Writers Worth: Getting Off the Excuse Train

Did you enjoy Writers Worth Month? Every one of the writers you’ve seen here have added something new to the conversation — that’s what I love most. I can prattle on all day long, but at some point, there needs to be new voices added to the mix. And frankly, I enjoy learning about new ideas (and new people), too.

I’m hoping that now that the holiday weekend is behind us and summer is creeping in, you’re slowing down a bit, kicking back. There’s a chance I’ll have your attention for a minute or two.

So listen up. This post is about the excuses you make.

Over the years, I’ve had plenty of writers come to me asking questions. Some questions are quite specific, such as “How would you price this one?” or “Would you look this client letter over to make sure I’m not pissing someone off?” It’s what we do — we bounce ideas and situations off each other.

Some questions go into more general directions — “How do I get started freelance writing?”, which as you know, I consider a lazy question. I’ve been asked how to one can go about specializing, how to market, what should one do to raise rates… like most other writers, I’m happy to share what I know.

It’s what happens next, however, that defines the writer who’s posing the question.

I’ve had a number of encounters with writers who, once I type out detailed, step-by-step responses (depending on the question, of course), who will respond with what I call The Roadblock.

“Yes, I would do that, but I just don’t have time to sort it out.”

“Yes, but my dog needs to run for an hour a day, so I can’t really fit marketing in.”

“Yes, but I don’t think my current clients would pay that.”

“Yes, but…”

Stop it. Now.

In one case, a writer I know received a note from a total stranger, who asked for help. The writer went into detail, giving the stranger a damn good primer on what steps she might want to take, where to look for answers, how to increase visibility….it was helpful, and it was instructive.

Her answer, paraphrased: I’ve been writing for 20 years, so I guess I’ll just do what I’m doing.


What I read in that note wasn’t just dismissing the advice she’d just asked for, but also a writer who let her ego get in front of hearing what she wanted to know. Instead of being grateful for the help, she got her back up and had to prove she knew what she was doing.

What a waste of energy.

You know why you make excuses — fear, laziness, anxiety, misconceptions about how hard/easy it will be…. however, do you know what your excuses are doing to you?

Holding you back. Duh, right? But for those who make excuses, everything seems like a valid reason. “I can’t because my husband is thinking of changing jobs” or “I can’t because my kids nap for just 45 minutes a day”–and that’s relevant why? There was a time I faced a choice to expand into an area I knew nothing about. I was sure I’d fail. I had no husband, two kids at home, and a crappy job that paid barely enough. But I looked at that writing test (it was for a full-time job, and I was being paid for the sample) and said “What the hell.” A week later, I was hired. The moral: If I can, you can.

Making you look amateurish. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when someone asks me a smart question about freelancing or wants to know more or needs some help, I don’t view them as the amateur. I view them as a smart writer. Here’s someone who’s willing to seek information that will improve their freelance writing business. But the writer who asks and then blocks every good intention with excuses? That’s the amateur. That’s someone who isn’t willing to suck up the courage to move forward. When a client asked me if I knew anything about their particular area, I said “Not yet” and convinced them that my skills in other areas easily transferred. The moral: The only thing stopping you is you.

Frustrating the people you need to be aligning with. The writers who are giving you advice don’t expect you to take it verbatim. But if you dismiss every syllable with your excuses, forget having any type of ongoing relationship with them. Instead of excuses, try follow-up questions, or simply say “thank you” and move on. Too many writers have it in their heads that they’re entitled to the info, and a few have gotten pissed that the writer didn’t want to hold their hands through the process (just short of doing the actual work). Also, I’ve had encounters with writers who ask good questions, but then ruin it with dismissive statements, like “Well, I’m okay for now” or “Yes, but that’s not how I want to do it.” Those writers are no longer in my orbit. The moral: Your professional reputation is on the line in every interaction.

Making people lose trust. Those blanket statements you use to explain why you’re not working? Those of us who are working can see right through them. Moreover, when someone calls you out for it and you back-peddle, you’re just digging that hole you’re in a little deeper. I had an encounter with a man who proclaimed “You can’t make a living freelance writing anymore.” When I pointed out that I was, in fact, doing just that and how my income had actually increased, he replied “Well, I just do this on the side.” Then shut up. If you don’t stand behind what you say with actual facts or if you publicly whine and then dismiss the people who respond in opposition, you’re just babbling and looking like a fool. The moral: Your insecurity will damage your career as much as your inertia will.

Keeping you passive. You know what’s worst about the excuses you make? You’re teaching yourself  to take a passive approach to your career. As one writer, who’d come across The Roadblock kind of writer said, “He’s one of those who will ask for help forever but will never help themselves.” There it is. That’s the reason you keep asking the same question for years, why the writers you used to know aren’t really communicating with you these days, and why you just can’t seem to get to the place you want to be. You’re not helping yourself, so you’ll just keep reaping the same mediocre results. The moral: The success you achieve is directly related to the amount of energy you put into your career.

