Protect Your Writing Time: How to Say No to Others

Saying No to Others

Saying No to OthersMaking time for writing can be a challenge in and of itself. It gets even more difficult when others ask for things during the time we set aside to write. It can be hard to say no to people when writing is something we want to do and someone needs us. Plus, it’s easy to think we can just write later. But if we keep saying yes and sacrificing our writing time for others, “later” never really happens.

Learning to say no is vital to a productive writing life, but it can be challenging. Here are some things that help me say no when people ask for my time:

I remember why I’m doing this

Before I was published, I kept in mind that I was prioritizing writing because my ultimate goal was to see my book on a shelf. I would tell myself that if I want to make my goals a reality, then it means saying no to people. It meant sometimes, they may have to wait until I’m truly available to help them.

And really, that hasn’t changed just because my first goal was met. I never just wanted to be published. I want a writing career. And I know that if I don’t prioritize my writing time, no one else is going to do it for me. I will not get to publish another book if I don’t make the time to write and protect that time.

I treated writing like my job years before it actually was my job

For me, this approach started in grad school. Getting an MFA helped me start to think of writing as my work. Granted, this was easy to do when the writing was for a class, but I found once I reframed my thoughts for school, it was really helpful to carry that mindset into non-school writing.

If someone asks me to do something at a time I had planned to write, 90% of the time I say no. Because I’m not really free–I’m working. Thinking of writing this way helped give me a different perspective of my time and has made me feel a lot less obligated to say yes to favors and other requests during my scheduled writing time. If I were to ask someone for a favor and they were scheduled to work, they would understandably tell me they aren’t available. So if I’m scheduled to write, I’m not available either. It doesn’t matter that I made the schedule–I am scheduled to work. This approach has served me incredibly well.

(Click here for more on how to treat writing like a job and the pros and cons of getting an MFA.)

I leave the house

One of the easiest ways to say no is to avoid being asked all together. I’ve found that physically not being around, makes it harder for people to ask things of me. So if you’re someone who lives with other people, or has friends and family members who are known to drop by without notice, you might want to try leaving your house so no one can ask you for anything. Places like coffee shops, Panara, or the library make it possible to work out of the house with little to no cost. If it’s a nice day, you can even take your writing to a park, or another outdoor environment. Don’t be afraid to get creative! You might even find that writing “out” is great for your process. For more on that, check out this post!

I put my phone on silent

Leaving the house may help with face to face requests, but phones and technology make it hard to avoid contact completely. One way to combat this is to put your phone on silent and turn off any email notifications on your computer while you work. And if you still want to be reached in an emergency, most phones have override settings. For example, you may be able to set your phone to ring if the same person calls twice in a ten or fifteen minute period. This way you avoid being asked non-essential favors, but you’re still reachable in an emergency. For more on eliminating digital distractions, check out this post.

I explain why I’m unavailable to friends and family

It’s typically your friends and family who are most likely to ask things of you. I’m lucky to have a lot of friends and family who were very supportive of my goals even before I was published. I’ve found that when I tell these supportive people why I can’t help them, they are very receptive. In fact, they appreciate why I’m saying no and see it as an opportunity to help me meet my goals. Of course, since these people are supportive of me, I do my best to help them out when I’m not writing.

If people don’t respect my reason for saying no, I stop giving them a reason

There are always going to be people who see your goals as frivolous. Even now that I’m published, some people don’t seem to understand that books don’t write themselves. They do, in fact, think I can just “write later” and help them out when they ask. Since I’m not answering to a boss on a day-to-day basis, my schedule seems flexible to them. While this is infuriating, it’s also rarely worth the time and energy of a fight. So instead, I don’t give these people a reason as to why I can’t help them. I simply say, “I’m not around then,” or “I can’t then, but how about [insert available time here].”

Because here’s the bottom line: You do not owe anyone an explanation of how you spend your time. It’s your time. And while it’s nice to share it, you are not obligated to. If someone cannot respect your priorities, they don’t deserve your time. And they definitely don’t deserve your writing time. Don’t explain yourself. Simply say that you’re unavailable.

As always, I hope this helps you say no to others and protecting your writing time!

For further thought: Ultimately, saying no and protecting your time, is creating a healthy boundary. So if you’re still feeling a little hesitant, here’s an article from the HuffPost on the ten benefits of setting healthy boundaries.

Now it’s your turn: Have you struggled to say no to others in order to protect your writing time?  Tell me about it in the comments. If you have any tips to share, you can leave them there as well!

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