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Find more time for writing: why writers need to say no

Poster of no

This is not a negative post! This is a post about how you find more time for writing by cutting out extra projects and opportunities that are distracting you. To do that, you have to get used to the word ‘no’. Most new writers have a problem with the word no. However, it’s important that you get used to saying it, not just to other people, but to yourself.

If you don’t want to pay for a premium TV service, you say no. If you drink too much, you say no to the next mojito. And if you don’t want the larger fries on your McDonalds, you say no to a supersize. So why, when you are working on your writing, do you feel the need to take on every opportunity that presents itself?

Why you need to say no to others

When someone comes to you with an project they would like you to work on, consider carefully if you want to work on it. I understand that this seems strange, especially if you are starting out in your career. There is a desire to get as much done as possible, to get  your name in front of the right people and give yourself as many chances as possible.

So the logic follows that the more people you work for, or work with, the more you get your writing out there. But there’s also a downside to trying to work on as many things as possible, all at the same time.

If you’re working on one thing, you have one deadline. Two or three projects gives you two or three people asking you when you are going to finish something. Commitments with a dozen different people mean you have to work to dozen different deadlines.

I’m aware some writers who can spin loads of different plates at the same time and keep them all spinning. But these writers are rare. Far more common are the writers running back and forward (figuratively and literally) trying to figure out what to do next. Their phones never stop ringing, the emails never stop dinging and their faces never display any expression other than that of the totally stressed.

So learn how to say no to other people. It doesn’t have to be harsh, and I would never recommend that you totally shut the door on something. There are ways around saying no. In fact, next week’s blog post will be all about ways to say no – without ruining your relationships.

Why you need to say no to yourself

As well as other people, you’re just as big a threat to your own productivity. Have you ever started some work, only to never finish it? Is the grass always greener when you see a competition?

This links really well with my post from last week about creating three lists that can help you decide what you should be working on. Check it out here.

The sheer number of opportunities out there is overwhelming. I’ve noticed a resurgence in the number of online journals in the last couple of years (has anyone else?) and the number of independent publishers has started to swell as well as authors and readers start to look away from the big publishers. This has led to a huge up swell in the number of competitions, calls for submissions and ways to get your work out there.

Even scriptwriters are getting more opportunities as well. With the rise of Netflix and Amazon, the need for more and more content is growing as both providers look for more niche writing that will attract more viewers and subscribers.

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Even assuming you have the time to dedicate to the craft (and it is a craft) of chasing opportunities, doing it 24/7 can leave you feeling absolutely drained of energy. Some of you may have agents who are doing this job for you, but agents have already perfected the art of saying no. It’s pretty much all they do all day!

So if you’re working on something specific, ignore the competitions page on the BBC, ignore the open submission notifications you get. Say no to yourself and get that piece of work finished!

When you can say yes

So now you know you have to say no, how many do you keep hold of? How many things can you work on at one time? I tell people to find their perfect number of projects and keep to it. For me, it’s three. Three! Doesn’t that seem low? This blog and two stories gives me plenty to get on with, plenty to think about, and plenty of room to stop myself getting bored.

If I get an idea or see an opportunity that I want to take part in, I create a new page in OneNote (other notebook apps are of course available) and keep it for later. When I have space, usually when I’ve sent the WiP (work in progress) to editors, I’ll look back at these ideas and see if any of them jump out at me. Then, with a quick deliberation, I get working on that one!

Find more time for writing

The big benefit for all of this is that when you are being distracted less by new ideas and new projects, you can find more time for writing. And after all, that’s what you wanted to find out, isn’t it?

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