Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Guest Blog Week: Is Your "But" Too Big?

A novel and short story writer, Jon Gibbs blogs at An Englishman in New Jersey. He's in the process of launching, a free to join/free to use 'database' for writers from all around the world who want to find or set up writing groups near where they live.

He can usually be found hunched over the laptop in his kitchen. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

Never shy about giving people the benefit of her opinion (whether it was asked for or not) my old gran was always telling someone their ‘but’ was too big.

On the face of it, that seems a little rude, even for my old gran, but she wasn’t talking about pants’ sizes. She was referring to those built-in excuses we like to keep handy, in case our sub-conscious starts prompting us to chase our dreams.

“But I’m too young/too old.”

“But he/she’s out of my league.”

“But people might laugh at me.” [Not a problem if your dream is to do standup comedy]

Writers’ buts.
Writers too, have built-in ‘buts’ as it were:

“I’d love to write, but I just don’t have the time.”

“I’d love to write, but I don’t know anything about grammar.”

“I’d love to write, but there’s no writing group where I live.”

If you ask me, none of those ‘buts’ matter. They’re all just a way of avoiding the real problem, the biggest ‘but’ of them all:

“But I might fail.”

The fear of failure can stop a person from even trying. Have you ever almost pitched a story to a high-paying magazine, almost sat down to write a novel, or almost entered a writing contest? If so, then join the club. I imagine just about every writer has had that experience at some point or other.

I’ll bet there are thousands of great (or potentially great) storytellers out there who’ll never get published. I suspect for most, it’s because they let their ‘but’ get between themselves and the chance of success. You’ve probably met some of them.

Be wary of such people. Many of them carry a virus, Excusitis, a mental affliction which can kill writing dreams by causing the person suffering from it to doubt themselves and their ability. Symptoms include excessive use of the phrases like ‘I wanted to be a writer, but…’, ‘I’ve always thought I had a book in me, but…’, ‘I love writing, but…’

While not always contagious, many sufferers become bitter, unable to wish other folks success in endeavors which they themselves once dreamed of pursuing. Instead of support they offer mockery, instead of encouragement they try to plant seeds of doubt in your head.

Avoid these people at all costs or risk becoming infected yourself.

So what’s the difference between writers who go on to achieve their writing dream and those who don’t?
I don’t believe it’s talent – though it would be naïve to think that talent isn’t a vital part of the equation.

It certainly isn’t luck – that’s just a silly excuse used by folks who think there’s an easy path to success.

I believe the difference is simple.

Successful writers refuse to allow their ‘buts’ to get in the way.
They see a ‘but’ as an obstacle which must be overcome rather than an excuse to quit... at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Me, I’m nearer fifty than forty; between leaving school at sixteen (with a poor academic record) and my 42nd birthday, I’d never written a word of fiction. Believe me, I could come up with a dozen more great excuses. The point is who cares? I figure all those things will just make my 'How I done it' story a little more interesting if and when I become successful as a writer.

How about you?

What ‘buts’ have you put behind you as you chase your writing dream?


Thermocline said...

How much would I have accomplished by now if I had started writing a decade ago when these ideas began taking shape in my head?

Maybe not much, but what a waste - so much time lost for no worthwhile reason.

Kristan said...

Hilarious, and yet really insightful, post. Thanks for sharing!

The "but" I've really put behind me is the idea that I would write more "but X is not ideal" -- X being my day job situation, or my desk, or my computer, or whatever.

The truth is, there will never be an ideal setup. The Medici patron system is over, sadly, so we all gotta make do with our circumstances and make it happen anyway.

Sure, there are some things we can change and control for the better, but I think a person's attitude is far more important than a person's physical circumstances.

Bane of Anubis said...

The 'buts' were definitely there five years ago, but now I have far fewer (at least today :)

ryan field said...

Nice post.

Bittersweet Fountain said...

My "but" is as always school and research related...

"but I've got homework", "but I have a test tomorrow", "but our critical design review is in five days!", "but this design really just isn't working."

Luckily I enjoy semester off hiatuses (hiati? I really don't think it's a Latin word) called "internships". That's when I get my real writing done. I can leave work at work and do writing at home.

