The Importance of Saying No

Young woman with exaggerated frown, hands extended forward in a thumbs-down motion.This week’s post is a quick one: It’s about the importance of saying no.

We once had cookbook author Charmian Christie join us at our writers’ meeting (we belong to the same association), and she said something that I, granted, forgot (and therefore didn’t heed) but then saw again when I recently reviewed my notes. It was this: It’s what you say no to that defines your business, not what you accept.

Think of it like a building with a lot of corridors. When you step into the building and see four doors in front of you, each one leading down a different hallway, you have to say no to three of them to embark on your path down one of them. If you don’t make that decision right away, you end up spending time – maybe years – figuring out which one is the best choice. But eventually, you have to make that decision (even if for the simple reason of finding a toilet). Each step you take further and further down that hallway is one more no to going back.

When it comes to your art, the same rule will likely apply to much of what you do: once you choose a genre or medium, there are certain conventions you have to follow, and you’ve now defined that piece of art as belonging to that genre or being produced using that medium. So, writing a romantic comedy with a gruesome killing befitting a horror novel would likely not be in your best interests. Likewise, if you’re going to write a novel like that, you’re doing so knowing that you’re producing something that goes against convention. Either way, you’ve made a choice to go down a specific path.

Why is this important? It helps you to stay on track. I just spent about 90 minutes today, for example, working on a blog post about learning a foreign language. I ended up saying yes to a lot of ideas, and it got so unwieldy, I had to set it aside if I wanted to hit my goal of one blog post a week this year. (My deadline for this week expires in about 105 minutes.)

The same happened to the first draft of my novel: I wanted to say so much with it and achieve so many things that it became one huge, 92,000-word juggling act. I’m not done with the second draft yet, but I can tell you it’s much more focused and is receiving good feedback.

So, whether you’re planning your business or attempting a new work of art (whatever your discipline is), don’t be afraid to say no to ideas that come along: it will likely strengthen your art rather than weaken it.

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