Make friends with this word.
It will help you avoid getting distracted, get out of unnecessary commitments and spend more time writing.
Saying no to nonesssential tasks will help you finish your creative work.
In this post, I’ll explain why no is an important word for writers and creative people.
Then I’ll describe the types of activites you can refuse.
Finally, I’ll give you practical tips for using this word more often.
Three Famous Writers On Why Creative People Say No
It’s not rude, impolite or anti-social to say no. Creative People say no all the time:
Charles Dickens wrote over a dozen novels and numerous short stories and essays. He did it by saying no and by focusing on his writing:
“ ‘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”
Next, there’s the Canadian-American writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Saul Bellow.
His secretary once explained:
“Mr Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’ ”
I also like the Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s explanation for why he says no in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running:
I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me.
5 Activities You Can Say No To Today
1. The Wrong Types of creative Works
For several years, I reviewed products and services I had no interest in because a newspaper paid me for it.
This mindless writing stopped me creating the type of fiction and non-fiction that inspires me.
As a writer, you’ll have lots of chances to exercise your creative muscles.
It may feel good to write an email, a page of copy or even an article (we all need to get paid), but what are your larger ambitions for your creative work?
Is this writing project going to help you get there?
2. Good Ideas
The more often you write, the more connections your brain will make between pieces of information you pick up during the day.
Your brain will spit out ideas for articles to write about, projects to take on and opportunities to purse.
Some ideas will be good, some terrible and others plain daft.
It’s easy to refuse a terrible or a daft idea, but it’s harder to refuse a good idea.
Here’s the problem:
If you pursue every good idea, you won’t have time or space for the great ideas.
The next time you’ve got a good idea, ask if it’s worth pursuing and if it’s the type of creative work you want to pursue.
3. New Writing Tools
Confession: I love new writing tools.
I’ve spent hours testing writing apps, online services and even the perfect desk and chair.
Like lots of writers, I find the tools of the craft exciting to discover.
Some tools help me become creative and productive, but when I start using a new tool for the first time, it interrupts the flow of writing.
These tools are side-attractions and, it’s best not to stay to linger in case you miss the main event.
4. Boring Books
Are you reading a boring book? Are you past page 50? Put it down and move onto something more exciting.
Get out of the genres that make you feel at home and away from your old reliable authors.
They have their purpose, but creative people go in search of fresh and challenging ideas. They find them in unexpected places.
5. Unproductive Habits
Do you stay up late at night watching television?
Is Facebook taking up your time?
Or perhaps you’re spending your attention checking emails on your phone?
These unproductive habits are draining your mental energy.
Consider only using social media at predetermined periods and removing email entirely from your phone (I did this and I haven’t looked back) and making a committment to your creative work over all else.
How To Say No Like a Pro
Now you have an idea of what to say no to, but how can you do it without offending your spouse, boss or friend?
Be Firm but Polite
If you feel under pressure to say yes, explain to the person you’re saying no to that you’re working on an important writing project and you’re close a deadline. You’ll return to their request as soon as you’re free.
Then, make a point to do so.
Give the Appearance of Having Said Yes
When someone makes a request, like a manager asking for a report, don’t attend to immediately unless it’s urgent.
Write this request down on your To Do list and get back to writing. Then, when you’re finished, review your To Do list and evaluate which requests you need to act on.
This way you can say no to the interruption while giving the appearance of having said yes to the person (see the end of the post for more on this).
Do Your Most Important Creative Work First
Let’s say you get up early to write or work on a creative project.
Now if somebody makes a time-consuming request during the day, it doesn’t matter if you can’t refuse them. You’ll already have completed your creative work.
You are ahead.
Get the Support of Your Boss
If you’re a professional writer, part of your job is to tell your editor about your commitments.
Then, if your editor asks you to work on something you can politely decline and point to your commitments.
Do less but better.
Set Clear Boundaries at Home
If you’re writing is more personal, make it clear to friends and family members that you write at a certain time every morning or every night.
Stephen King describes this in On Writing, saying writers must “write with the door closed”.
At first, family may come to you during these times to ask a question or make a request, but here’s the kicker:
If you explain your passion and if they see your commitment , the people close to you will respect the time you’re spending creating.
Guard Your Time Like a Jealous Lover
As a creative person the word no is your most powerful weapon against the time-consuming demands of day-to-day life.
You can use the word no to keep meaningless activities from filling you day and to prioritise what’s important in your life.
No will help you finish the type of creative work you’ll always dreamt of.
What’s the next thing you’re going to say no to? Share your thoughts below.