Anonymous said...

The one that haunts my nightmares is "But if the people I work with find out, I might destroy my non-writing career and end up unemployed."

Laurel said...

BUT my family comes first. This has always been my "but" and still is, and when you have a really big family, it becomes a really big but.

Nevertheless, about four years ago, I decided to write when I could and have actually written, revised, and revised again two books - one of which is languishing nicely in a drawer and one of which I am getting ready to query.

Nice post. I think I'd like your gran.

Rebecca Knight said...

What a wonderful insight! Your Gran sounds awesome :).

I suffer from "But I might fail" syndrome, and am currently in recovery. "But I might succeed" can sometimes be just as troubling to a writer ;).

Thank you for this!

Chuck H. said...

Does this post make my "but" look big? No, actually, it points out just how small my "but" is. It's a wonder my pants just don't fall right off. I have used every excuse in the world to not write and none of them were valid. So I guess I'd better get off this blog and get back to it. Good luck to all with your own "buts"

Tchann said...

"But who cares what I write?"

This one surfaces about once a week to club me upside the head. I can't get past it, so I just run alongside it. Maybe someday I'll leave it behind.

Matilda McCloud said...

great post...I have a bad case of the buts. It's why I quit writing every five minutes. Next time I utter the B word, I will get off my but(t) and start writing again. Actually, the buts are crippling for lots of things in life, not just writing!

atsiko said...

Great post. I know from experience how big some of these "but"s can be. Never had the time excuse, but I've used the "but I'm afraid it'll suck" one quite often. I think that's the highest hurdle.

People who might get over the surface excuses can easily be stopped cold by the truth underneath.

Linguista said...

I don't even make excuses anymore. I just don't do stuff :(

I guess in general the two I have used most are

"but I'm not good enough"
"but I never finish anything. I'll get bored."

maine character said...

Thanks for the post. Two books that really helped me get off my "but" are The Courage to Write and The Writer's Book of Hope, both by Ralph Keyes. Excellent chapters on getting past just such excuses and those who discourage.

I'd say more, but I gotta get back to this story. Which shows that even "but"s can be put to good use.

brian_ohio said...

Hey! It's my LJ buddy Jon! I'm glad Nathan lifted the ban on your guest blog submittals and actually selected one of them. Wow! Must have caught Nathan in a forgiving mood.

When I was a wee lad (mid 20s), I would say 'but' all the time about writing. My mom got sick of it and every time I said 'but' she'd sit me on the time-out chair with a dictionary in my mouth. As the years went by, the book got so thick I had to do it in halves. Yech! And it worked.

But GREAT post, Jon. As always.

Oh... do you ever actually 'cook' in your kitchen?

Nona said...

the but i've put behind me is the one about success leading to all those flashbulbs going off in my face . . . what a drag. okay, i exaggerate, but you get the picture . . .

Morgan Xavier said...

I used to use 'But I don't have any time,' until I was put on medical/pre-maternity leave and now have all the time in the world. Two and a half months in, I've spent more time playing online poker than writing. I realized my 'but' has more to do with fear, procrastination and laziness than anything else legitimate. Fear, because it is a lot of work if nothing comes from it, and the rest, well because it is a lot of work! Luckily I have a husband who likes to take jabs at me..."When are you ever going to write this book you've been talking about forever." We made a deal: when I finish my novel, he will get his GED. I really want him to get his GED so this is a great motivator.

I also want to silence the 'buts' forever and finish something I've started for once in my life.

Cate Gardner said...

For me the but in my life definitely has the extra 't' and I believe sitting down and trying is what has formed it. :D

Fantastic post, Jon.

A.R. Williams said...


Great post, Jon!

stacy said...

What a great post.

For me what works is doing before believing. I just put that proverbial one foot in front of the other and things generally work out. And you know, my "BUT" gets smaller every day.

Dominique said...

Great post. Insightful and interestig.

I heard a saying once, "You're odds of getting the job you want go up if you file the application." I try not to let my buts get in the way, because I know that they're roadblocks to my success.

