Writerly Life: How to Say No

The Blairzone - 13It’s been too long, readers. And I’ve got no one to blame but myself.

The fall is always the busiest time of year for me; not only am I in the full swing of teaching, but I’m also juggling multiple plates with my writing career. This is the time that many literary magazines open their doors to submissions, so the pieces I’ve refined over the summer are heading out my door, and I’m spending free moments prepping them and sending them. At the same time, I’m writing and editing for our fledgling literary magazine, Two Cities Review, and planning some exciting new projects for the magazine, such as a new podcast (Stay tuned for more info on this exciting venture). There’s personal life and family life. Writing new things and editing old things. Sending out novel manuscripts and sending out stories. In the mess of all this, what’s a writer to do to stay sane?

I’m sure you’ve all been there. There comes a time in your life when you realize you have said yes to too many things; either that, or you’re restlessly, hungrily searching for more obligations even when there’s plenty for you to do already. I live always with the adjunct’s fear: that is the fear that I won’t have a job the next semester. So when I get job offers for other universities, even if the pay is too low and the obligation too great, I find it hard to say no. I was in that position this semester; doing fine with my current course load, but afraid to say no when a new offer came across my desk. I said yes even when I learned I wouldn’t get to design my own curriculum and would have to use their fixed list of readings; I said yes even when they told me I’d have to do three weeks of unpaid training; I said yes even when that training’s requirements became more and more onerous. Finally, I just couldn’t say yes anymore. I came to my senses and realized that I was doing all right, and if I truly valued my own writing, I had to not teach this course.

So now I’m back to just the usual roster of madness, and breathing a tiny sigh of relief that I won’t be worrying about that silliness. But I’ve still got so much to do. It’s the same for all of us, isn’t it? Either way, I’m re-committing to the service that this blog provides. I think it’s important to offer my thoughts, and to help other fledgling writers get on their feet and carve out creative space in their lives. So be ready for a weekly post here at Writerly Life once again.

This week, I’m of course thinking about business. I’m thinking about the heavy obligation of “yes.” When do you say yes, and when do you say no? Does the offer always have to have some measure of joy in it for you? Or is it more important to be paid, and to be paid a non-insulting amount? What are the deciding factors for “yes” and “no”?

For me, when I’m offered a new project, a new job, a new endeavor, my first priority is to my writing life. Will this project help my writing career? Or will it cut significantly into my writing time without offering much in return? Is it worth my time? So often, writers and artists and particularly women writers and artists discount the value of their time and expertise. When you’re offered something, or asked to do something without pay or serious exposure, it’s important to evaluate what you’re worth, and what you’re getting out of it. And if it’s just not going to help you — then feel free to say no. It’s perfectly all right to put your writing and your time, your health and your sanity, first.

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