If: The Curse That Keeps On Giving
You’re a writer.
You love to write. Stories, articles, social media posts, haiku, the format doesn’t matter to you. You love it all! You know that writing is your calling. If you could just find the time, you know you could churn out best-sellers so fast it would make James Patterson’s head spin!
As a publisher, as a writer, as a human person trying to survive in this world, I find this to be the single most damaging word to any productivity. If I knew how… If I had help… If I had more time… If, if… if.
That one lone word contains all the hope, fears, anxieties, expectations, and beliefs that we consciously and subconsciously use to visualize what we want. I could move to a mansion in the country if I had $5 million! I could have that money if I got a high-paying job! I could have a high-paying job if I had the right skills, or education, or connections… etc. If, if, if.
We wrap ourselves up in this idea that if I can get my hands on that magic piece of the puzzle, that something missing, then I’ll be all set. Dreams will magically manifest into reality because that thing that I didn’t have before is no longer an obstacle!
Here’s the kicker though; the trouble lies even in that one word. Wrapped up in “if” is the very obstacle we try to avoid by employing it. “If”, is simply, “I can’t” cloaked in a friendlier package. “If I could have my dream become a reality”, is really just “if only I could have my dream become a reality”. As soon as we utter the word “if”, we assume we can’t have it be true. The denial and rejection become recursively inborn in the very idea that we want this thing to happen.
Here’s an example that I see in publishing a lot.
“I have a great idea for a story, but I just don’t have the time!” I almost always hear it presented this way. In fact, I’m quite sure I’ve said it, myself. But the thing is, worded another way it’s really just, “If I can only find the time, I would write my book.”
If pervasively finds its way into something as simple as drafting a story. It isn’t hard to sit down and put words on a page. We learn how to do that at a young age, and still many many people find it hard to overcome the idea of sitting down and churning out the word count.
“If I can find the time to write...”
“If I knew what to write about...”
“If I knew someone would read it...”
I procrastinated starting this blog for many of those same reasons. I haven’t finished my novel for all of these reasons. So, why do we keep doing it? It’s certainly easier to not do a thing, than to do it, but does that make it worthwhile? Isn’t that rationale just another way if stops us?
“If I could do it…”
As soon as you acknowledge the obstacle of the if, the excuses begin to pile up.
“But, I have other work that needs done!”
“But, I’m too tired!”
“But, I can’t leave the kids alone!”
They’re all the same if statements turned into excuses. “If I had more time”, “if I had more energy”, “if I had childcare”. It’s easy to rationalize away the excuses. Excuses start with “but”, not “if”! We fool ourselves into thinking that “if” isn’t an excuse, it’s just a reason why we can’t have what we want.
“If I had time...”
How long does it take to write?
As writers we like to set lofty goals for ourselves, telling ourselves we’ll commit and churn out 10,000 words per day, or spend two hours at the computer working on a draft. Most of us don’t have that kind of time, desire, or inclination. So what is reasonable? One hour? Thirty minutes? Ten minutes? Five?
The answer really isn’t clear-cut or universal. Most things that are worth doing don’t have ready answers, but when it comes to finding time to do the things we want to do, how much time is enough? Isn’t it better to spend some time working on the thing you love, rather than none? “If” only provides us with a reason not to do it.
I am my best guinea pig of this theory. The number of years I have spent “if”ing myself out of writing are too numerous to contemplate without any kind of remorse, and I don’t believe regret is ever helpful, so let’s just not think about that number. Instead, let me act as a guide.
“If I had time to write, I would write” is a really common thought for me. It’s a trap that I, and many many writers fall into. Especially when getting started writing, as work or even just as a hobby, it’s easier to default to the idea that we can’t do it. “If” becomes the road marker that we use to reassure ourselves that we are good enough to do it, while still giving us an acceptable way out of having to try.
But, what happens if you set aside the excuses? Ignore the “if”s and “if only”s, and just do the thing you want to be doing? Through many years of helping authors, encouraging novice and veteran writers alike, and even writing on my own, I have come to a very clear answer to this question, and it’s so obvious, that the reality of it punches through us like a well-aimed dart through tracing paper. Are you ready?
When we set aside our excuses and do the things we want to be doing…
They get done.
We get to live the life we want to be living, and express the things we hold inside, waiting for the day when the if that’s holding us back becomes a reality. It’s incredibly hard to step around the excuses and take control of your own destiny. But, you know, if you do it? If you don’t let if be an excuse, you can do anything. You can do everything.