No is YES

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Today’s post is about saying no, but not in a mood of negativity: quite the opposite. Saying no to people, pets, events, dates, activities, and other distractions when you need time for yourself is positive

I asked the Girl Group to think about this business of saying no, and got interesting responses. Geralyn Lucas, author of the forthcoming (in October) Then Came Life, said this: “My therapist helped a lot. She said, ‘Saying yes to something means saying no to others.’ I always feel guilty saying no, but she made me realize I was really saying YES.”

The context of my question to the GGs was writing, naturally. How do you learn to say no in order to make (or take) the time you need for your own work? What are the things you must do versus the things you think you must do? What comes first, when you have to choose among demands—the demands of your writing or the demands of your family, friends, job, and all the other tugs-on-your-sleeve?

These decisions aren’t easy, and nobody can make them for you; only you can judge the importance of your need to write, relative to those tugs. What you want to watch out for, though, is saying an unconsidered yes to a demand that may not—when you think about it carefully—be as important as it seems at first.

Time out for a laugh: Here’s another answer to my question about saying no, from GG member Lynda Myles.

The ONLY reasons why I would say no to a friend’s invite:

  1. I’m hiking in the Andes and I can’t get home in time.
  2. I’m unconscious in the I.C.U.
  3. I have to produce the script/story/article by tomorrow morning at 9 am and I’ve only got half of it done!!! Well, maybe for just a quick drink.​

And these are the excuses I give myself for accepting invitations ​when I should be writing:

  1. I may not have another chance to spend time with this person again.
  2. It’d be a crime to turn down a free ticket to a Broadway show.
  3. There’s NEVER a time when I shouldn’t be writing, damn it! I have a life to live!
  4. I’ll do it another day, when I feel like writing.

So how important is it to you to write? How important is it to you to write today? How important is it to you to write tomorrow?

I’m not always too terrific with this issue myself. I have been known to insist on cleaning up my apartment before sitting down to write—even though I face a wall when I’m writing. It can be hard to differentiate between a) avoidance of (or resistance to) my work, and b) everything else. I can say yes to a movie and regret it later (why did I waste my precious time on that dumb film?)—but I can also struggle at my computer when I know I should be giving myself a rest.

Anxiety plays a big part in this discussion. If you’re anxious about your writing, almost any distraction can be turned into an escape, a “must-do.” But if you’re anxious about whether the kids are strangling each other in the back yard, even the writing you love most can be impossible to focus on.

Often the biggest obstacle to commandeering time for your writing is the fear of making changes.  Let’s say your mom is accustomed to getting a phone call from you every day at four p.m. One day you start writing at 2:30 p.m., and when 4:00 p.m. arrives you don’t want to stop because you’re on a roll. Conflict! You can stop writing and be pissed off at yourself and your mom, or you can keep writing and risk having your mother angry at you.

Or imagine that you’re writing well at eight a.m. on a Saturday and suddenly the entire family piles into your little writing room yelling for pancakes. Or your spouse or partner is making sounds of discontent just loud enough for you to hear when you’re in the middle of a hot chapter. Or a client calls you at home during the two evening hours you’ve managed to eke out for writing, and wants to discuss that morning’s meeting.

There’s also: let’s have sex; the dog is throwing up; we’re out of milk; my boss is coming for dinner tomorrow; Aunt Fussy’s garden party is next week; they need an usher for Tiffany’s ballet recital; my teacher wants you to bake cookies for the class party; someone has to balance the checkbook pronto; and did you remember to buy a birthday present for Cousin Crabby?

Need I go on? I could, and you could too, with your own unique list of interruptions, some of which may be important—and some, not so much.

The time to make changes is before you find yourself flipping pancakes.  And the trick to making the kind of changes that will result in more time for your writing is actually five tricks. Tough ones, and they apply to everyone—married or single, kids or no kids, home job or office job, younger or older.

  1. Explain carefully and resolutely to the people who are going to get less of your time why they’re going to get less of it and how much less.
  2. Accept that those people are probably not going to be happy about it. They might even get mean.
  3. Be prepared to hang in while they get used to the changes. They will, eventually.
  4. Stick to your guns. No backsliding—well, only rarely and only on special occasions.
  5. Remind yourself firmly and frequently that you may be saying no to other people’s needs, but you’re saying yes to your own needs. Yes, yes, yes.

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FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast

Bluestockings, New York, NY

Hyde Brothers, Booksellers, Fort Wayne, IN

King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT

 

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