The Excuse Train

Currently, I’m at a conference, so forgive any delay in responding to your comments. I should be back here Thursday.

In the meantime, I wanted to bring up a topic we’ve talked about in the past, but deserves a bit of resurrection. As I watched the discussion and debate swell and morph over an article I wrote asking risk managers if risk management was obsolete, I thought about our own profession.

What I noticed with this article was there were varied reactions. The ones that stood out were those denying there’s a problem and saying the message was skewed. While that may be true, I wonder if that reaction is exactly why some people in that profession do believe the position is floundering?

The discussion came in tangent with a plea from someone to help understand how to get started in writing. The question was a good one: how do I get more proactive in my marketing? I love a good question, so I answered. It was a detailed response that gave bulleted advice. When someone asks me for help, I feel it’s my role as a fellow writer to help.

And yet I read the writer’s response and decided I was done. Why? Because it was my first and only case of someone not hearing what I said but rather diving off that same “I can’t do this without help” cliff. Lamenting. Desperation. I get it. But I’ve never seen a case of whining that resulted in work.

It’s the excuse train. It’s the “I want to be a writer I don’t know where to start help me help me NOW” plea that, when help arrives, morphs into the “But you just don’t understand I can’t do it and I need help and you aren’t helping enough” kind of mentality. No appreciation for the time I’d put into the response. No inkling that anything I said was heard or absorbed. No indication that this person was going anywhere but back on the Excuse Train for one more trip around the loop.

It’s self-sabotage. And it’s killing any chance that you’ll survive in freelance writing. So who rides the excuse train? Those writers who:

Expect full attention and help. Without thanks. While I get that frustration and desperation can make a person forget the basic pleasantries, if you keep demanding help without a word of thanks or any sign of appreciation, you’re not going to win any friends in the writing world. And you will need friends, believe me.

Shoot down advice. This happens to me every now and then — someone will ask for advice, then will pick apart each piece of advice like they’re picking ticks from a dog. Can’t be done. Did it. Didn’t work. Won’t work. Can’t work. Too hard. Gawd, it’s boring to listen to, and it’s frustrating.

Never go beyond asking. That first step into freelancing is like stepping off a cliff blindfolded. You don’t know if it’s a cliff or a curb, and you’re afraid of the fall. I get it. But at some point you have to make a decision to move forward. I remember one writer who’d asked for (and received) advice on starting a writing business. Four years later, she was still asking the same question, only this time writers were done answering. Move on it or don’t — just don’t hang in limbo. It’s unhealthy.

Think they want to be writers, but really don’t. There’s a reason why all these excuses exist. Usually it’s because the writer just doesn’t want to be a freelance writer. Period. Sure, they think it’s a sexy, cool idea. But they’re not willing to go beyond dreaming about it. That’s fine. Not everyone is cut out to be a freelancer.  Just recognize that and stop asking for help you don’t really want. A lot of working writers are quite willing to help you. It’s just too frustrating to spend time and effort on someone who has no intention of doing anything with the advice they’ve asked for.

So what excuses are you hearing lately?

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  • Damaria Senne April 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Lori, the one that drives me nuts is the "I don't have the time to do what you recommend" excuse. We all have 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week. We all have life issues, be it taking care of families or fulltime jobs or several part-time jobs or whatever else we're committed to. If writing is as important as you say it is, you will find the time somewhere to do what it takes to succeed.

  • Devon Ellington April 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    It's not just freelancers — I run into the same issue in my fiction classes and at conferences all the time. These people don't want to write — they want to "have written".

    There is no such thing as "no time to write."

    Writing is ALWAYS a choice. Not writing is ALWAYS a choice.

    If you ask for advice and someone is kind enough to take the time, say "thank you." You are not obligated to follow the advice,but you should act like a professional and demonstrate basic courtesy.

    As Damaria said, we all have the same amount of hours in the day. It's how we choose to use them that differentiates us.

    And if someone says, "I don't have time for that, you have to do it for me", my response is, "this is how much my services cost and you can send the deposit via PayPal right now."

  • Cathy Miller April 23, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Damaria: You are so right about we all have life issues. You adjust to those life issues if you want your business to work – whether that's writing or some other path.

    It's like the excuse I don't have time to exercise. If you make it a priority in your life, you find the time.

    The other excuse is not having enough clients, yet ask them about marketing and they slide into another excuse-such as-not enough time. I guess clients will simply know you exist.

    Excuses of not enough time, money or clients get really old when the person complaining does nothing to change the situation.

    Enjoy LA & the conference, Lori.

  • Paula April 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    I have a friend who loves to ramble on about her problems, but about 99% of any advice I offer gets shot down with one lame excuse or another.

