by | Jul 26, 2023 | Tracy Clark, On writing | 8 comments

No Excuses Accepted

By Tracy Clark
Dispatch from the writer's cave

I don’t have anything interesting to write about this time.

You see, I’ve been living in a cave, figuratively not literally, for months now. Nose to the grindstone. Shoulder to the wheel. All that jazz. 

I have a book to finish. A deadline looming. Writing. It’s a job, one I’m blessed to have, and there can be no excuses for not getting it done. I’m not worried. Much.

That hard line got me thinking recently about grade school, which in turn got me thinking about all those creative excuses my friends used to give for not turning in their homework on time. You know the ones. Like the dog ate it, or how they forgot what day it was, or that space aliens shook them down on the street and stole their bookbag with their book report on photosynthesis inside. Not their fault. Circumstances beyond their control. Intergalactic fiends!

Unfortunately, none of those excuses will work in my present situation, not that I would ever employ them here in the cave. Or could. Besides, I always had my homework. I was that kid. Until that dreaded day, I almost walked the Green Mile.

I had completed my homework assignment, packed by bookbag the next morning, and left for school not realizing I’d left it behind. I didn’t realize it, in fact, until I reached into said bag in social studies to find it clearly not there. I panicked. My life flashed before my eyes. I could see my homework sitting on the dining room table where I left it.

The room stilled. My heart raced. I got a queasy feeling in the pit of stomach. Those Froot Loops I ate for breakfast were not going to stay down. You see, sister Noreen taught social studies. Sister “I do NOT accept late assignments” Noreen! Sister Noreen, tall, looming. The hangin’ judge. The Black Bart of the fifth grade. I was going to die.

Excuses — Dispatch from the Cave

She went around the room collecting assignments from trembling hands. And then she got to my desk. I had nothing. I stood slowly and fessed up. Her eyes narrowed. I closed my eyes awaiting my imminent execution. 

“Bring it in tomorrow,” she said gruffly, as she moved on to the next kid covered in flop sweat.

I stood there for a second, my knees shaking. Not sure I’d heard her right. I had to ask the kid next to me. “What’d she just say?”

But it was true. I was saved. Reprieved. The world felt lighter. The sun brighter. I wasn’t going to die. I walked out of that classroom feeling three feet tall.

I don’t know why it is this childhood nightmare I recall now as I sit firmly ensconced in my writer’s chair trying to peck out a new story with a hard deadline staring me in the face. My editor doesn’t look anything like Sister Noreen. But writing is a job now, and the assignment’s due. And tomorrow don’t mean jack when the deadline was yesterday.

So, this is what my blog is about this time. The getting it done, the follow through of writing. Ideas are great. Plots are fun. None of that counts unless you can hit send on the final draft and get the book where it needs to be when they need it to be there. This is where the metal hits the road. When you sit smack dab in the in-between as other things (life) press in and swallow your time.

Writers, I’ve learned, write when it’s fun and but also when it isn’t. Writing when it’s not fun is harder. Writers write when they don’t feel well or when all they want to do is crawl under the covers with a bowl of popcorn and watch the entire “Thin Man” catalog on Turner Classic Movies. Like I did yesterday. Instead, I got to my writing chair. Excuses are not an option.

This is why I’ve got nothing exciting to write about this time around. I’ve just been sitting here typing away. Maybe my next blog post will be livelier. Maybe next time I’ll dive with sharks, or something.

Right now, I’m writing.

And now thinking about Sister Noreen.

She’s probably up there right now giving some fifth-grade angel the absolute business.

Have you heard any creative writer excuses lately? Given any?

Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series and the Det. Harriet Foster series. A multi-nominated Anthony, Lefty, Edgar, Macavity, and Shamus Award finalist, Tracy is also the 2020 and 2022 winner of the G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. She is a member of Crime Writers of Color, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Tracy Clark
Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Karna Small Bodman

    Writing excuses? Deadline issues? For sure! I remember after my second thriller was published, my editor said, “When will number three be ready?” (I had only mentioned the “idea” of the story). I had no clue how to answer her question since I yet to type the words “Chapter One.” So, I simply said I was “working on it and would get back to her ASAP. I cleared my calendar, hunkered down and actually wrote that thriller, FINAL FINESSE, in less than two months and shipped it off. Bottom line – hang in there, Tracy, we can’t wait to read your next endeavor.

  2. Jenny Milchman

    You can do it and now you know you have Sister’s blessing, Tracy! Look for bats in the cave. Glad you’re feeling the eerie words come.

    • tracy clark

      Yikes. I remember those typed reports. And, Karna, two months?! Wow. Way to go! I’m still typing away. Slowly. Thanks for the motivation, you guys!!!

  3. Lisa Black

    Having heard horror stories about college term papers (anyone hear the one about the professor who would hold your typed page up to the light and if he saw one erasure, would give it an F?), I was so paranoid that I would finish them weeks early. (Like Tracy, I was THAT kid.) Twice I sailed into class, having completely forgotten about the entire term paper trauma, only to discover it was due that day. Luckily I lived on campus so a quick run back to the dorm saved me.

    • Lisa Black

      Yes, TYPED, people. This was before MS Word, Spellcheck, and Autocorrect.

  4. Alicia Haney

    Wow, you can do it Tracy, you write Great books. Have a great weekend .

  5. Michelle

    I really related to your story about sister Noreen, Tracy. I had a couple of those type nuns at my grade school as well. Thanks for the reminder that writing is a job, as well as a passion, and that you can’t wait for the times when you feel like it to dig in.

  6. Michelle Rodenborn

    I forgot to give my last name. Here it is!