‘Hell is paved with good intentions and roofed with lost opportunities’. (Anon)
I met a friend unexpectedly for lunch one day in a hospital cafeteria. ‘Writers,’ he mused, pondering my profession. ‘They spend most of their time making excuses for not doing it, don’t they?’ Unpalatable though it is to admit it, I have a sneaking feeling that he is probably right.
How pertinently Browning expressed it when he asked, ‘Does he write? He fain would paint a picture. Does he paint? He fain would write a poem’. Anything, in other words, rather than get on with the hard work of writing! More often than not, it we are just been prepared to push and stretch ourselves a bit harder, we could achieve so much more . . .
Jesus made it clear in two of His parables that feeble excuses cause people to miss out on really significant blessings – even on being part of His Heavenly Kingdom at all.
In the story Jesus told about a banquet in Luke 14, people came up with a variety of excuses for ignoring the invitations that they had received. The least convincing was the person who had just bought a field, and who felt an overwhelming need to go and inspect it. Come off it – the field would still have been there the following day! Another had just bought a tractor (well, five yoke of oxen anyway!) and was keen to put them through their paces.
I have rather more sympathy for the person who had just got married, but when we take these excuses together what we find is that they centre around property, possessions, and priorities. All of these are perfectly good things in themselves – but not when they serve to deflect and even quench our calling.
Overcoming our excuses means moving beyond the need to ‘feel’ inspired, before we start writing, praying, painting or whatever it is that we are called to do. To keep saying that we are too tired, too unqualified and too lacking in inspiration effectively dooms us to a very small output.
Strong emotional way lie behind our reluctance to write, but for now the most important thing is to come face to face with our proneness to making excuses, and to develop frameworks that will facilitate our creativity, and to move away from things that continually distract and interrupt us.
Where our resolve is fixed, we can usually find solutions. Perhaps baby-sitters can be brought in to give us time to write – or the care of elderly parent be entrusted to another (perhaps some sort of a swap can be arranged?) in order to procure a few precious creative hours.
Simple changes can go a long way. For example, it can really help to keep our place of writing as separate as possible from the area where we attend to administrative tasks.
If something more radical is called for, is it possible to make structural changes even to our house in order to carve out the seclusion that we need? Staying up late, or getting up way before dawn may well be the only way in which we will ever bring a cherished project to completion. After all, if students are willing to do this to complete their studies, should we be any the less diligent in pursuing our God-given goals? It’s amazing how we suddenly start remembering tasks that we have successfully been putting off doing for months just at the time when we need to write.
In the last analysis, it is the willingness to overcome excuses that separates would-be writers from real ones. When CS Lewis’ talking horse, Bree, escapes from Archenland and sets off for Narnia in The Horse and his Boy, he is under the illusion that he is pushing himself hard. In reality, he had forgotten what it was like to have a rider on him spurring him on to considerably greater efforts.
It is not that God does not believe in rest: it is essential for our wellbeing and for the flow of creativity. But I wonder if you can spot ways in which you may be allowing a proneness to making excuses to cause you to under achieve?
It is here that we face our first and most crucial obstacle. There are serious psychological barriers to writing that need to be overcome. Like a bucking restless horse, our inner reluctance to pick up our pen must be broken. How will we advance beyond pointless reverie while we remain a-bed a-dreaming, or wasting hours on meaningless things that don’t merit.
There is nothing easy or automatic about overcoming these deeply-ingrained and soul-deadening excuses. Competing and complicated circumstances are hard enough to work our way around, but the plaintive whines of our inmost being are still more inveigling. ‘I need another hour in bed,’ we protest, vehemently or sluggishly, depending which mode stands the most chance of prevailing against our better intentions. ‘Surely there’s no harm, in that?’ we say. But quite possibly that is the wrong, wrong, WRONG response! It is usually those who learn to overcome their inertia who have the greatest capacity to inspire others – and to pray prayers and to prepare resources that would otherwise remain unoffered to the Lord.
Let me go still farther. If we are not prepared to exercise this sort of discipline, our writing will remain forever a chance affair; a ‘hit’ when times are good, but a distant ‘miss’ when competing attractions or difficulties come our way.
By careful observation and experience, we learn to recognise which people, places and situations stimulate and refresh our creativity – and which hinder the freedom of our spirit. Our goal should be that when we return to our work we feel refreshed by our chosen activity.
If walking, cycling, swimming and watching or playing ball games are our thing, then step out and enjoy them to the full – but not all forms of recreation will prove equally conducive. While some plays or films may inspire us profoundly, others will drag our emotions into dead-end alleys, and leave us feeling distracted. Why? Because we have allowed ourselves to share too deeply in someone else’s vision and drifted too far from our own calling in consequence.
Maturity as a writer consists of knowing when it is perfectly in order to rest and relax, and when we need to dig deep and push through external obstacles and our own inner reluctance. As surely as people following a diet must avoid certain foods, so those who are serious about developing the Craft of Writing must take care not to fill their minds with unhelpful material. ‘Do not be deceived,’ St Paul warns, ‘bad company, (like bad reading or undisciplined viewing habits) corrupts good character’. (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Whilst the call to rest and relax is a genuine one, here is a very different motto and maxim to help up be more resolute in pursuing our vocation: ‘Excuses are inexcusable’!
Pause and Ponder
What are the excuses you find yourself most frequently using to avoid getting on with some writing project? What might these underlying attitudes be pointing to? And what precisely are you doing to overcome them?