Meryl K. Evans – Your Invisible Mentor
Today and tomorrow I present Meryl K. Evans, a writer who lives in Texas. Though we are all different, we are the same, and all connected, so while reading this week’s interview, look for ways that you are similar to Meryl.
“I accepted a job on the spot instead of telling the company I will get back to them later. A few hours after accepting a job, I got another job offer that was a better fit. This taught me patience — at least, a little more of it. I still have room for more patience, which is important in being a better listener and thinking things through more,” says Meryl when asked to describe one of her biggest failures. Reflecting on Meryl’s response, do you act quickly, or do you prefer to reflect before you act?
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Meryl K. Evans: From a business perspective, I use the name “content maven” because I do more than writing and editing. I help clients with marketing, press releases, website content, email newsletters. I’m in the business of working with words.
While I don’t introduce myself as a person who is deaf up front because that’s not the only thing I’m about, I’m mentioning it now because it has affected my business and life. Being deaf compelled me to be competitive; to show I’m just as good as or better than everyone in whatever I do. If it weren’t for this and I had hearing, I may have lived a life where I would not have accomplished half as much as I have.
I’m a proud native Texan who has lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for all but six years. The non-Texas years were in Washington, D.C. where I graduated from American University, took the first steps of my career landing my first job with the U.S. government and gave birth to the only daughter and non-Texan.
I grew up in Fort Worth and moved to Plano upon my return from D.C. because my husband and I believed Plano was the best place in the DFW area for our kids’ education. By choice, much of my life revolves around my husband, a daughter, two sons and a dog with three personalities and two looks.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Meryl K. Evans: Every morning begins with reading the newspaper. I could go to my office for instant news on the Internet, but there’s no starting point. There’s no ending point to tell me to stop. A newspaper does that. A newspaper also encourages me to read about topics I wouldn’t look for on the Internet.
Next, I hit the road a few feet to my home office to check emails and Twitter. I schedule a few tweets to spread them throughout the day rather than have them go boom, boom, boom. People sign in at different times and it helps to reach them. Besides, folks don’t want to see one person dominating their Twitter stream.
The rest of the day varies based on day of the week, current deadlines and projects. I love the variety in my job. The only consistent thing is how I start the day and a workout about an hour before or after lunch. In fact, I’m taking a break right here to go exercise. Back shortly. 🙂
Great workout. Thanks for excusing me.
Also important is a consistent bedtime to ensure I get seven to eight hours of sleep every night or else I don’t function well the next day.
How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Meryl K. Evans: Remember the competitive thing? It keeps me going to ensure I stay on top and competitive. The world waits for no one.
Habits are also a motivator. When something is a habit, you come to expect it and crave it. Think about how you start your day. It comes naturally to you. Bet you have a hankering for events, occasions, food items and activities on certain days of the week, times of the day and times of the year.
Sure, I have days when I feel like I can’t push myself to write an article. Deadlines help and I often stay ahead. Waiting until the last minute doesn’t work. For one, I might not be in the best writing frame of mind. Doing it a few days before when I’m in the mood ensures better results including time to “sit on it” so I can edit my drafts with fresh eyes.
Second, problems come up. What if in the middle of writing, I find a problem with a quote or fact? Putting off the work could mean deleting a paragraph with potential instead of spending time to fix the problem.
When I’m stuck or struggle with motivation, I do something else. It’s hard not to be motivated when you have bills to pay. Besides, I struggle with the concept of “Don’t do something, sit there.” I feel guilty if I do that.
If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Meryl K. Evans: I have no regrets in how I managed my business and myself. Everything I learned along the way helped me today.
What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Meryl K. Evans: Many Americans are proud to admit they haven’t taken a vacation in years. Not me. Yes, I take a day off here and there and even a whole week off, but I don’t go anywhere or visit museums. Anyway, an invitation to a family event in New Hampshire arrived. I asked my mom to see if she wanted to go together. She said that we’d have to fly into Boston and take a shuttle to Nashua, NH.
I’ve longed to travel to a city or country that I’ve never visited. Boston was one of them. We decided to turn it into a short vacation and left two days earlier to see Boston.
We had a wonderful time. While everything went smoothly, coming home did not. I lost my mojo. My habits failed me. I struggled to get back into routine for the whole week. It took enormous effort to exercise and my body fought the whole workout.
Habits. Schedules. Organization. I learned these make a difference in my life. (That and I don’t want to take a trip again for a while because I’m not ready for another “come home” experience.)
What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Meryl K. Evans: Most writers would say — and it’s true — epublishing, ebooks, ereaders. But for many writers and me, it’s social media. It helps us connect with readers, experts, build platforms and stay in touch.
What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
Meryl K. Evans:
- My energy. I’m not a high energy person in that I can’t go, go, go. Yes, I work out. Yes, I eat right. I can’t constantly work long hours and I’m strict about what I take on — projects, volunteer, anything. I work with this by prioritizing and maintaining balance.
- My family. My family comes first. Sometimes one thing comes up after another that it disrupts work. I try to be proactive by spreading our appointments or squeezing in as many appointments in a single session. (For example, all five of us had our eye checkups at the same time.)
