Saying No

Guest post by Rochelle Melander

[Innovation] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. —Steve Jobs, BusinessWeek Online, Oct. 12, 2004

I should have said no. I had agreed to a 7:00 AM committee meeting. I love the early morning hours and dedicate it to thought, writing, and exercise. For the most part, I do not see clients or attend meetings until 10:00 AM. But somehow, my inner guardian had been sleeping when a friend asked if I could “help with the PTA.” Suddenly, I was on the board and attending a 7:00 AM meeting. Thankfully, my inner guardian woke up. I’m no longer on the board. Instead, I’m working on a project with the school that fits with both my strengths and availability.

“I should have said no.“ How often do you say those words to yourself? I’m not just talking about volunteering. How often have you:

*taken on a writing project that you don’t have time for?

*agreed to a writing assignment that does not interest you?

*worked with a client who you already know is difficult to work with?

*taught a class for free?

*taken on a writing project for less than fair market value?

We all say yes to projects that don’t work for us. Our reasons are often good ones: we need the money, want the impressive byline, or hope to help a good cause. But sometimes we say yes because we are in the habit of saying yes. We say yes before we even think about how the new project or responsibility will impact our lives. And here’s the rub: we sometimes need to say no to important, valuable projects and experiences in order to say yes to the work that matters most to us. Yeah, that means that sometimes we say no to a project that pays so that we have time to write our novel or finish a nonfiction book.

So how do you figure out when to say yes and when to say no?

*First, figure out your writing career goal. What do you want to accomplish by this time next year? Five years from now?

*Next, make a list of the actions you need to take to get there.

*Finally, next time you get invited to do anything, say, “Let me think about that and get back to you.” I don’t care who is calling you—the head of Putnam or the President of the United States, do not say yes or no right away. Take time to weigh the invitation against your writing goal and the action steps you have already decided on. Ask yourself how this new experience fits with what you are working towards. If it fits, say yes. If not, exercise the right to say, “No!” Then get writing!

Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and the author of 10 books, including a new book to help fiction and nonfiction writers write fast: Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It)(October 2011). Melander teaches professionals how to get published, establish credibility, and navigate the new world of social media. In 2006, Rochelle founded Dream Keepers Writing Group, a program that teaches writing to at-risk tweens and teens. Visit her online at


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