• The Benefits of Saying NO

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Inspiration     Comments 2 comments

    NOWhen’s the last time you said “no”? To an invitation, an opportunity, a favor. To a family member, a business associate, a friend. How did it feel to say it? What did you do with your time instead?

    I recently read a book excerpt on Medium that got me thinking about saying no. Who does it, who doesn’t, who should, and why.

    This excerpt, called “Creative People Say No,” from Kevin Ashton’s book How to Fly a Horse, tells of a Hungarian psychology professor who requested interviews with creatives (writers, artists, composers, etc.) for a book he was writing. Of the 275 creatives contacted, only a third said “yes”; a third said “no,” citing lack of time as the reason; and a third didn’t respond, presumably due to lack of time.

    That response isn’t so amazing in and of itself, but what is thought-provoking is the care with which these creatives guarded their time.

    Management writer Peter Drucker in his reply made mention of “a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours” because “productivity in [his] experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

    Other responses followed suit, albeit less caustically.

    Time, it’s all too clear, is these creatives’ most precious commodity.

    Ashton summarizes the issue well:

    “Time is the raw material of creation . . . Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.”

    [Tweet “”Time, it’s all too clear, is a creative’s most precious commodity.””]

    So I ask you again, when’s the last time you said “no”? Was it yesterday? Months or years ago? Never? When you say it (if you say it), do you do so to protect your writing time?

    And if not, what if you did? What would your writing life look like then? More productive, no doubt, more committed, more sacred, perhaps even more alive by virtue of your efforts to keep the creative blood pumping.

    Your kids are important. Your spouse is important. Your job is important. Your life is important.

    And your writing is important, too.

    In a vast sea of musts, have-tos, and right-nows, writing is the puzzle piece that’s so easy to forget. It’s also the one you pay dearly for forgetting. Your writing is an extension of yourself, and without yourself, what are you left with?

    Your homework: Say “no” at least once this week, then use the time you freed up to write. Do it again the week after that, and the week after that, and the week after that. Get used to saying no, and get used to using that extra time to write.

    [Tweet “”Your homework: Say no at least once this week, then use the time you freed up to write.””]

    When your resolve to protect your creative time weakens, which it will, remember Charles Dickens, his beautiful books, his greatness, his enduring legacy, and his words to a friend in declining an invitation:

    “‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”

    And so must you.


    Discussion & Etc.

    So are you someone who has trouble saying no? If so, what’s the hangup? If not, what are your strategies for saying no without feeling like you’re letting someone down? Let us know in the comments below.

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    Glynis Jolly

    My problem isn’t saying ‘no’ when I probably should. Mine is the opposite. I don’t say ‘yes’ often enough, missing opportunities that would round out my life experience, which, in turn, would improve my skills and opportunities as a writer. How can I write about a small town in the backwoods if I’ve never been there? Sure, there’s pictures all over the internet, movies to watch, and plenty to read about such a scene, but actually being there, if only for an hour or so, would enrich the writing of such a scene. Because of economic circumstances, I do not… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Saying yes is just as important as saying no, for very different reasons. Do your best to find balance between the two, and your writing life will benefit.

    As for experience, actually being there adds a dimension to the work, of course, but it’s by no means a must. Draw inspiration from historical fiction writers who don’t have the luxury of direct observation and whose imaginations are their most powerful tool. Physical presence is one form of experience; inner life is another.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x