The Key to Greatness: Get Your Head Out of Your ‘But’

Kristen Lamb, self-help, self-improvement, habits, creating habits of excellence, self-discipline, stop making excuses, write more books, head out of your but

Get your head out of your ‘but.’ Yes, that’s ‘but’ with a singular ‘t.’ If we want to accomplish anything remarkable we have to own all of it—the good, the bad, the ugly. Often fears, doubts, insecurities, and bad habits wriggle in, and they’re so sly it’s frequently tough to notice them. How do we SPOT these dream killers?

It’s all in the ‘but.’

How do you know if you need to get your head out of your ‘but’?

You might find yourself saying things like:

‘I wrote as much as I could for NaNoWriMo, but this is just a really bad time of year and so busy.’

‘I was going to go to the gym, but there were all these emails I had to answer.’

‘Sure, I thought I had it in me to be an author, but it’s impossible to sell books these days unless you have a massive marketing budget.’

I’ll stop here. Y’all get the point and we all do it. My goal today is simply to make y’all aware of your ‘buts.’ ‘But’ is a red flag that we are settling for less. You can’t get your head out of your ‘but’ unless you learn to recognize when it’s there (other than everything is very DARK).

Sorry, couldn’t resist 😛 .

What Are You Hitching Up To?

Some of y’all are old enough to remember that life-changing song *bows head in reverence*…Conjunction Junction.

*cues R&B voice*

Conjunction junction, what’s your fuuunction?

Hookin’ up words and clauses and phrases…

And! That’s additive, like this and that. But, that’s sort of opposite, not this but that...

If you remember the Schoolhouse Rock video, you’ll recall they used a brilliant visual—train cars—to help kids understand exactly how conjunctions work. The conjunction acted as the link-up, the hook-up that connected one train car (clause, word, phrase) to the next train car. Change the conjunction and one changed the entire meaning.


Change the conjunction and YES, we change the entire meaning…even in life. We often begin with a positive goal (clause) BUT here is the excuse (really GOOD reason) of why we can’t do X.

If we pay attention to our ‘buts,’ we’ll start seeing all the excellence we keep talking ourselves out of. Because here’s the deal, our subconscious mind knows the truth and that’s why we feel so icky when we cop out. Many of us seek to numb that icky feeling with Instagram, audiobooks, Netflix, cookies, or even hard liquor and crochet.

But no matter how much vodka-laced pot-holders we make? The pain remains.

We can even try to distract ourselves with GOOD activities like cleaning the house until one could perform heart surgery on our bathroom floor.

It won’t make any difference.

Deep down, our hearts and minds know the truth. We copped out. Sure, we might SAY, ‘Yo, BRAIN! I know I was going to finish that novel, BUT look how clean my house is!’

Then BRAIN looks at HEART and they both cross their metaphorical arms, roll metaphorical eyes and reply, ‘That’s great, EXCEPT your goal wasn’t to have the World’s Cleanest House. Your GOAL was to finish NaNoWriMo. Get your head out of your but.’

*goes back to vodka-induced crochet projects*

Watch Your Buts

Whenever I spot a ‘but,’ it now gives me pause because I know what it’s going to hitch to—a REALLY GOOD REASON. I declare I’m going to write so many words, finish a novel, complete NaNoWriMo, clean out the closets, finish revisions, organize the garage, locate the mythical the floor of my closet—A.K.A. ‘Floor Narnia’—BUT (insert really good reason here).

I use my ‘but’ to give me a pass, to assuage my guilt (temporarily). ‘This week, I SHALL organize my closet, BUT…

head out of your but, Kristen Lamb, self-improvement, self-help, excellence, creating good habits

…look how NICE my dining room (we never use) looks!’

head out of your but, Kristen Lamb, self-help, self-improvement, habits of excellence

Okay, aside from the MAJOR issue that my GOAL was not to clean my already mostly clean dining room, I hope y’all spot the problem here. Sometimes our ‘but’ offers a really GOOD REASON that is a complete non sequitur. It has nothing to do with the goal we wanted to accomplish in the first place.

Or, it can be imaginary melodrama.

For instance, the image (above-above) is an actual *hangs head in shame* picture of my closet. I could say, ‘This week I am going to clean out my closet, BUT I might die.’

