Accentuate the negative

“Are you sure this is a gastro pub?”

It’s a common theme that writers exist, by and large in a vacuum. Non-fiction writers are more likely to have parameters to work within – client deadlines and briefs. For fiction writers, those boundaries may be set by a writing competition, or else by agents’ and publishers’ stipulations. But if you’re creating from scratch, without a definite home in mind for your work, you’re on a voyage of discovery.
I’m all for the wide-open horizons of creativity and possibility, but I thrive on boundaries. Give me one hour, or 400 words, or 10 topical gags today please and I’m like a pig in a trough filled with acorns.
Boundaries, limits, constraints – call them what you will – are a great incentive to focus on the job at hand and to make sure you deliver.
In my experience as a writer and a coach, it’s about setting priorities and applying elbow grease. So far, I’ve yet to hear of a freelancer who suffers from writer’s block. I’ve heard of some who spend too much time on a job, or who burn the midnight oil to get the darned thing into shape, but never brain freeze. Maybe it’s the money; maybe it’s professionalism.
Perhaps it’s the power of ‘No‘. It’s a great word, much maligned in our culture of possibility and freedoms. The word ‘No‘ gives us definition, a (usually) non-negotiable position and an opportunity to take note and then go and do something else.
We focus on writing by saying no to other things (yeah, like a social life!).
An agent’s no asks us to consider whether there’s more work to be done on our manuscripts, or whether we’ve done our homework about where to try and place our work.
A no can force us back on our inner resources. That first rejection can feel brutal, but no writer I know of has ever said it stopped them developing as a writer – quite the opposite, in fact.
No is the reality check from the world outside our control. We cannot always understand the motive, but we sit up and take notice. To do otherwise would be folly.
Our nos may also be subtle – coming in the form of limits on our time, or our enthusiasm. We ignore them at our peril.

So the next time you’re surrounded by possible projects all clamouring for your attention, or friends who think writing is a hobby and not a vocation, or a submissions list that is almost a good fit for your work, try saying no
To coin a phrase: There’s sure business in no business.

Let me know what you no.


  1. Chloe says:

    I say no to writer's block. I don't believe in it!

    (I also say no to Google+ but that's another story 😉 )

  2. I agree with the former and I'm still not convinced of the benefits of the latter. I'm a great believer in the mantra of 'well go and do something else then'. As to the joys of an integrated online presence, you've already highlighted one issue with it so I'm inclined to stick primarily to blogs and Twitter.

  3. Monika says:

    No is good. I say it a lot. Except, unfortunately, when offered ice cream.

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