Saying ‘No’ — A Successful Writer’s Must

There’s no one way to build a successful writing career, but there are essential ingredients. One of the most important, I believe, boils down to two little words: saying no. Think about it. How can we produce our best quality work and continue growing, day after day, year after year, if we’re bogged down by needless obligations?

If I sound harsh, don’t worry; becoming selfish writing-only ghouls isn’t the goal. And supporting others and taking time away from writing are invaluable. But there’s a big difference between saying ‘yes’ to every request for a favor, lunch date and job offer, tending to others instead of our craft and careers, and obliging when it matters most. Each time we say ‘no’ to obligations that detract from our success, we strengthen our commitment to our work and step further into our dreams. While it’s not always easy, it’s worth it. And it does get easier along the way.

Seven Ways to Say ‘No’ With Greater Ease

1. Swap guilt for gusto. It’s not easy to tell your pal you can’t meet for lunch or walk her ferret. But if doing so takes away from your writing, is it worth it—even to your friend? If she asked you if you could “please walk Snoopy instead of progress as an author,” declining would be easier. So view it that way. Once you’ve made your decision, make the most of that preserved time. Productivity breeds gusto and kicks guilt in the keister.

2. Feel the twinge. When someone asks you to take time away from writing, listen to your gut. As some of you may recall, ‘saying no’ played a big role in divorcing my acting career. The more auditions and offers I turned down, the more apparent the right decisions became. Now every time a question sounds, I feel the twinge—a no-longer-subtle stir inside that tells me exactly how I feel. Awareness and practice strengthen our ‘saying no’ muscle. So even if you can’t yet abide by it yet, start honing in on the twinge.

3. When in doubt, take time out. When we’re put on the spot, we are much more likely to yelp, “Sure! Anything!”… on the outside. When your palms sweat in the face of a time-sucking request, tell the person you need to think about it. Or call them later. Or say “hang on!” and rush away to your private cave. Whatever it takes to give yourself that privacy, which often brings clarity, do it.

4. Weigh your options. How much time and energy would fulfilling the request take? What are the consequences of committing versus declining? Is there a way to fulfill the request and still get your work done? How much of your desire to commit stems from guilt or perceived obligation, and how much from genuine desire? How important is the task to the asker? Looking at a situation from all angles can help clarify our decisions.

5. Speak your passions. Talking about our creative goals, progress and priorities gives them breath and deeper meaning. When we say “I’m now prioritizing my writing,” “I am a writer,” or “I’m stoked about my loaded work day” (referring to writing), we’re more likely to believe ourselves and take our work seriously. Sharing our priorities with others also helps keep us accountable.

6. Sleep on it. Ever wake up with an epiphany about your WIP? I know I have. Our brains work through questions and conflicts during sleep. Sometimes the best way to recognize the best decision involves catching those zzzs. Try not to stress too much just before bed, however. Not sleeping enough or well can have the opposite effect. For useful information on sleeping better, check out MayoClinic.com’s Sleep Tips.

7. Hold yourself responsible. No one can make us take on endless favors, tasks and responsibilities. Blaming the friend who calls or the ferret who needed sunshine won’t do anything but increase our grumpiness. And probably other people’s. And maybe the ferret’s. We make our own choices, so choose your goals and dreams. Go after them like the protagonist in your novel, and never, ever back down. You don’t need anyone’s permission but your own.

Do you overload your plate with non-writing commitments? Have you mastered your ‘saying no’ capabilities? Any tips to add or challenges to share? I’d love to hear your brilliant thoughts. 🙂

Leaping Smart: Useful Steps for Authors

“Leap, and the net will appear.”
—John Burroughs

I’m a big fan of leaping toward our dreams, fueled up on faith and determination. If we hold off, waiting for that “net”—i.e., the perfect job offer, mate or opportunity, it may never appear. That said, effective leaping takes a lot more than gusto and springy legs.

Today marks the end of a near 40-year career for someone I admire and respect more than most anyone—my dad. His dedication and commitment to UPS, the company he’s worked for, is something we can all learn from. He worked his way up from loading packages to landing and managing top, international accounts. He created and nurtured friendships with coworkers, treated (and still treats) everyone he encountered with equal respect and never let his work come before his family.

Far more than an end, Dad’s retirement is a beginning—one he’s anticipated and planned for with thoughtfulness, organization and, I sense, glee. He didn’t leap too soon, after frustrating days or times, or too late, out of fear of what lay ahead. In other words, he’s a smart and savvy leaper.

In honor of this landmark day, here are six ways we authors can learn to leap smart, increasing our odds of living happily and creatively ever after.

Leap Smart Steps for Authors

1. Listen to your instincts. Research shows that our instincts frequently strike us first on a visceral level, relaying important information before our consciousness catches up. In other words, there are valid reasons your gut tells you to focus more on craft, quit your day job or start that new creative work. If we rationalize ourselves out of listening, we may never discover what we’re capable of. To hone in on our instincts, buddhist physician Dr. Alex Lickerman recommends we take pause and listen for that inner-voice; awareness can go a long way. I’ve also found journaling, therapy, quiet hikes and talking to loved ones helpful.

2. Don’t self-publish out of desperation. You’ve slaved over that novel, read, revised it and shared it with trusted, well-read friends who gave it a unanimous thumbs-up! And dang-nabbit, you want it published. So you send out twenty e-queries and a week later, you’ve received ten replies, all rejections. A smart leaper views this as a natural part of the process, ten ‘noes’ toward a ‘yes.’ The not-so-swift leaper heads straight to PublishItNow.com and sends an email blast announcement to friends: “I’m published!” There are loads of terrific reasons to self-publish. Desperation is not one of them.

3. Practice patience. Whenever I reach the end of a draft, my inclination is to send it, print it, share it! When I’ve done so, I’ve found loads of errors and other reasons I should have waited. When we rush, we run the risk of bypassing our instincts, acting on desperation and producing low-quality work. When a flurry of “Must do it now!” strikes, take a breath. Passion and eagerness are great attributes. Add patience to the mix and you’re gold. For a dose of inspiration, check out Marc Schuster’s post, A Setback Circa 2004—a great example of perseverance paying off.

4. Trust the process. Many “overnight success” stories derive from years of hard work. Envying others’ success or wallowing in frustration (“It’s not FAIR! I’ve been working so hard and so long!”) are counterproductive. Invest time and energy into steady progress instead. Write routinely. Take craft and career pointers from qualified professionals. Then write and write some more. Slow and steady also wins the race when it comes to building social media platforms. In 10 Ways to Improve Your “Likability” Quotient, Kristen Lamb shows us why the quality of our readers and connections trumps quantity big time.

5. Savor the leap! Once you decide to leap, whether toward more daily writing, a new creative venture or less hours at your day job, do it with gusto! Share the accomplishment with friends. (Yes, leaping is an accomplishment in itself.) It’s natural to experience some level of nervousness post-leap. (“Agh!!! What did I just do?!?”) Taking time to reflect on how far you’ve come, what you foresee in the future and celebrating it all can work like chamomile tea for anxiety. For insight on keeping our fears of failure and success at bay, read Marcy Kennedy’s post, Icarus and My Fear of the Sun.

6. Get to work. Even smart leaps will land us on the pavement if we fail to follow them up with necessary work. Sitting around wondering if you’ll finish that book, surfing the internet or partying too long in post-leap glory won’t put words on the page. Leaping takes time, but reaching our full potential as authors takes a heck of a lot more.

What about you? Have you taken a big leap? Are you considering one? Any suggestions to add? I always love hearing your thoughts!

Happy Leap Year! I hope you do something to make yours special.