This is a valid fear because I could fall, break my neck, and my cat would not alert my husband something had gone HORRIBLY WRONG. Nope, Ruby would simply nap on my dead body until my corpse cooled enough to no longer be as comfortable as the clothes she dragged off my hangars.

And the thing is, I will eventually die anyway, so why not leave this earthen plane with a clean closet?

Wow, how did my Nana just speak through me? *looks around for orbs*

The lesson here (aside from the childish joy of homophones) is that we can use unrelated ‘buts’ to (attempt to) mitigate our guilt. ‘No, I didn’t go to the gym, BUT I pinned a TON of helpful workout articles on Pinterest.’ 😀

It works, but only temporarily because…


Kristen Lamb, self-help, self-improvement, writing, finishing more novels, head out of your but

We can’t address the ‘but’ without also discussing the accompanying ‘crack.’

Lighten UP! Laugh already.

In order to reach our goals, we first have to honestly assess who’s supplying our crack.

But–>crack. They go together.

Whenever we seek to do something remarkable, such as trade a bad habit for a good one, cut off a toxic relationship, set a boundary that’s going to allow more peace, joy and prosperity, we must be wary of ‘but’ because every ‘but’ always deals ‘crack.’

‘I know I’m an excellent writer and I’d finish that novel, but there is so much competition these days.’

See the crack?

There has ALWAYS been competition. Even before the digital age, a writer had better odds of being elected to congress than being a NYT Best-Selling Author. Most writers NEVER saw their work published…ever.

According to Book Expo of America statistics, as of 2004 (before social media and explosion of digital and Web 2.0) authors had a 96% FAILURE RATE.

96% of all books published (and most were published traditionally) sold less than a thousand copies. Of that 96% half that number sold less than 500 copies. 


I finished NaNoWriMo, but I’m not a REAL writer because I’m not yet published.

First of all, ditch the Schrodinger’s Novel nonsense. It’s fiction, not an existentialist debate. You wrote a crap ton of words, you are a writer. Granted you might not yet be a GOOD writer, but you ARE a writer.

#ProblemSolved #YouAreWelcome

For anyone who even FINISHES a ‘novel’—even a horrible first ‘novel’ that chews on the furniture and pees on the carpets like my first ‘novel’—YOU FINISHED. YOU accomplished something that 95% of those who start never finish.

Alas, the BUT deals the CRACK in your confidence. It steals your victory. The ‘but’ robs the momentum you rightfully earned, the momentum that is necessary to propel you to the next level and the next and the next.

Sure, perhaps you finished a sucky book. YOU FINISHED! In order to be a successful novelist (successful at anything actually) then we must first learn to be FINISHERS. You must get your head out of your ‘but’ to see what YOU ARE accomplishing.

Escaping Your ‘But’

First of all, learn to lighten the hell up on yourselves. I ‘joke’ that I am NOT a Type A, I am a Type A+ because I did the extra credit unlike the rest of you slackers 😛 . Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Yes, I emotionally distance using humor.

*shock face*

In recent months I’ve learned a hard truth. I was my greatest enemy. Every time I accomplished anything, there came the but. 

Sure, you cleaned out the closet, but your garage is a public safety hazard.

Goody goody, you wrote a thousand words on your WIP but you haven’t blogged OR Wow, you wrote an amazing blog, but your novel is collecting DUST you SLACKER.

I realized I was incapable of accepting a compliment. Someone would tell me I looked pretty, then I’d say something quippy that undermined the GIFT another person was trying to GIVE ME.

Someone on Facebook: Kristen, what a beautiful scarf you made!

Me: Yeah, well thanks. It only took four years to learn one stitch. 

The first step to getting your head out of your ‘but’ is awareness. Trust me, I have been here.

Pain with Purpose

If you need to get your head out of your but, odds are you’ve already been through some…okay, a lot of pain. The shame of not finishing, the guilt of slacking off, the nonstop voice in your head telling you how much you SUCK.

Time to put an end to this.

This is a trick I used and still am using. To warn you, this method is VERY high-tech and possibly cost-prohibitive. You’ll need safety goggles and three or four small farm animals. I recommend ‘ducks.’ #FunWithPuns


Get a bag of those THICK office rubber bands and apply like SO…

Then, every time you use the forces of ‘but’ for evil? Repeat what you just thought or said then, using two fingers, clasp the rubber band, draw back and SNAP THAT SUCKER HARD. 