For the longest time, my 'but' was "I don't have time." Well, I learned to make time. If you want it enough, you can beat the 'but.'

J. Koyanagi said...

"But what if I'm just not good enough?"

No one's good enough with that attitude, so I've put it behind me. Thanks for a great post!

jongibbs said...

Thank you for the kind words, especially the ones about my old gran - who, as you probably guessed, had a heart of gold and a right hook like a sledgehammer :)

Arabella said...

But I'm invisible, but I've never been a success at anything, but I have no connections, but I . . .

Oh, just shut up, already! You're absolutely right. I'll use no more buts, unless it's mine firmly planted in my chair in front of my desk.

Amanda said...

Great one!! This one stood out to me when I read through them all. :)

I think my biggest 'but' has been, "but I'm not good enough." I've loved to write forever, but I was so scared to...well...suck.

The came the day when I decided to say screw it and write for me. I've never felt so fulfilled!

Anita Saxena said...

Great post and so true. My biggest "but" is "But I don't have time" or "But I have a headache."

Lydia Sharp said...

Another great guest post.

My biggest but that I had to overcome? But what if I succeed.

For me, success means change. Failure is more of an internal struggle, whereas success is external (generally speaking). It can change your path in an instant and take over your life.

But... I got over it. :)

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

The main but I put behind me was the fact that I didnt think little ole me could be published. I know this is wrong. You dont need a degree to be published or to just write. I have been writing my whole life and figured it was just something I love to do but I know now that putting my mind to it...I will be a published someday...Words are just words until you put them on paper...and then they are magic.

jongibbs said...

You're right, Sherry.

'But I'm not worthy' is a tough one. I used to have a problem with it too, until I realised plenty of other folks who do get published, probably aren't worthy either :)

Vegas Linda Lou said...

But I’m self-published.

But I’m too old (52).

But next week I have two preview dates of my one-woman show, D Words: The Funny Side of Dating, Divorce and Other Delights, based on my book Bastard Husband: A Love Story. The show will begin its regular Wednesday through Saturday run just a stone’s throw from the Las Vegas Strip on 2/17. Who knows—it could open and close the same week.

But at least I got this far.

Saedhlinn said...

Mine are "but I have another career", "but how am I different than the other ten gazillion aspiring writers"... doesn't disrupt the writing, but does lead to submission failure.

Stephanie said...

Great post. My "but" is often too big. Something I need to work on:)

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post! My biggest "but" is finding the time to query an agent. Or more correctly an agent I want to work with. I'm picky and maybe that's my fatal flaw in this business. But I always seem to be able to find time to write:)

Charity Bradford said...

Here's mine. "It's a great story, BUT it will never be good enough."

Loved this post! I hope you don't mind that I posted an snip of it on my blog (giving credit and posting links back here and to Jon's blog and the writing group page).

karen wester newton said...

Jon-- I liked this post just as much the second time around!

annerallen said...

I was hoping this post would be chosen. I loved it when I read it in the forums. Great advice.

I also applaud your Find a Writing Group project and urge writers to check it out. Writing Groups are so important to keep us on track (and keep us from going nuts.)

Thanks for the work you do for your fellow writers.

Piedmont Writer said...

Fantastic post! My 'buts' are getting smaller as the years pass. I wish my real butt was too.

Nadine said...

Great post!! Loved this!!

Myrna Foster said...

I loved your title and your post. My "but" is usually time or child related these days. I can write or I can sleep. I find time for both, just not enough time for either.

jongibbs said...

Thanks everyone.

I think recognising the 'but' is half the work. After that, it's just a matter of deciding to putt it behind you, as it were.

Geoff said...

Absolutely needed to hear this one today. Thank you so much for the post, Jon.

I think my major "but" has surfaced on other comments, but it'd have to be simply "but who cares?". I'm into my second year of really taking a stab at getting published and when one first ventures on this journey, it's pretty easy to feel the love. People LOVE hearing that someone is going to try to "make it" out in the world. But after my first submissions to agents came back with form rejections (of course, a pretty standard thing to expect on one's first go at it), the well-wishers tended to slink into the shadows. Even people I've worked on my stories with have seen less interested in my eventual success. As we dive into further and further revisions and critiques as writers, as we dive into possibly even new stories and put old ones to bed, all our hard, unexciting work can easily be viewed as not that much work at all.

