Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Power of No

By Amy

These past weeks it seems my flesh has been cut away from my bones and there’s very little left of me. The worst part is I’m the one holding the knife.

Instead of feeding my writing, refilling my store of creative energy, I’ve given it all away. You know how it is, there are many demands on our time. The more I try to do, the more I want to do. Truly. But I can no longer allow it to be at the expense of my writing.

I met Ann Patchett a few months ago and she talked about this very subject. When she was asked to be the guest editor for Best American Short Stories, she said she hesitated. Ann said she turned down most requests associated with the writer’s life; she had learned to guard against such intrusions. At the time, and until this week, I couldn’t imagine such a thing.

Oh, to be asked! To be invited to sit on a panel at a writers’ conference and talk about craft with a room filled with others who share the same passion; to be asked to read another’s work and line the dust jacket with compliments; to have bestowed a title of any literary sort, honorary editor, guest judge, keynote speaker. An author could fill a calendar year with such obligations.

But really, those are simply the trappings of the writer’s life. A little bit and we grow dizzy with the fevered pitch, the glory. It’s good to feel appreciated, to give back even. Too much of this life though, and we succumb to the insatiable flesh eating vanity that could devour our work.

I’m not such a writer as Ann Patchett. I am, however, a mother, wife, daughter, friend, employee, volunteer with just as many demands on my time. Now it’s time to learn the power of no. In a way, I’m grateful to have learned this lesson now. It’s my lifelong goal to become an author, to write something honest and true. More than awards, more than bestseller lists and lunches in New York, I want to write something that makes a reader say, yes. In order to do that, I need to be as protective of my writing as I am of my children. After all, my babies are never made to go hungry.

How do you do it?


Melissa Amateis said...

I have very little outside interests besides my job, working out, and going to church. I don't volunteer at my child's school and maybe I should feel guilty over that, but I am not comfortable in those situations. I spent lots of quality time with my kids, even if it's just in little snatches here and there. And when I'm asked to do something (for example, History Day is coming up and they asked me to judge) I really have to think about it because that just takes away my writing time.

On the other hand, I don't want to be completely isolated from the world. But 8 hours of work every day really sucks up a lot of my time as it is.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Doesn't it, though? I grew up feeling guilty if the sun didn't shine, so learning how to say no will take practice. I admire that quality in you.

By the way, I love your blog. I urge everyone to take a peek.


Unknown said...


It's always a struggle to find balance, isn't it?

Thanks for sharing Ann Patchett's comments. I think respecting your identity as a writer means saying no sometimes.

Although it must be a constant weighing bc there are some great things to be had from meeting other writers and going to conferences, etc. . .When we spend so much time holed up with our pages, I guess eventually we are hungry for the contact.

Keep on keepin on!


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...


I have to say each time I attend an event with other writers, I leave recharged. It's a heady thing to be among your people.

BTW, I loved your piece in Brevity; piercingly honest. My mind wandered over to it the other day while I was making beds, always a sure sign of good writing.


Michelle Zink said...

What a terrific post.

I've learned this lesson the hard way over the past couple of years.

I think I've finally graduated from volunteer-junkie, and have learned not just the power of saying no, but the beauty of it, too.

Saying no menas more time for writing and more time for family - the things that really matter to me.

I finally realized awhile back that my kids would rather have me home playing them in a game of cards than volunteering for every committee known to man and being a stressed out psycho-mom.

Guilt is a powerful thing.

But yes! Say no. This lesson is an important one for our kids as well, I think. Especially for our daughters.

It's okay to say no. It's okay to guard closely the things that matter most to you - even if they are things others don't understand or approve of. It's okay to be yourself. Whatever that means.

Great, great post!

Now I'm off to check out Melissa's blog...

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Michelle. I particularly loved that line "stressed out psycho-mom." Oh, the therapy bill!

I will say no much more. Really instrospective post you have up, BTW. The evolution of a writer.

If the rest of you haven't read it, I suggest you go over and take a look.


Melissa Amateis said...

Glad you enjoy my blog. Thanks, Amy!

Therese said...

Well said, Amy.

This is a lesson I'm taking to heart as career demands and opportunities begin ramping up.

I'm working harder than I ever did to protect my creative time, and this is *before* my book has even been printed!

Thanks for the timely reminder.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Therese,you're a wise woman. It's better to learn this now rather than when your book is published and your editor is looking for the next one. Speaking of, I'd better get to work!