Hard enough to HURT.

If you’ve applied this move correctly it should be painful, but writers are masochists so y’all will eventually dig it.

Whenever you think some crap like, ‘I finished NaNo, but it’s just a bunch of unreadable garbage.’ Repeat that self-defeating phrase aloud then SNAP! 

Then rub the red and stinging area gently and, in a soothing voice, say what you SHOULD have said to begin with.

***It needs to be something your brain will buy as truth.

For example, ‘I finished Nano, and if I finished THAT beast, I KNOW I have what it takes to finish the revisions because I am a finisher!’

Or: ‘I got to 30,000 words during Nano, which proves I am capable of writing over 7,000 words a week.’

Sure, this rubber band exercise seems silly but it works.

I was not cognizant of how negative I was in regards to myself until I learned this trick. Every time I THOUGHT something negative about myself, I snapped that band. Then, I restated the counterproductive thought aloud and, while rubbing my nearly bloody wrist, I then said what I SHOULD have said to begin with.

Oh, and trust me, my wrist HURT. I had to change wrists quite often.

Physical Pain is POWERFUL

Very often we’re already in pain, but we’re suffering in a generalized fugue state of ‘everything sucks.’ It’s amorphous and thus difficult to deal with swiftly and directly.

It was not until I did something that transformed my thought life into a physical reality that I gained awareness. That hard SNAP on my wrist made the intangible VERY tangible.

I had NO CONCEPT how cruel I was being to myself.

In a million years I would’ve never talked to anyone the way I spoke to myself (inwardly and outwardly). Every glance in a mirror was how I needed to lose weight, try harder, dress better. I’d clean one room only to berate myself for all other rooms I failed to clean. Even if I cleaned ALL the rooms, they needed to be repainted.

Any wonder why I felt like crying all the time?

I couldn’t change what I failed to recognize.

That ONE—okay 865–rubber bands changed my life. Every SNAP made me aware of a thought. Saying it ALOUD changed the pattern. Every thoughtless, nasty comment muttered? SNAP.

Eventually, my body was all, ‘YO, BRAIN! This $#@! HURTS! You and MOUTH gotta STOP!’ and my brain (and mouth) had to tap out and not only stop the defeating phrases, but replace those with productive ones. When I would hear the ‘but’ and the excuse? SNAP! Then I say what I CAN do.

‘But’ Training

A final thought if you need to get your head out of your ‘but.’

It is OKAY to ask for HELP. In fact, it is WISE. WE ARE NOT ALONE!


Trust me, you are not the only one who might have your head up your ‘but.’

Me? I recruited my family. We all had rubber bands and when we heard negative talk we called each other out. This helped a LOT…and we eventually got over hating each other.

Aside from this, not all ‘buts’ are bad. Our ‘but’ might be showing us a deeper problem that needs fixing:

‘I always have great ideas for my novels, but I never can seem to finish.’

‘My books get great reviews, but they don’t sell.’

‘I keep querying, but only get rejected.’

THESE ‘buts’ are clues we might need some help, guidance, training or all of the above. Something is going wrong in the PROCESS and if we can be honest enough to admit we need help, that’s when real growth can happen.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you! Have you struggled, too? Do you need to get your head out of your ‘but’? Are you like me and working to be kinder to yourself? Do you struggle with beating up on yourself? Negating any progress you make? Do you need training to be kinder to YOU? Hey, I am always a work in progress.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

Also, check out the FANTASTIC HOLIDAY DEALS we have! A lot of our On Demand classes need to be wiped from the server to make room for more training, so if you want professional training AT HOME? While in jammies during December when calories don’t COUNT? Grab you SOME! Gift it to yourself, a friend, YOURSELF!

ALSO, I’m offering my Write Stuff Special for a LOW holiday price. 20 pages of deep edit/critique for $55 and there are only 8 slots left. If you need some outside feedback to get you on the right track? Get a SPOT, TODAY! (You can use when you are ready).

In the meantime, opinions!

What do you WIN? For the month of NOVEMBER, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).



Instructors: Cait Reynolds, Kristen Lamb
Price: $79.00 USD 
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

  • The Sticky Middle Saturday, November 24, 2018, 1:30-3:30 p.m. EST (Skip hanging out with the family – you don’t really like them, anyway!)
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Get two live classes plus all recordings for 30% off! You can also purchase each class individually.