We say we want to write that one (or 100) story that's boiling up in us and people are ready to jump on the bandwagon. But when months or years go by without payoff or visible result, it can and often does seem to be viewed as "failure". And its hard to shake the feeling of even being perceived as a failure! It stifles creativity and keeps us further from achieving our dreams.

So that's my biggest "but". "But who cares?" I need to remember that I care - because I really, truly do - and if I'm going to continue putting the amount of hours into making this dream a reality, then there is no room in my schedule the "buts".

TKAstle said...

So glad you were chosen, Jon. This post was one of my favorites when I read it in the forums.

Wise old gran.

Sophie said...

Jon yours was one of my favorites. I already commented you on the forum and you commented me back (BIG THANKS). So glad Nathan has such good taste.

Swifty said...


Mary said...

My but-killer number one is that old slogan from the Nike ads: "Just do it." Works every time.

Great post, Jon.

Mira said...

Wonderful post, Jon. Very inspiring to me - I've definitely been at the mercy of several 'buts' for years. What a relief it would be to be released from them, and your post helped - thank you!

I agree with annerallen - your project about writing sites is generous - I appreciate how much support and encouragement you're giving to your fellow writers.

I hope that great karma returns to you tripled. :)

Good luck in your writing career!

Marilyn Peake said...

What ‘buts’ have I put behind me as I chase my writing dream? All of them. I feel like I’m pretty much functioning ‘but-free’ at this point in time, :) It wasn’t easy to get to this point. It came about by buckling down many years ago, taking one step after another, writing and learning about the publishing world and its ever-changing dynamics. It didn’t mean neglecting other areas of life, but it did mean always dragging myself back to writing even when I was very tired. I’m currently in a brand new phase of my writing career. I realize that if I added up all the hours I put into writing so far, it would be a large number, even though many individual writing sessions were only 1-1/2 hours long. I wish you all the best with your novel and short stories!

Jil said...

But they say it's almost impossible for a first timer to get published now- But i'd hate having to promote my book = but I hate writing queries - but if I do I'll get rejections. And on and on like a horde of blood sucking mosquitoes.

You're right, Jon, the "buts" are but nonsense to be forgotten. With the push from your inspirational words I will take the 'but" brakes off and forge forward butless to try it all.

jongibbs said...

Lol, there are a lot of 'but' puns taking place today :)

Cynthia Gael said...

The biggest 'but' that I've had to leave behind is the "But is it good enough?" Honestly?? Who cares?? If I can get my thoughts on the page (and my characters to shut up in my head =D ) then that's what matters.

Is it great getting published? Absolutely. I think I danced around the room for 2 hours when I got my first acceptance letter. But really, all that matters is that I'm doing what I love. The rest? Those 'buts'? Don't mean a thing.

Christina said...

Amen, their are stupid buts to everything in life!

Anonymous said...

But what if I really am a terrible writer? But what if I really am a great writer who is too afraid to show her work to anyone? BLARGH!
Great post, Jon! I'm heading over to check out FindAWritingGroup...maybe that will help me surmount my pile of 'buts'.

holly said...

funny, but very helpful.

Trish said...

What a great post. I didn’t take my writing seriously until I was in my fifties. I had the ‘but factor.’ Like, ‘But I can’t spell and don’t know where commas go.’

I left school at thirteen to look after my sick mum. I had little education due to childhood illness and moving a lot. I worked all my life, but at fifty three, I bought my first computer. First I had to learn how to use it, so I enrolled at TAFE and did an IT Cert 11 course. Then I started writing and boldly posted my first story on a writing forum. My story made people laugh. Not only because my character was funny, but because I had no idea where commas went, how to format a document, or how to structure a story.

