First, a quick apology that I've been absent from the blog for the last few weeks. I hit one of those crazy stretches where I received copy edits on book 4, had to write teaser chapters for book 5, and got macro edits on the 8 parts of the e-serial all within a two week time period. And, of course, during that time, my kidlet got sick and had to stay home from school for three days. So needless to say, things got a little hairy over here. But I got it done (yay!) and it got me to thinking about what our personal limits are.
For all of us, no matter what we do for a living, there is a need to learn how to strike the right work and life balance. And one of the things that's most important to know in order to find this balance is when to say yes and when to say no. I'm notoriously bad for not knowing when to say no. Or knowing I should say no and saying yes anyway because I want to be nice/helpful/friendly. But if you keeping saying yes to things, it will crowd out the things you really need to be focusing on. And that helps no one.
But on the flip side, if you're too rigid and protective of your time, then you may miss out on opportunities that could've made a difference in your career or life in general. So how do you know when to say yes and when to say no?
Here are some things that help me decide.
How to Know When To Say No and When To Say Yes
1. Is this request something that is purely for the benefit of someone else?
There are requests that you'll get that involve doing something for someone else and not getting any real benefit beyond feeling good that you helped out.
Examples: Can you critique my unpublished chapters? Can you donate a critique to this contest/charity/event? Can you hold a volunteer position in this writing group? Can you review my book? Can I do a guest post on your site even though I've never interacted with you before and you have no idea who I am?
How to answer: These are the requests that are lovely to say yes to IN MODERATION. It feels good to offer things in the spirit of giving and volunteering (and it can also build friendships and connections and community). However, say yes to too many of these and you'll be spending large chunks of your work time on someone else and losing valuable time you should be dedicating to your own writing and career. I've had to learn this the hard way. I said yes to too many things and ended up overwhelmed. Now I carefully evaluate each of these requests and the time it would take if I said yes.
2. Is this request something that could offer mutual benefit to both sides?
These are requests that may involve some of your time but could offer some opportunities or benefits (even if they aren't immediate ones.)
Examples: Can you teach a workshop at this conference? Can you do a guest post for this blog? Can you donate books to this contest? Can you offer a cover quote for my book?
How to answer: These are ones that you can easily overwhelm yourself with because it's so tempting to say yes to it all. I *try* to say yes to as many of these as I can (and I used to say yes to all), but now I look at my schedule and time first. I almost always will say yes to doing a workshop at a conference because (a) I like giving workshops and teaching, (b) it exposes my books and blog to new people, and (c) I'm a whore for writers' conferences. But if I got too many requests, I'd have to reel myself in because these are big time suckers if you have to develop an entire workshop.
Being asked to provide cover quotes for books is super flattering. And it's often coming from writers who I already know online or have met, so I *really* want to say yes and help out. I know how hard it is to go out and ask other authors for quotes, and I've had some fantastic authors take time out of their schedules to be kind and read my books for quotes, so I want to pay it forward. But saying yes to too many of these can be an issue. You often have a due date to read the book by and inevitably, your own writing stuff will blow up right around the same time and then you're drowning. And it can get sticky if you end up not loving a book and not feeling comfortable quoting it. Hello, awkward. So I've learned to only say yes in a limited way and only for books that are solidly in my wheelhouse so that there's a high chance of me liking it.
As for guest posts, this is something that will come up quickly in your writing career. First, you're searching for people who will host you, then it flips and people are seeking you out. It's a good problem to have, but say yes to too many and that's all you'll be writing. Say yes as much as you can because exposure is great, but don't drown yourself in guest obligations.
3. Is this request going to directly impact your writing career?
These are usually the requests coming from your publisher or agent.
Examples: Can you squeeze in a novella between this book and that one? Can you work under a shorter deadline? Can you try this experimental format? Can you change this element in your book? Would you be willing to write something in this genre?
How to answer: Yes, if at all possible (and in the case of changes, as long as it doesn't interfere with your vision for the book or your career.) I know this seems like a "duh" answer. Especially if you're not published yet, you're probably thinking, "Of course I'd say yes!". But when you get buried under deadlines and doing promo and trying to take care of your family and all of that, one more thing or project can make you feel like running. You may think, "I can only write a book every six months. If I take on this project, I'll be late on both and it will all be a mess." Well, maybe. BUT, have you really evaluated what your capabilities are? If I can give any advice, it would be this: Know your limits, then realize those are not static.
When I first started writing, a book in six months was a feat. If my editor would have asked me when I sold my first book, hey can you write 3-4 books a year for us? I would've curled in a ball. How could I ever do that? But guess what? When I ended up with a tight deadline on books 3 and 4, I did it. And when my editor said, "Hey we have this new e-serial format we're trying. We'd like you to write one for us, but it means squeezing it into your already tight deadline schedule and there will be no wiggle room to be late." I said yes first and figured out how to do it later. And was it crazy and stressful? Yes. Did I have to say no to some other things from the first two categories to get it done? Yes. Did I do it? Yes. Which means I was capable of more than I thought. But I had to say yes to force myself to find that out. And I'm so glad I did because now I have another great opportunity to get another story out there. If I had said no, the opportunity would have been passed to someone else. And if I had said yes to everything in category one and two, I wouldn't have had time to do this.
So you need to protect your time like a big, burly bouncer standing at the door, but you also need to be flexible to take on those things that "move the needle" (as my hubs would say). Yes, doing things for nothing in return is wonderful and you should continue to do them, but no one should feel obligated to say yes all the time. Because oftentimes saying yes to others is saying no to yourself and your own goals (and family time for that matter.) Find the balance that works for you, and on the flip side, don't sell yourself short on what you're capable of.
Do you have trouble saying no? Have you found it hard to balance your own goals and career needs with the pull of others' needs? What have you said yes to that you're so happy you did? What have you said no or yes to that you regret?