The Publishing Triple Threat Bundle

Instructors: Kristen Lamb, Cait Reynolds
Price: $155.00 USD (buy now and get that last tax deduction in before the end of the year!)
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: (see below)

Normally, it would be $210 USD for these three classes.

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About the Instructors:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude. Not all at the same time. When she isn’t enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.


Kristen Lamb is the author of the definitive guide to social media and branding for authors, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World. She’s also the author of #1 best-selling books We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer. She’s just released her highly acclaimed debut mystery-thriller The Devil’s Dance.

Kristen has written over twelve hundred blogs and her site was recognized by Writer’s Digest Magazine as one of the Top 101 Websites for Writers. Her branding methods are responsible for selling millions of books and used by authors of every level, from emerging writers to mega authors.


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  1. Confession: I just skimmed this post rather than reading it thoroughly because I was too depressed to handle it. I’m just writing to say goodbye and thank you for all your wonderful advice. I really appreciate you — BUT — here’s what I’m writing to all my writer acquaintances:

    I thought I put a fair ending on my fantasy series. Since then I’ve tried writing something different. My first attempt was a modern story set on Macinac Island of today called “Full Circle” — not a part of the series, no Elves in it at all, just normal humans. I scrapped it as boring halfway through. My second attempt is political satirical fiction, based on things happening in politics now. There was lots of sex in it too of course. The working title was “The Intern” — taking a page from the Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinski affair but the book is really about Trump, disguised in my book as “Ronald Rumple.” I decided this book would also not be of interest to anyone and have decided to scrap it as well. I’m going to stop writing now. I wish I had not quit my job as a programmer because I don’t see a career for me as a writer and don’t want to be “just a housewife.” I never cared about making a lot of money writing. John is doing well enough that we don’t have to worry about money so writing could be just a hobby but I feel it’s about art. Without an audience there is no art. If my choir had a concert and no one attended, what would be the point of all the hard work preparing for it? The artist and the audience need each other. I don’t feel I have been successful at capturing an audience and I’m certain my current efforts would not succeed, so I’m quitting. I won’t bother you any more either because it seems you don’t want me to. This was the last time, just to say goodbye and I enjoyed everything we did together very much.

    1. Girl, you need a NAP. I hate to tell you but you are a WRITER. You won’t be happy unless you are writing. But you are burned out. REST. Then, email me at kristen at wana intl dot com. You’ve not come this far to quit. Let’s work together to rediscover some JOY.

  2. Excuse me…but that closet actually has floor visible…! My wife has accused my closet of vomiting its contents all over the office floor.

    BTW: I love the phrase “get you head out of your ‘but'”…

  3. I’ve heard of this concept with the rubber band before, but (lol!) never tried it. Maybe I’ll go grab a rubber band. I just need to remember not to overdo it because I have a chronic illness and that wears me out quickly. ><

  4. Thanks for the encouragement, Kristen – it’s good to see you back!

    I have been struggling with tiredness in the last couple of weeks – I’m not used to working at NaNo levels of intensity – but I’m refusing to use it as an excuse to slack off on writing.

    I am trying to be gracious to myself, though, so I only insist on doing a little bit, and then I can rest if I still feel I need to. And it’s working! I’ve written 42,000 words so far this month – and this is the woman who took about eight years to finish her first first draft! I don’t know if they’re 42,000 good words yet, but I’ve written them.

    The tireder I am, the more I need to be my own governess, it seems. “Five hundred words, and then you may go and play with your crochet.” I’m not sure the governess would approve of adding vodka, though.

    • Rachel Capps on November 26, 2018 at 6:05 pm
    • Reply

    Great post! I agree with Deborah, it’s refreshing to see you back. This really resonated with me. I need to get some rubber bands!

    1. Yeah I love blogging but I had to put my WIP as a priority this month. That and you need time away to let the brain rest. Most writers doing NaNo anyway so figured I would let my creative reservoirs fill and run sprints over at W.A.N.A. Tribe as you know 🙂 .

  5. I might need a bigger bag of rubber bands 🙂

    Deep breath.

    I haven’t had a kitchen in 16 weeks due to a terrible remodel, AND I have still been feeding my family relatively healthy meals.