Writers, what examples of excuse-making by other writers or creatives have you seen?
How did you overcome your own excuses, internal or otherwise, and face the challenges?

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  • Joy Drohan June 1, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Great advice, Lori, as always. I've found the excuse that there's no time to market can be overcome by putting it on the calendar every week in small increments. I can always find a few minutes when my head's not yet into hard-core work to research a prospect or to draft an email. I often use the marketing bit to get myself into real work mode. Also, by putting followup calls and emails on the calendar, they don't slip through the cracks.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall June 1, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Excellent advice, Lori. Turning it around, anytime people says "yes but", it's worth a bit of introspection to figure out what's REALLY holding them back.

  • Lori Widmer June 1, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Joy, that's a great system. In fact, t proves that marketing isn't some long, drawn-out process. I once said I spent 15 minutes a day marketing, and I had a few writers say it was impossible. No, it's not. Marketing isn't some complicated thing — it's reaching out, saying hello, introducing yourself and your skills, and eventually asking for the sale.

    Exactly, Sharon! The "Yes, but…" answer is a prime example of someone who will remain stuck. They're not hearing because the excuses are drowning out other voices.

  • Paula Hendrickson June 1, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    You know when I use lame excuses? When it comes to avoiding yard work or cleaning the basement. But not for writing. At least I hope I don't.

    I've encountered a lot of people who ask for help only to ignore the advice. Many times it is an ego thing – these people want to feel special, so darn special that rules/logic/standards don't apply to them. Or the old "I'm too busy" (something I heard all the time in high school by popular kids who had busy social calendars, one time prompting me to reply, "Oh, I'm so busy doing ACTUAL things that I don't have time to be busy doing nothing, like you."

    One friend of mine is one of those excuse makers who wants to be seen as special. She's constantly complaining about sinus headaches, using them as an excuse for being crabby, saying she'll feel better if she lies down for a nap. I said, "That's odd. I get sinus headaches all the time, and always feel better when I'm sitting or standing, so they can drain." Her reply? "MY sinuses are DIFFERENT. They're smaller than average sinuses." I guess they're so different they defy gravity, too. (Oh, I don't use headaches, or anything really, as an excuse to be crabby. Sarcastic, sure, but crabby…never!)

    Sure, we all have unique conditions and circumstances. Some people will always use them as excuses. The trick is overcoming our unusual circumstances, unless they actually are valid reasons for not doing something – like not running a marathon because you have a broken leg. But that same broken leg shouldn't stop you from writing or marketing or networking – or sitting on the sidelines cheering the other runners on.

  • Lori Widmer June 1, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Paula, I think you've nailed it. These people are DIFFERENT. They're SPECIAL. No, they're SPESHUL. These rules don't apply because they are the EXCEPTION.

    Right. I get tired of hearing the same sad excuses. If you're going to contradict and fight the advice you're asking for, stop asking.

  • Jake Poinier June 1, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    Boom! Darwin will eventually have his way with such folks.

    And Writers Worth Month was fantastic. Thank you for QBing it!

  • Lori Widmer June 1, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    Darwin is already working on it, Jake. 🙂

    Thank YOU for the contributions!

  • Devon Ellington June 1, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    "writers" who ask for advice and then argue with about it are doing more than hurting themselves and being disrespectful and burning bridges — they are wasting the time of professionals who have taken potential billable hours to answer questions — without billing. The ONLY acceptable response when you ask the question and get the answer is, "Thank you."

    You don't have to promise you'll do whatever they say; you don't have to argue with them. Just say "thank you", think it over, use what works, don't use what doesn't. But do NOT waste a professional's time by arguing or making excuses. Because the next time you waste MY time like that, I'll be billing you at full rate.

  • Ashley Festa June 1, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    This is a great list, Lori. I've asked for help many, many times, and I've learned to be specific in my questions. Not only does it help the person you're asking, but you'll also get better answers! I know what my boundaries and preferences are, and if the advice doesn't work for my situation (I'm SPECIAL, after all 😉 then I just say thanks, because someone took time to offer their help. That's just general courtesy, but as you and others have said, people often want to explain themselves about why they can't/won't/don't want to do something. So they don't say thanks, they offer excuses.

  • Lori Widmer June 2, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Devon, exactly! Well said. Not one of us would give advice that we think has to be followed to the letter. What works for me may not work for you may not work for him or her… And you're right — it's a huge waste of time to give a thoughtful, helpful answer only to have the recipient argue six different reasons (excuses) why it won't work.

    Ashley, agreed. It's so important to NOT make excuses! It's so much less about saying thanks — that's a given. It's more about asking, not listening or even hearing, and firing off excuses like "Oh, I don't need that — I'm doing fine" or "But I can't do that because…." or "I've been at this for XX years, so I really don't need to…"

    Way too limiting an attitude.