Other writers critiqued my work and helped me to learn. I didn’t care how silly I looked because readers liked my character. I kept posting my work and learning to critique until one day it all clicked. I wrote a full MG novel and submitted it to agents and publishers. I’ve now finished my second junior novel and the first three chapters are with an agent after receiving a Notable Mention in a recent competition. I’m now fifty six and hoping to be published one day. Some relatives laughed at me when I told them I would be an author one day. They thought I wasn’t capable of writing a book because I couldn’t spell or write properly. Well, I’m still learning, but I write better than them now. They also tell me that they would write too, but don’t have the time.

Scott said...

I should probably give up, but I'm too arrogant. That's mine.

Dawn Maria said...

This is a fantastic post! Thank you! I felt like you were speaking directly to me.

I'm a bit late to the writing game myself. I spent many years dreaming of writing, "but" my life wasn't set up to reach that dream. I let go of that "but" four years ago and have moved slow and steady toward my goals ever since.

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...


What if writing is making your but bigger?
When you realise the adverse affect writing is having on your but - is that when you know it's time to let the dream go?

Terry said...

But...butt... Need to do more lunges for that plump little gluteus maximus.

Seriously, great post. I'm on board, "The Wall of Wisdom." Thanks!

Allison said...

What a down-to-earth and thoroughly enjoyable presentation of a timeless subject! Actually, this really gets to the heart of my own personal 'but': "...but it has all been said before. Who am I to say it differently?" But as this posting so successfully demonstrates, it is all in the 'how'.

Susan Kelley said...

But can I be a writer without whining about time?
I do wish I had started sooner also like so many others. It wasn't that I didn't think I could make time but rather that I hadn't developed the passion until my body recovered from late night feedings and could think about what I wanted in my life.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Great post. I am a high school dropout and 65 years old, but I can't not write.

Jan Markley said...

Excellent post. I shared it with my writers' group. We all need to protect ourselves from our inner excusinator!

Eva said...

Really great post. I have used the: I would write but I don't have time, but I'm not that good, but I don't know how to pursue publishing. I was afraid. BUT... I got over it.

Very inspirational.

Alon said...

Absolutely took me three years to overcome the "but", ...but when I finally sat down I told myself I am not getting up before this book is finished. I believe having a mantra to get through the long process can be very helpful.

Mine was..."Don't start what you cannot finish". In the end it's all about tenacity and achieving the mental state of a marathon runner...just run...then finish line, or in as in my case the words "The End", will eventually arrive.

Donna Hole said...

This is timely for me. Because, I've always been a "kinda writer", as my family puts it. My little hobby, until someone made fun of it.

Now, like you, I'm closer to 50 than 40 and finally taking a bead on what makes me happy. Writing may never be my full time job, but its what I do that may - like buying lotto tickets - fund my retirement.

My "buts" aren't relevant to anyone but me, but I thank you for bringing them to my attention. As Kahlan Amnel says in Terry Goodkin's WIZARDS FIRST RULE: We can only be what we are, nothing more, nothing less."


Kathy Collier said...

Thank you Nathan. I needed to hear that probably more than most. I have a wonderful story to offer, and am looking to perfect it before sending it, not like the first time I tried with rejections. Thank you for not ever telling anyone to stop writing, "but" to keep trying and never give up. This is my dream and I will follow it. Your encouragement has been admired by me for some time. I think you are a super person, and your blogs tell alot. I always say, never discourage, always encourage. I have been discouraged by my own browbeating, thinking I can't do this at times, but then I snap out of it and work just that much harder. I was always raised to never quit, "where there's a will, there's a way." I have the will and I will find the way.
Thanks for the "but" lecture, I needed it.

Anonymous said...

trying to become a writer but also having to have another job. sometimes you can get inspiration from the job but, its harder to write and also have a job

Kathy Collier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jongibbs said...

I'd just like to say a big 'Thank you' to everyone for reading today. I appreciate the kind words.

I'm especially grateful to Nathan for offering people the chance to appear as a guest on his blog. I feel like a wannabe actor who got a guest spot on his favorite TV show.

Thanks for the opportunity, Nathan. No 'but's about it, you're a star :)

Margaret Adams said...

I used to think I had to be published to call myself a writer.

A few years ago I realised I get paid lots more for what I write that isn't published.

That made a big difference to my writing aspirations and to my use of that word "but".

Steve said...


