If Excuses Were Money, I’d Be A Rich Writer

By Nanette Metz | September 23, 2019

This entry is part 13 of 13 in the series Writing Challenge Winners

PWA Member Nanette Metz

Congratulations to 2019 “No Excuses” Writing Challenge Winner Nanette S. Metz!
Nanette S. Metz has been writing since she learned to read. But, it’s taken an AWAI and PWA push to turn that writing into a marketable product with a payday. She lives in Southern California and enjoys hanging out with her family and sitting at the beach.
You can learn more about Nanette by reading her prize-winning essay below.

If Excuses Were Money, I Would be a Rich Writer: How Confronting Excuses Allowed Me to Take Back Control of My Writing Business

The Excuses

Life is crazy right now – I don’t have time to grow my writing business. 

My client list has been stagnant over the last year. One client supplies a fair amount of my work, but I need a few more to be working comfortably. After I take care of my main client, the remainder of the time seems to flit away.

The excuses come pretty easy with three children ranging from age 10 to 16. There always seems to be something else that needs to be done. Between the constant meal prep, a quick ride somewhere and the emergency laundry needs, the disruptions get more time than my work. Did I mention the 2 cats, a dog, and 2 ducks? That’s a lot of distractions.

Then when things are quiet on the home front, I have to manage my impulse control to not check email, scan the latest news headlines, or peek at cute cat videos. Then there’s binge-watching… the excuses can easily build and grow.

The Plan

While the challenge started June 1, there was no way I could make any change until the school year finished up on June 7. Summer vacation was a particularly challenging time to implement such an activity. (Alas, I always seem to find an excuse to not move forward.) I knew I couldn’t wait for school to get back in session to start putting the plan to work. June 10 was my official start date with the week before to finish my planning and brief my family.

I decided to carve out dedicated periods where I would work, and everyone else would manage themselves. That meant working only my writing business, not the various other jobs that crop up around the house.

Why is the toilet overflowing right when I am on a roll?

I knew I wouldn’t be able to have a solid stretch of my day to devote to my writing business, but 2 or 3 chunks each day would still be an improvement. Besides, I don’t like the straight 9 to 5 deal anyway. That’s what I am trying to avoid. I left the cubicle behind for a reason. Now I wanted to prove I could be more productive in managing my own schedule.

I have a fairly regular morning routine that gets me up and moving early, so I chose to start with that. I sketched out in my planner three time slots for work each day:

7 a.m. to 10 a.m.   Work on current writing projects

1 p.m. to 3 p.m.     Research potential clients

7 p.m. to 9 p.m.     Reach out to potential clients and review writing projects

I realized this was only 7 hours, but I was going for quality over quantity. Also, it was going to be a big improvement over the scattered array of time I had been working. If I could stay on task and just work on my business during those allotted time, I would make great strides.

As recommended by an AWAI great, I divided my time into roughly 35 focused minutes to really get some work done. Then I would take a break for five minutes. I didn’t make the schedule overly complex because the rest of my life seems to have way too many moving parts.

Dose of Reality

My great plan was tested immediately. My family was supportive of the structure, but no one was awake at 7:20 a.m. to clean up the floor when my elderly cat threw up next to my work station.

Twenty minutes into my first “work-only” session and I was down on the floor wiping up the mess. I had spent the previous 5 minutes trying to ignore it and push through…

Order restored. I got back to work, but it was hard to control outside thoughts.

Should I call the vet? Did I get it all? Is it because she is old or is she sick?

All important thoughts to have, but in no way helpful to my business plan.

My cat threw up several more times that day. The one time I was able to resist cleaning the mess during my afternoon shift, my 10-year old walked through it.

Work ended abruptly…

Yes, this definitely seemed like a no-win scenario. My plan was fizzling before my eyes.

In my first day of this renewed business challenge, I worked closer to 4.5 hours instead of the planned 7 hours. I contacted no new clients and fell behind on the work I already had. I was disappointed and wondered if my strategy was counter-productive.

Discouraged but not defeated, I vowed to keep trying. I still had 37 days left… more with weekends.

The next day was an improvement. Even though I didn’t get in the full 7 hours, I was closer. Additionally, I also contacted a potential client and had a short list for the next day.

Over the course of the challenge, some days were great and I finished feeling refreshed and accomplished. Other days seemed to be a complete bust. My outside schedule intruded and I lost time to dentist appointments, broken sprinklers, and robocalls.

I frequently had to shift my time slots by 15 minutes and sometimes over an hour. I found I really had trouble working at night. I got so tired.

I learned that I needed to find more time in the morning and early afternoon if I was going to stay productive. An occasional night shift would work for tasks that required a little less brainpower and creativity… and spelling.

Strengths and Weaknesses of My Plan

I have always been a strong believer in the need for a plan, if for no other reason than to get the process started. I tell my clients, we have to plan so that we have something to change when it doesn’t work. When the plan does work, we know what we did so we can keep doing it.

Some days my greatest strength was also a weakness. My plan had a great deal of flexibility built into it. I knew I had to be ready to adapt based on changing needs and schedules of my family. As much as I would have liked to put them on autopilot, they needed me. My husband often traveled for work and there was no one else to step in to help at the last minute.

However, that flexibility sometimes had me pushing my time slots later and later into the evening. Then I was too tired to work. Sometimes I forced myself to keep working, but the results were poor. I was better off going to bed and getting on task first thing in the morning.

Some days, I committed the mistake of over-promising and under-delivering to myself. I would say that I would be more focused if I waited until later. Occasionally that was the case. However, I found that one change in the schedule was okay. But if I kept changing it, later I was going to have a problem.

Throughout the 38-day challenge, I tried to spend 15 minutes each night creating the schedule for the next day. If I put together my day’s agenda in advance, I was able to more easily adapt and build in more time. This made a huge difference in getting writing projects completed on deadline while also making time for building client contact options.

Opportunities of the Experience

Though I began the summer with the excuse that I didn’t have time to grow my writing business, this challenge forced me to take a step back from the day-to-day operations of my business. This was a tremendous opportunity because it reminded me of all the things I was missing.

I was so excited to get that first regular client. I poured myself into that work. While it has been rewarding, one client was not enough to build or even sustain my business.

Such a singular focus on an existing client was actually leading me away from my dreams of a writer’s future. As I stepped back and looked around, I saw the need to reevaluate my time and priorities.

I also realized the need to schedule business-building activities… not just think about them. While a schedule might need to be organic to allow a writer to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, I found that I needed to have a timetable written down. Even though it’s in pencil and not concrete, that is enough to keep me grounded.

Takeaway Tips for Making the Most of Your Time:

Time is money and so many of us, including me, squander that time. But with a good plan, you can make a lot out of a little.

  1. Figure out when you’re most productive and schedule key activities for that time of day.
  2. Allow for breaks in your schedule, but don’t let the breaks take over your work.
  3. Flex when needed, but not so much that you lose momentum.
  4. Write your plan down! Use a pencil, a computer, or your phone. Just don’t keep it all in your head. Our brains like to rearrange information and then suddenly the time has passed and opportunity is lost.