When Writers Say “No”

Saying no is tough. Saying no is frowned upon. The corporate world would have us be a herd of yes-men and the non-creative sector of our social world doesn’t understand why anyone could possibly say no to an engagement to pursue an often frustrating, often rejection-ridden hobby. (For more on “The Stigma of Pen and Paper“, you can check out my post on The Rabid Rainbow Ferret blog today as well!)

There is a fabulous quote by Neil Gaiman from his 2012 keynote address at the University of the Arts where he said, “There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby.  I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.”

I can’t begin to fathom the demands he deals with for his time, but I can take his words and apply them on a smaller, more personally appropriate level. There are days when I realize I have lost an hour reading the same posts on Facebook over and over just because I can’t be bothered to put forth the effort to break the cycle. There are times when I log into the chat room I share with several of my writing friends, only for a moment to ask a question or get advice, and get lost talking about the latest show, the latest book, the latest buzzfeed article, the latest top-ten list of what makes being a nerd awesome. I can watch entire marathons of Property Brothers and Fixer Upper. I can make grand lists of everything imaginable.

The point being… those are my “emails”. Those are the things that keep me from writing. None of those things are bad on their own, but like any diet it’s all about portion control. The act of saying no is the art of portion control.

Art by Marie-Chantale Turgeon on Flickr. Used under creative commons with attribution.

Writers have to say no sometimes. Anyone in the creative arts must say no sometimes. If we don’t say no, the rest of the world will eat our art alive. 

So what happens when we are saying no to ourselves? We can be just as detrimental to ourselves as the rest of the world can be, if not at times worse. I have this horrible concept that I should not be “allowed” to do anything fun or creative or chill unless every single chore in the house is done. Let me tell you how many times that situation has presented itself in the last almost 5 years I’ve had my own home… you guessed it, not once. Because that’s LIFE. This way of thinking only leads to me feeling like I am constantly letting myself down, constantly not good enough, and, more frighteningly, constantly never putting forth real effort into either of my most important dreams (writing poetry and learning Japanese).

I think an argument can be made that subconsciously I am holding myself back. I have a fear of never attaining either dream and because of that I create reasons to stop myself from spending the time on them. If I don’t spend the time on them, if other things keep me away, then it’s not really my fault that I failed. A part of my brain seems to believe it is better to fail without trying than to try and fail miserably anyway.

We are required to say no not just to others in the pursuit of our goals, but to ourselves as well. Saying no, when done to create the time necessary for your artistic pursuits, can open doors rather than close them.

To what or whom should you be saying no to foster a more positive environment for your art?

(Art by Marie-Chantale Turgeon on Flickr. Used under creative commons with attribution.)

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2 thoughts on “When Writers Say “No”

  1. Saying no is hard, especially when it’s friends or family who you either don’t get to hang out with often, or who you really like hanging out with.

    I do find it harder to say no to myself than most other things, though.

    And saying ‘no’ at jobs can be hard. As soon as I stopped saying no to ALL my schedule readjustments (especially the ones that came with less than 8 hours of notice) at a previous job, there were a couple of the managers that definitely changed their attitudes toward me. It was frustrating – because all I wanted was to not get woken up in the middle of the night to be asked to come in early.

  2. I’m very protective of my writing time. Once I made the decision that a piece of every day will go towards a writing project, the stubborn side of me kicked in and refused to let anyone or anything take that time away from me. I’m very lucky to be surrounded by people who know this about me, so luckily I haven’t had to say no very often!

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