Use it up, wear it out

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Did I explain why I’ve never written a book? I think I did, earlier. But if you forgot, or this is our first time together, here’s what I said.

Not writing a book is my fault. The blame is on me.

I own my shame because a famous writer once pointed it out to me. She was a beloved children’s book author and, through a serious of oddball events, I drove her to the drugstore one afternoon in search of ointments best left unidentified.

In the course of a 20 minute conversation, as I got to know her, I relaxed enough to say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

Stupid me. How unoriginal. How pitiful. Her response wasn’t softened by any attempt at politeness. She let me have it.

“If I had a dollar for everyone who’s ever said that to me, I’d be richer than I am now, and I’m rich enough. If you really wanted to write a book, you would have done it already. So you either don’t want it enough or you’re too lazy to do it.”

I didn’t know her. She didn’t know me. I could have hated her for her assumptions and her smugness. But she wasn’t being smug. She was being blunt and honest.

She saw right down to the problem. It was me. I was the obstacle.

Inside my head, I had a lifetime of excuses as to why I’d never sat down and written the book I’d wanted to write. They’re with me still. I trot them out now and then when I’m working on something and get stuck. Excuses need to be taken out and used up in our lifetimes. The earlier the better. Because if you die with a drawerful of excuses, you’ll never get anything done.

Once or twice a year, a friend who runs estate sales calls and asks me to help out. I’m happy to oblige, because six hours inside someone else’s home, sorting through someone else’s belongings, cuts through the chase and plops you down right at the ending. You don’t need to know the entire story to understand the main theme. It’s always the same.

If I were shooting a documentary, the camera would pan over dozens of brand new guest soaps in their original wrapping, sitting in drawers or linen closets, waiting until that special moment — a moment that never came. Same thing with towels, handkerchiefs, fine china brought out for the holidays. Their owners, either in the ICU, the nursing home, or the funeral home, probably thought, Hold onto them. Save them. Don’t use them up or wear them out.

Every time I open up a drawer of fancy soaps, I shiver.

If you write, and struggle with your writing, and eventually share your pieces in a class, workshop, or writing group, you will trot those excuses out. Guaranteed. And that’s a good thing. Said aloud, your exuses will sound lame and futile. Said aloud, you will use them up and never utter them again.

Some things keep better than others. Excuses keep very well. And they keep us from accomplishing what we want, because they’re both comforting and distracting. They lull us with soothing promises of our own inadequacy, and protect us from the sharp edges and painful words of famous writers who know better than to rely on excuses.

What’s your excuse? Take it out, look at it, and be prepared to use it. You’re going to start writing, you’re going to feel uncomfortable, and you’ll need that excuse to fall back on.

Eventually, the discomfort will lessen, the excuse will be less effective, and you’ll let go of it and all the others you’ve been holding onto. When you empty that drawer, you’ll know exactly what you’ve accomplished. And it’ll be something.

Roll up your sleeves. You know what needs to be done.

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