Elegant in its simplicity, the word no is an essential ingredient if one wants to be a writer. Why? A dear friend wisely told me that when we say no to one thing, it allows us to say yes to something else.
And what is that “something else?” Writing. We will never become writers if we do not carve out time to write.
But choosing to write is choosing ourselves, and that, my friends, is a hard choice for many of us. It feels almost selfish, which is equal parts ridiculous and sad. Instead we say yes to obligations and tasks deemed more essential by some higher power called SOCIETY. Yes, I’ll do the dishes. Yes, I’ll mow the lawn. Yes, I’ll volunteer for that extra shift because so-and-so called in sick.
This does not mean saying no becomes a free-for-all. I, for one, actually feel a bit more settled to write if I have a clean space to do so. But, do the baseboards need to be scrubbed as well? The answer is probably no. It becomes a balancing game: do I want sparkling floors, or do I want a rough draft of a piece I’ve been daydreaming about?
Now we sometimes say “yes” out of avoidance. The blank page can be scary. Yes, I’ll stay for one more drink. Yes, I’ll sleep in late. Yes, I’ll binge-watch all nine seasons of The Office with you. But if you are a writer, then you are someone who gets a deep satisfaction out of creating. It’s up to us to make sure those creative needs are met.
The word, no, is not just an essential ingredient for writers: it’s an essential ingredient for everyone. It’s not a new concept: Vernon Howard’s self-help book, Your Power to Say No dates back to 1981. However, the concept of saying no has been gaining traction in recent years as cultural demands for constant productivity infiltrates our lives. Sometimes, we need to say no just so we can sit and breathe.
So how and when do we say no? I’d recommend sprinkling the word into the batter of your life, rather than dumping the entire box’s contents, especially if you’re someone who uses yes with reckless abandon. Try first by saying no to something monotonous like putting away the laundry (I promise it will still be there tomorrow) or saying no to working through your lunch. Gifting yourself those thirty minutes to write might be enough to fulfill your writing needs.
But maybe you’re ready to dump a box of no into your life. That’s what I did, in the spring of 2019. I said no to teaching, after fifteen years in the trenches. It’s the hardest no I’ve ever uttered: it completely transformed my day-to-day, but it has allowed me to say YES to so many new and exciting writing opportunities.
I encourage you to try an experiment: add a pinch of no into your day. Find an opportunity to say no, just once. Then, fill the space saying no created, with writing. Even if it’s ten minutes. It’s a start.
So, go on. Say no to [insert task here], then say YES to writing!
Essential Ingredient for a Writer’s Life:
At least a pinch of the word, no.
Season to comfort level.
Did you say no this week? Fantastic! What kind of writing did you fill your yes time with? Let us know in the comments!
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