Monday, January 30, 2012

Just Say No!

by: Mindy McGinnis

From a young age we're taught this phrase. Don't be afraid to reject drugs. Stand up for yourself. Make it clear you're not interested. Walk away. But it seems that if you continue to apply this lesson to innocuous solicitations as you get older, you risk social alienation.

What am I talking about?

Random Kind Person: How would you like to be a Brownie leader this year?
Me: No.

Nice Parent: I'm looking for a few moms to volunteer to watch the younger children during soccer practice, would you like to help out?
Me: No.

Really Cool Book-Type Person: I'm starting an adult book club, would you be interested?
Me: No

When you read the above statements, I kinda come off like a bitch, don't I? And while that's a debatable point, what it comes down to is that there are only so many minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in the week, weeks in the month, and months in the year. I've got time constraints like a sassy nun's got a chastity belt, and adding more shit to the shinola in order to make nice doesn't fit into my worldview.

I started out trying to say it nicely, and be polite, the way my German momma wants me to.

Me: Well, that doesn't really work for me. Wednesday nights I have a knitting class. 
Gleeful Response: Oh but that's OK! We can move to Tuesdays or, meet in the mornings even!

Me: Well, I'm not sure. I'm awfully busy right now.
Cheery Smile: Oh it's not all that time consuming, half hour meetings at the most!

I've even tried honesty:
Me: I don't think I can. See, I'm a writer, and I need that time to write.
Oblivious: You can just bring your paper and pencil with you, and write while the kids are playing!

So, I let my Irish side have a go and I went with the concise, slightly rude, you-can't-explain-me-away answer that those anti-drug assemblies taught me years ago: No.

While our amazing e-friendships and networking reminds us that we are not alone in our journey towards authorship, the fact remains that the act of writing is a solitary endeavor. We need our time, we need our space, we need to get into the groove and hit our stride to make the words start flowing. 

So don't be afraid that you won't be invited to the next Nice People Gathering or Coalition of Really Useful People. Stick to your guns, write your books.


  1. You are so right, Mindy! Sometimes I feel guilty for saying no to things, but writing needs time, just like any other job (I think of it as a job and always have done, even before my book sold). The NPG and the CRUP will just have to wait… :D

  2. Great post Mindy! During the day while the little ones are at school is the best time for me to write. But my oldest's school is constantly asking if I can volunteer for this or that. I have to tell them no, but I feel so bad about it so I give some drawn out, polite no that doesn't always work out right. Maybe I should learn to let my Irish side come out a bit more :p

  3. If only it were as easy to say no to good causes as it is to say no to drugs! :) You're so right, though. If you always say yes, your entire day would be filled with a million things keeping you from your writing. Learning to say no is a skill we all need!

  4. Emma - Yep! You need to take it seriously and *make* others do it too. They'd never ask you to leave work early to volunteer.

    Kela - Get in touch with that Irish side, girl! That's right, I feel bad too, but the long drawn out polite "no," is much easier for them to get around. A flat "No" won't give them any wiggle room.

    Peggy - Trust me, saying no to the benefits is never easy, but... say yes to one and another comes knocking. Better to slay everyone with a carpet, "No!"

  5. I'm getting better at "No," especially with work stuff. The price of being competent--you get leaned on more than the people who aren't so reliable. ;)

  6. Right on, Mindy. My mantra is: I don't owe most people an explanation. Best to be concise and save the wordiness for the sacred page.

  7. LOL Love it! So true. I've had to learn how to say no a lot more lately. Funny thing is, like most things, it gets easier with practice.

  8. I couldn't agree more, Mindy. It's a work in progress, isn't it? And I still get many comments about how I'm not doing anything during the day, anyway, so how about...

  9. I'm sorry to see I'm not the only one who's been pressured to give time that just can't be given...and not always taken seriously as a writer. I've been through similar variations of your sample conversation above. I think many people believe the time required to write is as fictional as our stories.

  10. RC - Yes, your reward for working hard is... more work. Huzzah!

    Julia - Absolutely! Keep it simple, stay focused. I often think of the Tolkien line about butter scraped over too much bread when I'm floundering with extracurriculars. Learn to say no.