- Blogs and online content: These give everyday people the opportunity to become writers. I know not all of them are good quality or paid assignments. With so many resources, they can’t all succeed in making a profit and paying for writers. Sometimes I fear I’ll lose my edge with many writers out there going for the same assignments. I keep working, keep marketing and keep keeping on — adjusting as needed by taking a class or reading up on the latest. Also, I’ve been blogging since 2000 and don’t update as often as in the past due to a busier schedule and higher priorities. I struggle with this, but I also realize it’s what I have to do to maintain balance.
What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Meryl K. Evans: Me. That sounds arrogant, but I built my business to be a one-person business with a personal touch. No one can imitate me (it’s tough to imitate my deaf accent – heh), my knowledge, my personality.
I go out of my way to ensure clients are happy and make things right if something doesn’t go as expected. Being a Texan, I’m friendly and am not an “all business, all the time” person. I get to know clients without taking away their valuable time. I also send them a handwritten thank you note every year.
I sent an invitation to a family event to one client who became a friend. He and his wife flew to Texas from Minnesota. It was the first time we met in person. That happened because of who I am and the service I provide.
What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
Meryl K. Evans: People take too long to respond. I’ve been on projects where others were slow to reply and complete tasks. Even if you don’t have the answers right away, let others know you’re working on it so they don’t think their request got forgotten, lost or ignored.
Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it.
Meryl K. Evans: I noticed I kept putting off work for a client, something that was not the norm for me. I looked at the situation and realized I liked the client, but not the work. I needed to let go of the work. Although it wasn’t easy to break up with the client, it gave me the time and energy to focus on other things I enjoy.
What lessons did you learn in the process?
Meryl K. Evans: I became more aware of the work I do and how it affects me. I’m not going to dump every boring work or disliked assignment. Every job — including dream jobs — has dull moments. Dreading the work constantly and boredom are two different things. I’ve been doing some of the work I do for a long time that sometimes I get bored. Yet, I have moments of excitement and “WOW” for the same work.
Tell me about your big break and who gave it to you.
Meryl K. Evans: Molly Holzschlag (www.molly.com) gave me my first paid writing assignment. I can’t recall how I connected with her for the assignment, but the assignment turned me into a paid writer with a reputable magazine. Score for my portfolio.
Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Meryl K. Evans: I accepted a job on the spot instead of telling the company I will get back to them later. A few hours after accepting a job, I got another job offer that was a better fit. This taught me patience — at least, a little more of it. I still have room for more patience, which is important in being a better listener and thinking things through more.
What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?
Meryl K. Evans: While growing up, I played loads of sports. While it helped in many areas, it turned me into a competitive machine. As I said earlier, that competitive streak in me helped me accomplish a lot.
The coaches didn’t select me for a tournament team because I displayed poor sportsmanship after losing a game. I remembered that for the rest of my life and worked hard to keep my competitiveness in check. Still do.
What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Meryl K. Evans: Dropping a client. Although tough to do, it led to more energy and less drain. People are afraid to drop a client because they need the income. Think about the energy you get back — it could be enough to replace the dropped client with two new ones.
What are three events that helped to shape your life?
Meryl K. Evans:
- Life cycles. Birth, marriage and children. I couldn’t do this interview if I weren’t born. I love having a companion to experience life together. So much of what I enjoy involves my children and it has pushed me to become a more organized and creative person.
- After a long time away from home at sleep away camp, I couldn’t wait to get home. Not to see my parents — I already saw them when they picked me up at camp. As soon as I entered my house, I raced to the back to the home office where I met the new Apple ][+ computer.
That computer led to my joining bulletin board systems (BBSes) and meeting people online — one of which was my husband. It’s not just meeting my husband, but the fact I could communicate with people without the telephone. Thanks to the online world, I could build a business as a writer because I could directly connect with people without a mediator.
- When I turned 13, my parents gave me this big ugly brown box for my birthday. Dad hooked it to the TV and turn on a specific program. Words appeared. Ohmygosh! I understood what people said! That was the first time I ever watched a show with closed-captions.
Captions let me learn many new things, discover songs I liked and experience a show or movie with friends and family without asking, “What did she say?” Y’all know that watching movies and shows can bring people together as they talk about it afterward or react together.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Meryl K. Evans: I landed my first book deal for Brilliant Outlook Pocketbook in April 2007. After completing all the paperwork and getting the information I needed to start the book, I had three weeks to finish it. (It was part of a series.) About a week after I started working on it, my dad had a stroke and it looked grim.
My parents still lived an hour away in Fort Worth. I hauled the laptop and drove there almost daily. Whenever I opened the laptop, it was to check emails and play a game that I was reviewing. I couldn’t write while at the hospital. The situation was dire for about a week and then Dad pulled through enough that I didn’t have to go as often.
I didn’t ask for an extension because one of the other series authors was in the hospital and the publisher couldn’t extend it for her. Somehow, I finished the book on time. Dad passed away December 2007. The experience taught me two things: I could write a book and I need to have a greater appreciation for people and life.
I’m still shocked that I wrote a book in three weeks in the middle of a family crisis.
How did mentors influence your life?
Meryl K. Evans: I’m hard on myself. Rarely what I do is good enough for me. My mentors helped me see I’m good at what I do.
What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Meryl K. Evans: It’s OK — not arrogance — to know and admit you’re good at something.
As an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Meryl K. Evans: “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Take care of yourself first. When you don’t, it affects people around you.