Sunday, September 9, 2012

Which kind are you?

In the middle of a long holiday weekend filled with gorgeous weather, joyful music, stunning views, good friends new and old, and too much food to mention, one friend says to those of us assembled around the table:

“There are two kinds of musicians: those who are making music, and those who are making excuses.”

Caught up short, I think about how long it's been since I’ve done any real writing. There’s my next novel manuscript that needs about one intensive week of polishing to be ready to send out; there’s the memoir I'm helping my friend write about being a Cuban exile, that I need to catch up from our last interview, a session with his foster sister, now in her seventies; there’s the short story that’s due in a couple of months. When was the last time I worked – not fretted, stewed, or avoided – on any of these projects?

I can’t quite recall, which really sounds the alarm bell in my head. There are only two kinds of writers, too, I hear my conscience whisper. Which kind are you?

The four of us were at an old diner in a tiny town in the west part of this county, nestled in the lower Cascade mountains. Two of us live on the east side of the mountain range, the other two live on the west side, so we met in the middle. My companion and I followed a route that took us off the main freeway (thank dog!) and through one of those little-known beautiful spots on this planet, called Elk Valley. Meadows, hillsides, farmhouses, barns, old tractors and – much to my companion’s delight – yard sales. The sun was out, the wind blew, and the morning stayed cool enough for him to negotiate some hot bargains. When we met the other two friends for our meal, we were all starving, a condition that makes any food taste good, and makes good small-town diner food taste like ambrosia from heaven. I was getting to know the two west siders who’ve been my companion’s friends for decades. One is a writer, painter and musician. It was my companion who challenged his old friend with the question: “Which kind are you? Are you making music or excuses?”

We all know the excuses so well. No time. Have to do the work that pays our bills. Take kids to school, sports, dates with friends. Do the household chores that threaten to overwhelm us with dirty laundry, dishes, and grass as high as an elephant’s eye. Tend to aging parents, or neighbors. Catch up on the news. Plan the next family event. Fill the car’s tank.

And then there are our secret excuses, born of our fears: we really have no talent, or no ambition, or no skill, or no heart, or no ideas.

If there are only two kinds of writers – those who are writing, and those who are making excuses – there might be only one reason to be the first kind: because we have to. We need to. We are not ourselves if we do not write.

It takes three more days of busy-ness, visiting family, more friends, fulfilling obligations, cleaning my place, doing my laundry, cooking; but finally I get some time to myself, lock my door, tune in a baseball game on the radio, and pick up my writing. What pours out isn’t my best work, but it is work, finally, after weeks of stalling, and it feels better than I would care to admit.

One of my favorite inspirational views of the Kittitas Valley.
Sometimes I walk here instead of, um, writing.
So this evening, when I’m alone again, I’m going back at it. I’ll be content with my laptop, a baseball game, maybe a good cold beer, and the feeling of words flowing. Because bad writing is better than good excuses.

Elizabeth Fountain's first novel, Completely Absurd and Nearly Impossible (working title), will be published by Champagne Book Group in spring 2013. She lives, teaches, and writes (when she's not making excuses) in Ellensburg, Washington, in the heart of the windy and beautiful Kittitas Valley. You can read more of her thoughts on writing, creativity, baseball, music, and food at her author's blog:
Point No Point


Big Mike said...

Wait till ya get a dozen stories on your back list. Excuses flow even easier.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

January Bain said...

You are right, writing is as essential to writers as breathing! My back list is getting so long I just hope I live long enough to get it all done! So have that cold beer, shut off the world and get to it, Liz. You got work to do, girlfriend!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good pep talk. I have the other side of the coin problem. I have been dedicated to writing so long that I have no friends who are not writers, with few exceptions -- readers.

I think I'm unbalanced.

Liz Fountain said...

Thanks, Mike - I have even more excuses to look forward to, huh? And Julie, yes, balance is incredibly important. We've got to be out in the world in order to write about it.

January, you're right. I've been making myself work at least a bit each day - and it adds up. It's not always good, but it's work!