I'm older than you. It's been so long since I saw 50 I can barely remember what it looked like. :)

My excuse was always that I didn't know how to write anything but flat expository paragraphs - reports, technical notes, etc. But one day I discovered a compelling reason to write poetry and found I was sort of half-way good at it. And then, a few years after that, I found a compelling reason to sit down and start writing a YA novel. I was amazed that I could write dialogue, description, action - all the things I'd thought for years I didn't know how to write (despite having read such material long and regularly all my life).

Not sure where that will take me, but it sure is interesting.


G said...

The fact that there are a few people out there that hate my writing so much that they have made it their life's mission to harass/stalk me abou in the chat rooms.

I write not only to accomplish something, but to irritate those who don't like me.

nathaliemvondo said...

Jon, your post is so encouraging and inspiring! Thank you for sharing your personal experience.

On of my 'buts' about following my passion(s): ..."but it's crazy!" (i.e. you do not choose that path if you expect to make a living).

My biggest 'but' about becoming a writer has always been, "I can barely speak English (I'm not a native), why think I can write a book?"

Anonymous said...

I let the "But my kids need me" rule my life when my kids were small. Now that they're older, I *make* time every day to write. Even if I only edit a single word. I sit down and work on my novel.


Rick Daley said...

Thanks for the excellent post, Jon!

My biggest but is but I don't have the time. My best solution is to get my butt in the seat in front of the laptop and write anyway.

CMR Prindle said...

Great post, Jon.

I've been living with 'buts' for so's amazing how internalized they become. My buts are all about having a story someone will want to read. I just remember a workshop teacher asking me "Well why does anyone care about what happens to your character?" He was trying to provoke me into thinking about the char, but I of course took it as No-one-finds-this-interesting-but-me and have just sat for so long.

I have a golden opportunity now (got laid off), and it's amazing how difficult it is to make myself make time to work on the novel. Yes I need a job, but I need to try this professional writer thing, too.

goldchevy said...

I'm afraid people will laugh at my but, no wait, my but is I am afraid people will laugh at my writing. In a mean way.

Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

I had so much fun writing my story... but I'm not sure if others will enjoy it as much.

Kristine Overbrook said...

What a great blog. I'm totally there with your gran. People should get rid of their buts.

I guess my only 'but' is my family. I'm learning to get around this by using a crock pot, writing when the kids do their homework, and carrying a notebook to their activities, appointments etc. Editing is hard this way, but I can get the dirty first draft done.

CMR Prindle said...


I have gotten into the habit of taking a notebook with me everywhere. I started when I was younger and wrote scary poetry, and got back into it when I started writing fiction. I probably wouldn't have gotten this draft done without it. Go you!

Pamela said...

"but what if my final product is not what I imagined it to be?"

It's much easier to believe that I can write a fantastic best-seller if I don't have tangible proof in front of me proving otherwise.

All that wasted time worrying about what ifs!

Back to writing - whatever the end result may be!

Samantha Clark said...

Great post. Thanks.

Writers often have buts floating around in their heads -- I do -- but if the desire to write is strong enough, it doesn't matter how big the but is, it will be overcome.

Jaycee Adams said...

I have a re-'but'-al for you, Nate:

jon said...

Thanks again to everyone who read/commented.

I've enjoyed reading about all of your buts :)

Jan Markley said...

I enjoyed this piece so much I cross posted it to my blog in a post called: "My wings are like a shield of steel" Batfink, buts and the inner excusinator.

Courtney Cantrell said...

The "buts" I've put behind me:

But I won't make any money off writing, at least not at first.

...I'm not doing this for the money.

But _________ thinks I'm wasting my time.

...I'm not doing this for him/her.

But I'm not as good a writer as ___________.

...I'm not in competition with him/her.

Those are just a few of my "buts"--and I'm happy to say that most days when I look in the mirror, those particular ones no longer rear their

Write on!

Lynette said...

I've never let my big "but" stop me from chasing dreams.

... but my kids keep me so busy. So, this will keep me sane.
... but I already have a great career. So, that experience should help me.
... but do I dare start another adventure of this magnitude? Well, I'm not dead yet.

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