busy is not an excuse

There’s this pervasive idea that we don’t have enough time. It’s more important to be busy than to be fine; we wear our stress like a badge. We multitask. We squeeze in our writing between chores and obligations. We slump, exhausted, in front of the television at night. We lament, to our friends and family, the things we would accomplish if we only had more time. 

If you are busy, if you have too much to do, if you are stressed and time-sucked and tired, how can you possibly have time to do the important things? But in this frenetic approach to living, there is an important and insidious message: You have not succeeded because your situation has made you too busy. Your life is chaos; you have no time to write. We encourage this perception because it removes us from the equation. It’s not our fault we haven’t written. We’re just too busy. 

I understand this because I have done it. We all have. It’s so much easier to put work out into the world when we can blame its success or failure on circumstance. This is procrastination at its finest. And we all have our methods of busy-making. For me, it’s the internet. I could spend a lifetime reading articles about prehistoric Celts and the origin of Cornish Hens. Or researching cast iron griddles. You may struggle with the television. Or Farmville. Or celebrity news.

And while priority setting and and time management can help you make the most of your time, they don’t address the underlying concerns. Even the most advanced task-organization system will not prevent you from playing Angry Birds until three in the morning. And the best time management skills in the world will not help you clear your schedule of the things that you do that suck away your hours.

Combating the “busy” requires honesty and a willingness to look earnestly into the mirror. Our lives are busy because we make them that way. There are reasons–very, very good reasons–that we do this. But if you want to write, and if you want to write well, you have to take responsibility for the life that you are leading. It is difficult to tap the depths of our person and craft a message that matters to others if we cannot be honest with ourselves.

We need to look at our lives and ask ourselves if we are making time for the things that really matter. It takes time to draft a book. It takes time to make revisions, to seek out cover artists, to learn about formatting and marketing and industry norms. It takes time to sit down with an editor. You need time to write a good query letter or a good blurb. Are you blaming your busy life for your inability to accomplish the things that you want to do?

If being busy helps you stay focused and get a lot done, then go for it. But if your heart sings to you at night about being a writer and you don’t spend a single minute with your pen to paper, it is not because you are too busy. It is because you have chosen to fill your time with things that are not writing. And while it may be difficult, this is something that you can change.

Be honest with yourself, and be kind. Don’t let yourself be mad or condescending, and don’t belittle your behavior. We do the things we do for a reason; they make sense to us. They protect us and make us feel safe. If we spend our evenings watching sitcoms, there’s a reason for it. That reason is not going to present itself to you if you are enraged and rampaging. Be gentle. Be curious.

And, when you finally tease out the benefits of being so busy you can’t see straight, it will be easier to make changes around what you know to be true about yourself. If you’re nervous about success, you can address that. If you’re worried about criticism, you can address that. If you’re not sure where to put the commas or how to develop a plot, you can address those concerns and move past them–but only when you truly understand what is actually holding you back. (Psst: It’s not a lack of time.)

The Earth spins faster for no person. Allow yourself to make time for your dreams.


  1. This is me to a tea. I revel in busy. 2 kids, household, part-time job the works. It all keeps me from writing. Yes, I have made more effort this year to MAKE the time and I have seen the benefits. I am not pushing myself and I’m trying to look past the weeks where I barely get anything done I just have to keep trying. Using a kitchen timer to limit the amount of time I spend on the internet has been useful for me, so it is a trick worth trying.
    By the way I just nomimated you for the Versatile Blogger Award. It’s up to you if you play along but keep doing what you’re doing, you have some great posts here!! http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/

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