it’s not because you’re tired, too busy, or uninspired.

There’s something else going on. The excuse is a cover-up.

To boost your writing productivity, you need to put on your detective hat. What is the real reason why you’re not writing?

To unearth some clues, focus in on fear. By far the most popular reason writers don’t write, fear frequently gets in the way, so pull out your journal and answer these questions:

  • If I write, I’m afraid I will…
  • If I get my writing done, then I’m afraid…
  • Every time I think of writing, I’m afraid of…

See what you find from your answers to these questions, then track yourself for the next two weeks. Every time you’re tempted to avoid your writing time, stop and ask yourself: “What am I afraid of?”

Most of the time, this will help you get to the bottom of your excuses, so you can move past them.

Would you like to get more writing done and boost your writing career? Get Colleen’s FREE worksheet, “7 Easy Ways to Become a More Productive Writer” here!

SOURCE: Compton, Julie. “How Tracking Her Excuses Motivated This Writer to Pen a Novel.” NBC News. Last modified December 5, 2019.

Colleen M. Story

Resident Writing Coach

Colleen inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards. Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018. Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker.
Writing and Wellness | Author Site | Twitter

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Tyrean A Martinson
3 months ago

I really like this way of turning excuses into reasons to write, and finding the underlying reasons why we often stop, so we can write through them. Thank you for sharing this!


[…] we can often use words of encouragement to get us through the rough patches. Colleen M. Story shows how to use your excuses to get more writing done, Marissa Decuir compiles 10 published authors with their best writing advice, Garry Rodger has […]

Lisa Tener
3 months ago

I love this idea of turning around our excuses for not writing. Regarding he third tip, to use excuses as clues, I would add that in addition to fear, the clue may be about logistics. If “but I was too tired or burned out” is the excuse/clue, figure out a way to re-energize before writing or find a time that works better and schedule it in your calendar. One more way to get empowered.

3 months ago
Reply to  Lisa Tener

Thanks for the extra tips, Lisa! :O)

3 months ago

This is such a great idea—writing down your excuses. I think the Time one is what trips most people up, but as my husband likes to say, “We always make time for the things that are a priority.” So figuring out why writing isn’t a priority can be helpful in getting it back to the top of our list. Thanks, Colleen! So glad you’re here :).

3 months ago

Thanks, Becca! Yes, I frequently remind myself to put my priorities first. So easy to get caught up in the little duties of everyday.

3 months ago

I love the suggestion to track writing excuses – you’re right; writing them down is more helpful than forgetting them ad viewing it as a one-off. Understanding why we didn’t write by reviewing our reasons or excuses can supply us with good data that can indicate problems in our lives or where a lack of balance occurs. Once we can pinpoint disruptors we can make changes. 🙂

3 months ago

Thanks, Angela! I know I find it helpful. When I go back and view the lame excuse I’m motivated to make sure I follow through the next time. :O)