    The real reason is she doesn't want to admit I know more about something than she does. This is why her dog will never be fully housebroken. Instead of heeding my advice and taking her puppy outside every time he wakes up, eats, or plays (and every 20 minutes when he's awake), and being inconvenienced by taking him out at night or in bad weather, she has him use a piddle pad at night or if it's too cold or wet out for her. By making it about herself, she's giving him mixed messages. Funnier yet, she lectured her mom that paper training doesn't work…um, that's exactly what she's doing, only with piddle pads. I'd had dogs since I was a kid, yet apparently I don't know anything, but in the three months she's had a puppy she's an expert.

    Another friend told me today that someone asked her for professional tips on LinkedIn. She responded and the person never said thank you. I told her next time that happens, say, "I'd be happy to consult with you about this. My rates are…"

  • anne wayman April 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Ah yes, and all that is how I became a writing coach. I find I don't mind them not following my advice nearly as much when they're paying for it. 😉

  • Krista April 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    I hope I'm not changing the subject too much, but to add to the end of Paula's comment, it seems to me as though there common courtesy is becoming more of a rarity as people spend more time online. As a freelance writer, I can't count the number of times I've responded to job ads, heard back that they wanted to work with me, and then had them completely disappear and stop responding to emails. I get that things can change, but at least send me a quick message to let me know. I've also read several contributor's guidelines stating that the publisher would only respond if they were interested. That seems a bit unfair to me.

    And don't even get me started on Facebook!! I once went through the trouble of scanning and sending several gluten-free bread recipes to someone who was searching for good ones, and didn't even get a quick "Thanks!" That may sound like a really small thing, but when stuff like that happens over and over it makes me not even want to bother going through any trouble for anyone.

  • Krista April 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Shoot! Typo! The "there" in the first sentence after "though" should not be there.

  • Lori April 25, 2013 at 4:50 am

    Krista, don't you worry one bit about changing any subject. All conversation welcome!

    Damaria, so true. Life gets in the way only if we let it. Right now, I'm sitting in Phoenix, Arizona where it's nearly ten pm. I'm watching my dear mother-in-law struggle with illness. And I'm making time to check in, answer emails, and allow the spaces in between to be filled with work when family duties aren't calling. It's called having a life that has actual life in it, perhaps.

    Devon, I remember a woman who was writing a children's book. She asked me for a critique. She didn't like it, either. Her story was filled with the words "began to" or "started to" in nearly every paragraph. I told her she needed to stop all the starting and beginning and just DO it already. But I guess thinking back it was more of her own internal struggle with writing coming out onto the page than it was about any trepidation she had about putting pen to paper. She'd done that — it was the longest damn children's book I'd ever seen (until Harry Potter, that is).

    Cathy, that's frustrating for me, too. I suggest marketing and it's "Doesn't work — I've tried it." Really? Have you stuck with it? Only after you've tried to be consistent with it will you know whether or not it works.

    Paula, some people cannot learn any more than they already know. They're not open to it and not willing to show that vulnerability. Kind of dumb since we ALL learn something new every day. Her loss, really. I'd stop answering her question, or just answer "Why do you ask? You're not going to take any advice anyway." Then let her argue her way out of that. 😉

    Krista, I agree. There's so little of common courtesy these days. How hard is it to say "No thanks" or "We're killing the project"?

  • Paula April 25, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    I kid you not, Lori. That same friend stopped by during a dog walk yesterday. She said, "I have to admit, he's not fully potty trained yet. He doesn't want to do his business outside if it's raining."

    I said, "That's probably because the piddle pads you use when you don't want to take him out give him a mixed message and he thinks it's okay to go inside when it's cold or rainy." Then I kicked it up a notch and said, "When you have a puppy, it's not about YOU, it's about the PUPPY." She's used to making everything about herself, so she needs more training that her puppy.

    (Seriously, if you're consistent, potty training a puppy isn't that hard.)

    I won't even get into how many times I had to say "Off" and "Leave it" because she was to wrapped up in herself to see he was being mischievous.

  • Devon Ellington April 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm


    How frustrating. And he's a PUPPY — he'll learn, he wants to learn. But he's a PUPPY, and he needs boundaries.

    Even my cats pay attention to some basic rules, like not being allowed on the counters, etc. They look at me with that contempt only cats can truly pull off, but they do pay attention!

  • Lori April 25, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Exactly, Devon. The cats are MASTERS at contemptuous looks. And we love them for it. 🙂

    Great notion about boundaries — writers need them, too. We need boundaries to keep all that extraneous stuff from interrupting our writing. Schedule it like work and stick t it like you would having dessert after a meal. 😉 That's how I motivated myself early on — I'd never skip dessert!