You know that Daft Punk song,* the one that’s like “do it harder, make it better, move it faster, make it stronger?” Yeah, that one.
If you’re anything like me, sometimes the pressure to keep grinding like that can be a real motivator. We want to be the best writers, editors, and overall storytellers we can be, right? Right.
But, at the same time, using only the Daft Punk approach can become harmful. If we force ourselves to chase down every new idea, take on every possible editing project, or dive head-long into every project that presents itself, the pressure that once motivated us can become overwhelming.
And that’s why it’s okay to say “no.”
Look, I’m not going to go full Nancy Reagan on anyone and launch a well-intended but ultimately short-sighted “just say no” campaign—that’s not what this about at all (and aren’t we all glad for that?). It is true that, if you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to get words down at some point. If you want to be an editor, you’re going to have to edit at some point. If you want to be a train conductor, you’re going to have to, I don’t know, go to train school or something.
But that doesn’t mean you have to do all of those things at once.
Recently I’ve found myself feeling as though I’m drowning in writing-related projects, so much so that the -related has started to outweigh the writing, which is really what this is supposed to be all about in the end (for me, anyway). What happened to the simple days of waking up, writing in the morning, writing at lunch, and being satisfied with that? Why is it now all “schedule tweets in morning and then send out podcast interview questions and then launch new marketing initiative and then evaluate other marketing initiative and contact future guests and edit manuscripts A, B, and C, for clients X, Y, and Z?”
Well, it got that way because I let it get that way. I said “yes” to everything, which then crowded out what led me here in the first place.
If I’d had the courage to say “no” to a project here and there, I might find myself actually in a position to truly chase down some of the new novel ideas I’ve been brainstorming, or actually immersing myself fully in the query process for Accounting for it All.
When finding yourself in a similar position, keep in mind, too: “no” is not the same as “never.” Time and project management inevitably become part of our writing journeys, and knowing when to say “no for now” versus “not ever” is a skill we have to fine-tune over time.
Like all things in writing, it’s something into which we can grow and at which we can improve if we’re conscious of the steps it takes to get there, and put it to practice whenever appropriate.
So keep saying “yes,” but remind yourself that learning to say “no” now and then is a skill that’s just as important.
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*Yes, it’s from a Daft Punk song, no matter what Kanye might want you to believe.