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The Ability to Say "No."

A couple days ago, I was talking to my friend Heather and I declared, "That's it, from September until December all I'm going to do is play an MMO." She laughed at me. I laughed with her. "Yeah, when I told Jeff I was going to collapse for the rest of the year after WorldCon he laughed at me, too. Told me that I always come home from GenCon and WorldCon with tons of projects…and he's right."

Heather looked at me and asked, "Can I ask you something? Do you know how to say 'No.'?"

The question surprised me. "Yes, of course, I do. And I do say 'No.' a lot. Especially towards the non-paying work these days."

But, really, I have a hell of a time saying 'No.' to people—especially when they are offering me cool work and wanting to pay me for it. Jess Hartley and I talked about how hard it was to walk away from paying work a couple years ago. Back then, I didn't understand why she would want to. Now, I do. And, sometimes, I don't manage my time as well as I should. Hence, the last month of juggling chainsaws.

My goals have changed. My work has changed. I'm looking to do more major house anthologies as well as longer pieces of fiction. I've got two longer projects to work on—a novella and a 50,000 word serial—and I've gotten much better at saying 'No.' because I know what kind of time I need for each.

Still, in the middle of those two projects I have two more anthologies, one RPG supplement, one story, one essay, and three columns due not to mention TEoP to publish. Fortunately, as I have all of these due dates in front of me, I'm getting really good at saying 'No.' to new projects. Yes, there are exceptions for previously discussed stuff but we'll see.

And now I realize I've gone completely off my intended topic AKA the importance of saying "No." When you are freelancing, you never say "Yes." to a project you cannot finish on time. So, as a freelancer, you need to hone two abilities: First, to know your schedule and your output rate, meshing the two so you aren't working crazy hours and doing a bad job all the way around; second, the ability to recognize when you need to turn down paying work along with the ability to tell a prospective client, "No."

This latter skill is not that easy. We are trained from a young age to be accommodating. There are ways to say 'No.' while being professional. Things like, "I'm sorry, I am booked out until May. If you want me to work on it after that, please let me know." You have to be prepared for the client to go to someone else. You also have to be prepared for the client to say, "Can you do it if the due date is May 15th?" This is where knowing your schedule and your output rate is crucial.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC)
As an ESL teacher in China, I'm in demand, and I've had to learn to say no, to protect my writing and health and sanity. My writing because people who run schools want as much of my time as possible. I guess my health, too, since I need time to exercise. Protecting my sanity comes from telling my boss, I'll work Friday OR Saturday evening, not both. I have friends, you know.

The thing is, Chinese students are so over-booked, the only time they have for extra English lessons is the weekend. I've found that if I tell people that I'm free Tuesday or Thursday, which is even true, they just walk away, because they want weekend workers.
Feb. 12th, 2011 12:07 am (UTC)
You've got a sticky situation here. Are you a full time teacher in China or are you from another place and going home soon?

If it is the former, you are there are there for the long haul, I would see about carving out personal time during the week, making that sacrosanct and doing the weekend work as needed.

If it is the latter, you should address your health needs but, as you will be going home, you could push yourself harder to accommodate both professional and personal needs.
Feb. 12th, 2011 09:14 pm (UTC)
It's the former.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )