Are “If Only” Excuses Killing Your Novel?

If Only

When she was a toddler, my daughter used to hang at the front door, begging to go outside. You could see the longing in her eyes–if only I can get to that tree, if only I can play in that dirt, if only I can break out of this “cage” and explore…

Even today, as a kindergartener, she always needs convincing that the grass isn’t greener in other pastures.

And of course, she’s no different than any of the rest of us. How many adults miss important details in our lives because we’re too busy worrying about “if only?”

If only I made more money…

If only we lived in a bigger house…

If only we drove a better car…

If only I worked with different people…

The problem with the “if only” mindset is that we don’t spend enough of our focus on how to do our current tasks well. Instead, we complain about what we haven’t been able to accomplish because circumstances don’t suit our standards. And we forget that we have a heavenly Father who has given us everything we NEED.

Hebrews 13:5 says:

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So, how does this translate into writing? Through participation in various forums and critique groups, I’ve heard a lot of “if only” excuses.

I could be a better writer if only I had more time.

I could finish this novel if only I didn’t have writer’s block.

I could edit this myself if only I knew the grammar rules.

I could sell this novel or get representation if only that publisher or agent would take a look at it.

It’s almost like “if only” becomes a crutch, like we don’t have to worry about writing better or completing our work because we have an excuse for failure. It’s like we’re saying the only reason we aren’t successful is circumstance out of our control. We can’t possibly learn how to do it better. We can’t possibly improve our craft. But that’s just not true!

The sad thing is there’s a point in time when if only becomes regret. If only I’d spent more time learning grammar rules. If only I’d listened when that critiquer told me how to fix my manuscript. If only I’d been more prepared when I sent that query or made that pitch.

Thomas Edison has a history of failures, but we remember him for his great successes. He once said of his failed attempts at the light bulb that rather than failing, he’d found 10,000 ways that would not work. He further said,

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

That’s the if only that will leave us with the most regret. If only I’d tried one more time. If only I’d put forth a little more effort. If only I hadn’t given up.

I’ll leave you with this advice from bestselling author Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors):

As a writer, you can’t allow yourself the luxury of being discouraged and giving up when you are rejected, either by agents or publishers. You absolutely must plow forward.

About monicamynk

I'm a Christian, wife, mother, and high school science teacher, and author of the Cavernous Trilogy and Goddess to Daughter Series.

Posted on October 27, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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