Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why I Hate the Word "Excuses"

by Susan

Ah, the new year, the season of resolutions. Soon, gymnasiums will fill with eggnog-plumped bodies. Crispers will fill with salad fixings. The last half-pack of cigs will land under the uneaten sweet potatoes in the kitchen garbage. And writers will set their alarms for Oh-Dark-Thirty to work on their Great American Novel before slogging off to the office.

It's the time of year when you hear, "No excuses." Or better yet, "Suck it up, buttercup." Even with these "inspirational" sayings, most New Year's resolutions evaporate before Valentine's Day.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but I despise the word "excuses." It's pejorative. It's an exercise in self-flagellation. It disrespects people's very real barriers, priorities and preferences. It tears down when we need to be built up to make positive changes in our lives.

Not to say there's not value in breaking bad habits or creating good ones, preferably both. I'd like to do both to improve my writing life. How? Recognition is my first step:

  • Recognition #1: I am getting something out of my bad habit. My time spent watching television in the evenings is silly time I spend with my husband. I have reasons I do things, even if they're not always good ones.
  • Recognition #2: There is a reason I am resisting the good habit. Maybe it's simple inertia, but maybe not. Maybe it's something I don't really want to do. Maybe I didn't reach into my jar full of "no" when I was should have and am overloaded. Maybe I'm afraid. 

So what's my plan?

  • Recognize my reasons: Beating myself up for not hitting a goal is less effective than recognizing what internal and external barriers I have and working on those.
  • Start whenever: January 1 is not a magical date. I needn't wait for it, nor am I compelled to start when I'm not ready because I bought a new calendar.
  • Focus: Put one change at the top of the priority list and do that one thing. Make it solid before moving onto the next.
  • Plan: Right now, I'm putting all my deadlines on the calendar so I know when I have to carve out my time. I don't want to get hit with three at once.
  • Arrange: I'm human, so I tend to follow the path of least resistance. I need to arrange my life so the good habit is the path of least resistance. I can put my journaling notebook by my morning therapy lamp, schedule a writing retreat, spring for that standing desk, and clean my writing room. 
  • Process, not result: I can't control whether I get a poem published. I can control whether I make the time to write poetry. If I write it, I'm more likely to get it published. (Funny how that works, eh?)
  • Be a tortoise: I can only sprint through life so long without collapsing. Neither I, nor the people who depend on me, benefit if I crash and burn.  
  • Letting go is not giving up: Most people are familiar with a "bucket list." There's also such a thing as a "@#$% it list." (I assume you have a rhyming dictionary, no?) That is, a list of stuff I'm never going to do again, and that's more than OK. I can't clear out space for the things I want if I don't give up the things that no longer serve me.
  • A slip is not a fall: So I slack off one morning. So what? Doesn't mean I can't be back at it the next. Doesn't mean I'm a failure and I can give up. I don't consider this making excuses; I consider this accepting reality. I can accomplish more when I'm firmly grounded in reality.

So what are your plans for the new year? What does 2016 hold for you?


  1. In March of 2016, I plan to go to Florida to visit my brother and his family. In April, I'd like to attend my uncle's wedding in California. I hope to publish my memoir sometime next year.

    1. Sounds like you have a great year planned, Abbie. Publishing a memoir is a good goal.

  2. I've been learning something over this past year. I have never intentionally taken any down time from my writing. I beat myself up when I'm not writing poetry, drafting, revising, revising, revising, trying to get it published. I discovered this year I need to recognize the need for down time, time to read more, write less, and be happy with that. Suddenly something pops up and I'm back writing again.
    I need time to refresh and regenerate and recreate.

    1. A counselor once told me that when I was trying to go and go and go and never take a break that it was like trying to pour water out of a pitcher without ever refilling it. I'm glad you're learning to take the breaks you need to let your creativity flourish.

  3. Really nice post! I love your take on excuses. I think I'll try the one thing at a time suggestion, and work on reading important things before fun things. That sounds like a lame one, but I can waste a lot of time reading things that are not important. I also decided to quit reading stuff on work time as my "New Year's Resolution," even though I'm the boss. Amazing how much more I'm getting done.

    1. Sadly, I'm better at giving this advice than living by it! Working on it. Perhaps next time we meet, we can motivate each other. :)

      I worked for myself once, but the boss was a real jerk...


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