This month has been crazy productive (aka busy) and I thought a good way to put it all in perspective was to make a blog post out of it. I was recently asked the question, “What is one piece of advice that you would give to your younger writer self?”
When my writing career was just beginning I would have said “no” more often so that I would have had more time to write. When I first started I organized an open mic, a book club, a women’s networking group and a writers’ morning out. Because it was the Recession I felt I needed to volunteer and spend time working on unpaid projects, but what that led to a lot of sleep deprivation, stress, and rushing out client projects. I was busy, but I wasn’t productive. Sometimes we use busyness and volunteer activities as a way so others can see how busy we are or as a way to procrastinate from performing the real creative work or deep thinking. Guilty as charged! Or sometimes a family member can say something that pushes off us in the wrong direction (see below).
My now third-grade daughter was a toddler and I was constantly shuttling her from part-time daycare to part-time preschool, using day hours for meetings and my night hours for writing and client projects. Weekends? I worked late into the night on Friday and Saturday, as well as during the day when I didn’t have family duties. Fortunately, I stopped this cycle of workaholism and madness when my work quality suffered and several of my clients weren’t too shy in telling me about my poor efforts. After I wiped the tears, I had a good look at myself and slowly made changes. Yes, I disappointed people because I wasn’t organizing events they had once enjoyed, but I had to stop disappointing myself and my family.
I asked others for guidance, like one of my first writing teachers, Dr. Elaine Neil Orr, author of A Different Sun and Gods of Noon Day, how she got to be so good at saying no. She told me that as a double transplantee, she doesn’t have the luxury of time doing things that take her away from her writing. Dr. Orr is the master of saying no with gentility!
I realize now that my hyped-up busyness stemmed from having to prove my worth to people. When I first became a mother in 2002 I felt that “people,” or the world at large, needed to see I was focused on my work/career and that I wasn’t lazy or lacked focus because I was now a mom. My mother had said to me that being a mom would “ruin my career” and I made the mistake of listening to her words and becoming a workaholic. Of course at the expense of my family. I’m still a workaholic, albeit a recovering one. I do have a compulsive personality and I see it in my son especially—that’s why I don’t want him to have a smart phone right now at 13 because he’d spend all his waking hours on it. I think the trick is to step outside of yourself and separate yourself from the compulsion, the stress to gain perspective. My Reiki practice has been instrumental and vital for me to stop being so compulsive.
Saying no means
Telling folks who want to pick your brain over a cup of coffee that they can consult with you for free … as long as they pay $50 for the coffee.
Getting rid of colleagues, clients and friends who complain, use more than they give, waste your time by being late, or are generally unreliable. This isn’t fun to say no to them, especially if you’ve had a great time with them in the past. Say, “It worked for me in the past, but it doesn’t work for me now.”
Stop working with clients who want the lowest price and want the work done fast. Tell them to go elsewhere—you don’t need the stress and grief. Early in my editing/writing career, I took on any job that moved because I was afraid I’d be broke if I didn’t. This is bad thinking which only hurts you in the long run. If you say yes to these clients you’re pulling time away from your real clients, as well as your writing, meditation, creative, exercise and relaxation time. All of this creative time is so important because when you do it, you’re giving love back to yourself. So if that’s true, working with clients that aren’t worth your time for a few bucks means you don’t value yourself. Aha!
I’m not saying don’t perform services gratis or volunteer your time; I’m saying do these acts of service with intention within your business/writing plan, so that when you’re done you feel abundant, not depleted and bitter.
Saying no is a powerful choice and the more you practice it, the better you’ll be at aligning yourself with your goals and purpose. But it ain’t easy, especially for someone like me who grew up in a dysfunctional family and became a people pleaser. I had to let go of fear. I used to be afraid that if I said no, no one would ask me again for anything, or I’d let an opportunity pass me by. At the time, I didn’t realize that I’m letting in MORE opportunity by saying no, which allows space for the things that matter.
I’ve also found that the act of letting go is a form of no, which can ultimately lead to us closer to what we want!