Write It Sideways

Learning to Say “No” to New Writing Commitments

Every so often, we might be given an opportunity to take on a new writing commitment, or we might want to begin a new project in the midst of an already full dance card.

This might include starting a novel, taking on a freelance assignment, launching a new blog, or beginning a collaborative project.

I’m regularly tested with this conundrum. Balancing writing with full-time motherhood forces me to make decisions about what matters most. With limited time to write, I can’t afford to spend time on non-essentials.

What are your writing commitments?

Over the last six months, I completed the first draft of my novel, released a free eBook (‘Read Better, Write Better’ Novel Study Workbook), co-created the 31-Day Better Writing Habits Challenge, completed a freelance assignment (a soon-to-be-published interview with a literary agent), and wrote some guest articles for other blogs.

As of right now, my writing commitments include:

Because of time constraints, I’ve had to turn down some requests from others for the coming year. I’ve also had to learn how to say “no” to myself when I want to work on something other than the things on the list above.

For example, I’d love to spend more time building a freelance portfolio. But, because my main writing goals include publishing a novel, I know it’s more important to focus on my fiction right now.

How do you know if a new project is worth the commitment?

Whether you’re answering to yourself or someone else, it isn’t always easy to say “no” to taking on more than you can handle. How can you be sure you’ll make the right decision?

Try asking yourself these five questions:

  1. What are my current writing commitments? Write a list of all the writing related tasks to which you’ve already committed yourself. Decide which tasks are the most important to you, and which are ultimately negotiable.
  2. How much time do I have to devote to my current commitments? If you’re unsure about how much time you really have to work on your writing, try using a time tracker for a few days. You might find you have more writing time than you think, or you might discover you need to better budget what little time you do have.
  3. Can I make time for new projects? Let’s say, after a bit of time-tracking, you discover you do have an extra bit of time each week. Is it enough time to take on something new? Or is that extra time better spent on one of your non-negotiable commitments?
  4. What would I gain by taking on a new writing project? Before committing yourself to something new, ask yourself what you would really gain. The ultimate deciding factor should be whether or not the project will bring you closer to your writing goals.
  5. What would I lose by taking on a new writing project? If you must sacrifice time working on something that’s really important to you, in order to complete something that’s not so important, you might want to think twice.

Learning to say “no” to new writing commitments

When you’re approached by someone else who wants you to begin a new writing task, just be honest. Tell them how full your schedule is, but instead of simply saying you’re too busy, let them know you wouldn’t be able to devote the time needed to do a good job.

Also, “no” doesn’t always have to mean “never.” It can also mean “not now.”

Saying “no” to others is sometimes easier than saying it to ourselves. When faced with the question of whether or not to start something new, ask yourself the five questions above. Promise yourself you’ll only commit yourself to projects that provide significant gain in terms of helping you achieve your writing goals.

Do you have difficulty saying “no” to yourself or others when it comes to taking on new writing commitments? How do you stay true to your most important writing tasks?