Harnessing the Power of No

Harnessing the Power of No

No is a complete sentence.

March 28, 2019


This week is mostly going to be story time, so let me share some with you.

When I was younger and single, folks had a tendency to assume I had a lot of free time. I didn't have a husband or kids so I must be sitting in my apartment wishing someone would ask me to babysit or volunteer or do one of a thousand different things.

It was nice to be in demand, but unfortunately my writing really suffered by the extreme busy-ness of my non-work life.

People asked a lot of me and the people asking were friends or family, so I had a hard time saying, "No." It didn't help that I was Southern where being obliging is as much a part of our upbringing as potty training.

But an amazing thing happened when I got married and was carted across the country by my husband's job. I suddenly had a lot more time for my writing. Which made no sense. I had a husband, and pretty shortly I had the joy of morning sickness followed by the pleasures of sleep deprivation, and I still had a lot more time for my writing than when I was single. It was then that I realized just how much of my life I gave away and what it cost me in terms of my writing career. I simply didn't see how much I was suffering from my choice of never saying, "No."

Once I discovered this, I developed a whole new appreciation for the word "no."

Saying No Lets Others Say Yes

Sure, at first there was a certain amount of guilt involved. For instance, I said "no" to Saturday errands, letting my husband take our infant daughter out and about. It gave me valuable work time, but it gave something to them too. Sure, my husband sometimes struggled with dealing with an infant alone, but it was good for him. It helped him know what parenting really is. I grew up when being a dad was a lot more about keeping a job and occasionally yelling at your kids than about knowing the incredible weight of constant responsibility. It was easy for dads then to make jokes about their wives being home all day relaxing because they didn't know any better. But those errand days helped my husband see that parenting an infant doesn't actually involve any relaxing. But it does have moments of incandescent joy. So by taking back my ability to say "no," I helped both my writing career and my family.

You see, being the person who says "yes" all the time isn't necessarily helping people. In hindsight, I can see a number of times when a situation might have been improved if I'd simply said "no" and had given other people a push to step up. Not only is it exhausting to be seen as the only one who can do something, it means there is no pressure for others to learn and grow into that spot.

Saying No Shows Others You're Serious About Writing
There was something else that I realized. By always making time whenever anyone asked, I was reinforcing their view of me as someone with time on her hands.

I also reinforced a tendency not to take my writing very seriously. I didn't have the time I needed, so I didn't advance as fast as I wanted, so that must be proof this "writing thing" was just a lark, not a serious career. When you're in a serious career, you're not available to every whim of every person you know. Imagine how your friends with office jobs would react if people started acting like they should be able to walk away whenever they want. They would be offended by anyone acting like their jobs didn't matter. So why was I basically agreeing with everyone who treated my writing that way? Cause I was a big ol' doofus, that’s why. And now, I'm not.

Saying No Leads to Success
Now I have written over a hundred books for a number of publishers. I carefully plan the time I need to get my work done and when someone asks me to do something, I weigh whether it fits in my work schedule. And I say "yes" when I can and "no" when the work demands it. And everyone I tell "no" recognizes that my writing actually is work, because that's how I treat it.

Have you ever seen those memes where folks ask, "What is your super power?" Well, one of mine is that I can say "no." I can say it, I can stick to it, and I can fight for my career. And I have piles of books to prove it's a fight worth having.

How about you? Can you handle the power of NO? You might be amazed at what you can do with it.

Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.


April 22, 2019

I just had a conversation with my family yesterday about my need to say "no" to them more, so that I can have more "yes" time for my writing. No is, indeed, my superpower.

Marianne Thidling
April 12, 2019

Really needed this one today! Thank you!

Patricia Wisnefski
April 3, 2019

Thank you for this. I’m ready to harness the power of No!

Janis Fields
April 1, 2019

Thanks so much everyone. I'm so delighted to hear you found this one helpful.

Melissa Killian
March 30, 2019

I can so relate! I am single and people assume I have all this free time because I don't have kids or a significant other. I work six days a week, between two jobs, so I actually have very little free time. And that little bit of free time is reserved for writing. But still friends and family try to steal my Sundays because they know that's my only day off. I'm sure I've hurt some feelings, but I guard my free time very carefully. If it's not a holiday or someone's birthday, I tell them no! I need that one day of solid writing time.

Eletthia Joshway
March 30, 2019

Thanks. I was just saying I need to prioritize my writing. No, is not a bad word & I have recently started saying, no to others & yes to myself.

Patricia Cooley
March 29, 2019

Yesterday I felt guilty telling friends I could not meet them for lunch because I've needed the time to write. After reading your article, guilt be gone! Thanks for the reminder that sometimes 'no' is one of the most productive words at hand.

Tiffany Dickinson
March 28, 2019

I needed THIS today. Thank you!

Claire Noland
March 28, 2019

Jan, thanks for this timely article. Sometimes saying "no" is the hardest thing to do but with practice it becomes easier.

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