Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 14, 2007

Writers who say “No”: Care to Join?

The other night at a party, three smart and beautiful women were telling tales about their struggles to say, “No.” One had begun a full-time job, so thought it was time to stop teaching her Sunday school class. To prep for this phone resignation, she wrote a script and put up a poster – “NO!” – by the phone. When recapping this call, she apparently repeated, “No, I cannot do it, no,” every other sentence. The other two women had been, for years, co-organizers of a Christmas pageant. Their story went that one called the secretary, explained it was time for new input and creativity, and no, they could not do it this year… though after some sobbing, she said, well, maybe if absolutely nobody else could do it. Uh, oh, we chorused. Yes, they were back coaching the shepherds and wise men. There were stories of being asked to stuff envelopes, which led into writing notes on them all, and signing them, because hands on those envelopes had led into becoming chair of the PTO for six years.

I laughed at the stories. Okay, I’m president of our local Friends of the Library, since after a grumbling acceptance of the slacker role of v.p. our president moved out of town. And I come from one of the less guilt-ridden religious traditions, though I’m not immune to guilt’s pull: those black-speckled bananas on the counter, can I toss them out instead of making banana bread we don’t need? Maybe I’ve honed an ability to say “no” – just simple no, no caveats, no clauses, just wait out the silence – from spending some years mostly working at home where I put my writing first. We know how quickly that sacred writing time can disappear. I’m touched by the wonders volunteers can do, and if my particular skills seem really needed, I will pitch in, but I feel my writing is unique to me and I want to give it its best shot. To honor what could be, without worrying: will it be worth it?

You’re most welcome to join me — illustrators, too, or anyone!



  1. Say Yes to No!
    Four years ago, I declared it “the year of Debbi” and said a guilt-free NO to all activities and volunteering that would take time away from my writing. It was one of the hardest things I had to learn, but the plus was that I finished writing a novel that year. When I moved here, I made myself a vow that I would not get involved in any organizations or volunteer for anything until 2008. I do want to become active in my new community, but I also need to get my bearings and make sound decisions. Here’s to writers being able to take back their writing time – GUILT-free! 🙂

  2. Glad you brought this up. The years have hardened my feelings of guilt for saying no. Maybe it gets easier as you get older because you realize more and more that you have less time left! For family, though, I always say yes.

  3. Re: Say Yes to No!
    I love “the year of Debbi.” And it’s so smart to get bearings before you start to extend yourself more. Somehow we can really listen to ourselves and know when the time is right.

  4. Jama, beautifully put. And I’m with you on the yes to family and friends-who-are-family. Often that’s why we have to say no elsewhere.

  5. Count me in.
    “– from spending some years mostly working at home where I put my writing first.”
    I’m still working on this. I love knowing there’s a fresh year right around the corner, a fresh start to make writing my priority.
    That’s, um, right after my husb and I take our Jan. vacation. 🙂

  6. I love how you’re thinking of the fresh year.
    And, hey, it’s not like ALL we do in this club is say NO. Plenty of room for vacations, especially! Enjoy!

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