    My day job is crazy, AND I am still making time for writing.

    My water heater stopped working last night, AND I called a plumber and got it fixed today.

    I really can do it 😀

    • Deborah on November 27, 2018 at 3:57 am
    • Reply

    Excellent. I have hated myself for years–literally. Every achievement had a downside. Nothing about me was acceptable. I am so thankful to have read this article.

  6. I love the whole post, but this is my favourite bit:

    “96% of all books published (and most were published traditionally) sold less than a thousand copies. Of that 96% half that number sold less than 500 copies.”

    Is it weird that this makes me relax? It definitely bursts the “I’ve written a book, brb, buying a yacht that the royalties will pay for” bubble. If my book sells less than a thousand copies I’ll be in good (or at least YUGE) company! No more delusions about HAVING to get rich or die tryin’. I can focus on writing the best book I can instead of planning my TV appearances and hiring financial advisors in advance. 🙂

    (By the way, thanks so much for you know what! Whether your advice is going to make me rich or not, it definitely helped me improve the book.)

  7. Kristen, this is great, as usual. I don’t doubt that I have my head in my “but”, BUT I am afraid to use the rubber band. Is there any other way? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Shock collar? 😀 Just don’t snap it that hard. Even just a physical feeling to bring AWARENESS can do wonders. Pain will give results faster, but in breaking other habits, I now just give it a POP to make a note that I slipped into a bad behavior. It’s really about something physical to generate MINDFULNESS.

  8. Great post! I’ve often thought of writing a post about the “Yah, buts” AND you’ve done such a great job with this, I can take that idea off the list with a clear conscience. Thanks Kristen!

    • Brenda Holmes on November 27, 2018 at 7:17 pm
    • Reply

    Ahh ,now that is just what I was needing. You most always make me smile but ,on occasion , you do inspire me and with this post, you did ! You truly are one amazing human being!

    1. Awwww ((((BEAR HUGS))). Thanks!

  9. I have a different problem. I see the mountain of work, the long suffering, all the failure I’ll have to endure in order to “make it,” and my mind just says “….ugh”

  10. I didn’t have any talent, but I wanted to write, so I learned how. I suck at spelling and grammar, but I wrote four novels and 40 short stories anyway, so I hired people to help me with what I suck at. I didn’t want to learn about the business of writing, but I did anyway. Sometimes “but” is useful.

  11. I’m fortunate enough to have been born a Type A+ and so far, have always managed my time to allow for writing, if not daily, then damn near close to it with occasional week-long gaps in extreme circumstances. Even with a career that demands 10-12 hour days and occasional evening and weekend work, I managed to publish three novels and nearly 20 short stories over the past 9 years.

    In July, I was laid off from my job after 17 years. I am now 30 days into a new position where I am a one-man show, and it has absolutely curtailed my writing time. The facility was without IT support for two months before my arrival. To make matters worse, the company decided last year that there was not enough work for two IT people and downsized to one. Hence the reason my predecessor departed (read: gave up and ran screaming). It’s clear from meeting with the managers and HR that they have no clue what IT does. I’m burned out most days I leave here and have mounting house chores and errands, not to mention that my third novel was recently released and all the requisite promotion surrounding that.

    So while I acclimate to this new job situation, yes, my writing routine has been disrupted–but not eliminated. You better believe that I steal every possible uninterrupted lunch hour (few as those have been) and every evening and weekend possible to write. It would be easy to give up and just say “but this new job is killing me. I can’t make time to write.” If it’s important enough, you will make the time. My hope is that once I find my rhythm in my new position–and I’m successful in persuading management to hire a second IT tech–that I will return to a regular writing schedule.

    BUT I never give up… and that’s a nice but if I do say so myself.

    1. Yes, BUTs can also be good as you and Rachel pointed out. I just am working on keeping my blogs short. You know, only like 5K words 😛 .

  12. Well, that was just a lot of fun to read! I just waded into the murky, mythical land of blogging with some of my work, and I’m now over a year in. I was basically forced to do so because I loved to write, but I never called myself a writer or author… I do now.
    This Southern boy who is stuck in the Midwest enjoyed reading this article. It has helped me to open my eyes and perhaps revisit a book I wrote and put away. In the meantime…I’ll keeping tapping away!

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