This is the second of the “No is YES” posts. In the first part we established—I hope—some guidelines for thinking about the issue and perhaps even for taking action to grab more writing time.
Melissa Miles, another GG member, wrote this when I asked for the GG’s thoughts: Oh, I wish I had good advice about saying no. The truth is, I’m still figuring out how to do it. I’m a pleaser by nature, so I don’t always realize I want (or need) to say no when I’m asked to do something. I take such genuine pleasure in giving the asker what he/she wants that I don’t realize I should have said no until after the conversation is over. And then I find myself feeling as though I’ve been bamboozled into doing this thing.
She’s definitely nailed a syndrome: automatically saying yes to whatever’s on offer, followed by one minute of feeling pleased for having pleased someone else, followed by an hour (day, week, month) of buyer’s remorse. Take the quiz below; it might help.
1. Your Aunt Naggy phones to insist that she needs your help moving the furniture around. You: A) Cave in and rush over to her house, even though you’re in the middle of a chapter. B) Plead a bad back (sciatica; flu; food poisoning) and suggest she find someone else to help her. C) Say you’re getting a beep and you have to take the call. D) Explain that this week you’re very busy, but you’ll let her know if you have time to help her next week. E) Tell her you’re not a furniture mover, you’re a writer.
2. Your partner complains that you’re always sneaking away to write and you never spend any time with her/him. You: A) Apologize profusely and swear you’ll mend your ways. B) Claim that s/he’s exaggerating—the two of you went out for dinner about, um, two weeks ago. C) Point out that s/he stays late at the office three times a week and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. D) Promise to work out a plan that accommodates both of you. E) Shrug your shoulders and say this is just how it has to be.
3. Your kids whine that no one else’s mom/dad spends so much time writing. You: A) Cry, and hope you’ll get their sympathy. B) Point out that you’re not everyone else’s mom/dad. C) Argue that you don’t spend all your time writing. D) Offer them a bribe: you’ll dedicate the book to them. E) Work on your book at the library from now on.
4. Your best friend accuses you of being thoughtless and uncaring because you never see each other anymore. You: A) Remind her that you saw each other a few weeks ago. B) Ask her how often she sees her other friends. C) Deny her accusation and refuse to discuss it—take it or leave it. D) Apologize and make a plan for your next date. E) Tell her that a truly good friend would want you to keep writing and fulfill your promise.
5. Your shrink muses aloud that you might be a little overcommitted to your work and perhaps you could consider dialing it back a little in order to fulfill your obligations to your friends and family. You: A) Feel like a bad person. B) Defend the importance of the memoir you’re writing. C) Ask what “overcommitted” actually means. D) Point out that your therapist works five days a week at her job. E) Look for a new therapist.
Maybe your particular situation isn’t covered here, but you get the idea. Solve the problem of finding enough time for your work by deciding how important your work is to you—and then delivering some variation of no to whatever or whomever prevents you from doing it.
There really isn’t any other way to go about it: saying yes to your work means saying no to something else. Except in emergencies (defined by you), say no as much as possible to the time-thieves prowling around your life. It’s either that or kick yourself around the block for failing to take care of yourself and your work. You do not want to have regrets.
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
Maria’s Bookshop, Durango, CO
The River’s End Bookstore, Oswego, NY
Third Place Books, Seattle, WA