Or: how to say no so that you can survive to write another day.
I once knew a gal named Jane
who wanted to write, work, play, and find fame
but she always said yes
no matter who asked
so instead of writing she helped, and went insane.
Saying no is really hard for me. Taking on new projects to help out friends, family, or even strangers, adds a lot to an already busy plate. So I've been learning how to A) back down from commitments made and B) say no to new commitments. Both are hard, but A is laced with more emotion, predominantly guilt, and causes awkward feelings between myself and others. To avoid that, I know I'm better off saying no initially to helping Aunt Tilly pickle her tomatoes, or setting up a bridge tournament for the rehab hospital. An up front NO means they'll go find someone who can. It means the task gets achieved without me losing steam or time.
The writing process for almost every writer includes a secret element beyond angst or love or pain or even inspiration. It includes TIME. Saying no to a new volunteer position (no matter how worthy), more hours at work (depending on your debt load- the thing about writing is you still need to eat!), helping someone move or walking their dog or any of a number of things we get hit with in life, means we are making time for our writing. It may not always feel like daydreaming or reading Murakami or working through old versions of your manuscript is productive to your WIP, but it almost always is.
Writing in it's finest moments is when the process, the inspiration, and the time you invest blend to create work that makes you shine like you swallowed a piece of the sun. It clicks together in a way that can't be rushed between driving kids and folding laundry, nor improved by the beach or good rum. When you add to your already busy day helping your neighbor diy their plumbing, the impact on your writing is magnified; not only do you lose time to work, but your mental place changes, becomes more crowded and rushed. Saying no at 3:30pm for a 4pm PTO bake sale means bad feelings all around, everyone is better off if we let them know out of the gate.
It is always up to us to determine when we are truly too busy to say yes. But it is also our call when something more important comes up (driving a friend to chemo would trump thinking time, I know my limits!). In order to find that balance, in order to put in enough time and feel good about it, it's important to be able to say you really need time to get your work done. To appreciate your own boundaries. The recipe for great writing is not a science (we've discussed this before), but without giving yourself enough time (to edit, think, tap the keyboard, read out loud, etc.) you surely do yourself (and likely your friendships) a disservice.