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B&N Week 126: Excuses? Not If You Can Help It

| May 21, 2013

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It’s another glorious Tuesday! It’s hot, it’s dry, it’s sunny…it’s Tucson! It would only be better if it were San Diego [and if San Diego were a bit cheaper to live in]. But enough, let’s dive right into some Bolts & Nuts, shall we?

This week, I wanted to talk about something that we can all do, and probably have done a time or three: make excuses. Don’t feel like doing something? Make an excuse to cover. Don’t want to put in the work? Make an excuse. Missed a deadline? Make an excuse. They’re a dime a dozen, and in this industry, we’re expecting them to come around more often than not.

Know what an excuse is? The dictionary defines it as an attempt to lessen the blame attaching to a fault or offense; seek to defend or justify. Most of the time, though, we use it as a lie to cover ourselves for missing or not doing something. (Isn’t that kind of harsh, Steven? You’re calling us liars.) Well, yes. Yes I am. Is it harsh? No. It’s truth. Sometimes, that’s uncompromising.

I don’t like excuses. I like things to be either black or white. One thing or another. All or nothing. And I know about excuses. Intimately. I used to make them incessantly. I was in the Marine Corps, and I was supposed to be a leader of men. It wasn’t until I learned from the example set by real leaders of men that I stopped making excuses and just owned up to my own shortcomings. In doing that, I also learned to work harder and gained the respect of my peers, my subordinates, and my superiors.

It is extremely easy to make excuses. Here’s what I could have done, extremely recently: two weeks ago, I moved from North Carolina to Arizona. I drove across the country, leaving on a Saturday afternoon. I didn’t get to my destination until early Monday morning. A 34 hour trip, and I made it in about 36 hours, because I had to stop and close my eyes for a while. I hadn’t written either column before I left. However, when I got to town, I didn’t say “Screw it, I deserve a break. A mini-vacation. They’ll just have to come back next week.” Nope. Know what I did? I sat down, did the writing, and posted the column. Here’s the reason why:

I knew I was moving. I had ample opportunity to get columns written and scheduled to post before I left. I did other things instead, though. Other things instead of doing the things I knew I should have been doing. Could I have used the move as an excuse to not do the writing and post the column? Sure I could have. But it wouldn’t have been mitigating circumstances. It would have been an excuse, pure and simple. And to my mind, all of you deserve more than an excuse. You come here weekly, the least I can do is my part and show up.

Now, I also had a script to turn in to my editor not long after I got here. I had fallen ill for about a week after I got here. I hadn’t eaten any real food, no real sleep, and had had three Five Hour Energy drinks. I was a mess, and my body let me know it. I was in no shape to write a script and send it off for editing. It would have been crap, and I probably would have been even sicker than I was if I had pushed myself. An excuse? No, I don’t think so. Just telling what happened. At the very least, I would call the unexpected illness a mitigating circumstance.

Please, don’t get me wrong. There are times when you just can’t make a deadline, or can’t get something done because life gets in the way. It’s unavoidable. But there is a difference.

If you’re trying to get some work done before a deadline and you know that you’ve been slacking on it because you figure you have lots of time, and then the dog falls ill and you have to take them to the vet and you’re there a lot longer than you thought so you miss your deadline due to care and worry and you tell that to the person you owe the work…then you’ve just made an excuse. You had the time, and you refused to use it well.

However, if you’re working your butt off because there’s a short turnaround for the deadline and a meteor falls on your house, making it unlivable for a while, then you’ve got an explanation for why you missed the deadline. An explanation, not an excuse. See the difference? [Especially if you have the newspaper clipping as proof.]

(Wait. I need proof, too?!)

No. This is comics, not your school or work. We’re not going to ask for a doctor’s note. [Although there’s a company online that sells those, too.] The only one who’s going to know the truth is you. But here’s the thing about making excuses:

First, most of the time, we’re lying and calling it an excuse. At work, calling in sick when you aren’t? That’s a lie, using being sick as the excuse. [We call those “mental health days.”] Okay, so it’s a lie. What’s easier to remember, a lie, or the truth? Because once you tell a lie, you have to keep telling lies to cover the first one, or else it starts to fall apart. Lies also become difficult to remember. You forget you told which lie to whom. The truth, though, is much, much easier.

Excuses also shows a lack of professionalism. [Professionalism is a long and drawn out conversation in itself. Look it up and research it for yourself. You’ll be surprised at what you find.] That lack of professionalism, or perceived lack of it, can cost you jobs, which can cost you money.

Pile on too many excuses, and you could find yourself being replaced on a project. (Huh? Why?) Well, think about it: when do you need an excuse? When you’ve failed to deliver something as promised, whether it be a time factor or a quality factor. Something wasn’t delivered when or as ordered, so you make an excuse to cover for it. Do you need to make an excuse for being on time or for something delivered with high, professional standards? Of course not. You use them when you need them. And if you keep blowing deadlines or if the quality isn’t there—or both—then you could find yourself being replaced on a gig.

This is the main reason why collaborations for no pay generally don’t work. One person is trying to force, or enforce, a deadline on another, and that other person keeps blowing it with one excuse after another.

(Flakers…) No, not really. It isn’t just the no-pay or back-end collaborations that this happens with, either. It can also happen with paying work. You can find yourself paying a creator for their skills, and you want it in a certain timeframe. That creator misses the deadlines time and again, even though you’re paying them, and the only thing they’re offering up are excuses as to why the work isn’t getting done.

Can anything be done about excuses? Sure. We can all stand up and be adults about what it is that we want and take ownership when things don’t go as planned. “Know what, Graeme, I know I was supposed to get you those five pages of script today, and that I had all week to do it, but I got caught up playing Halo. I apologize. You’ll have those pages in four hours.” That’s responsibility. That’s ownership. We don’t do enough of that. It’s either someone’s sick, the computer ate it, or something else that we use to try to cover ourselves.

If we make fewer excuses in our personal lives, we’ll make fewer in our professional lives. This will then raise our own personal cachet, winning the respect of family, friends, peers, subordinates, and superiors. Respect that is won through hard work, and thus, deserved.

All by not giving excuses.

Homework: see where you give excuses in your personal and professional lives, and start to cut them out. Take ownership. You’ll quickly see the results of your efforts.

See you in seven.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts, Columns

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

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