Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The One Word Every Writer Should Know

Posted by: Amanda

As writers I think most of us agonize over word choice.  We’re constantly looking for the best word, the most succinct phrase.  Of course we look to add our personal touches, turn our dialogue and narrative into something that lives and breathes on the page.  But at the end of the day, I think most of us work to make the delivery of our story as clean as possible.  One would think that this would carry over into everyday life, that writers would find it easy to be clean, concise and direct as we interact with the people that thread through our daily lives.  As it turns out, this is just not the case.  There is one word, one tiny syllable that every writer should both know and use.  As writers we should be able to say no.  And yet, for whatever reason this seems to be an ongoing and sometimes agonizing issue for those who write.

I’ve blogged previously about how writing is both difficult and at the end of the day rewarding.  I’ve also written about how writing, for me, is a lot like going to the gym.  I’ve said on numerous occasions that once I’m in the habit of working out my writing muscles things tend to flow more smoothly.  I can accomplish more in a shorter period.  But there is another similarity between writing and working out.  Often it feels like the entire world – including myself – is conspiring to prevent me from getting things done.  And I have to learn to stay on track, make time, and yes, I need to be better about saying no.

As writers we face a difficult set of circumstances.  The truth is people who don’t write very often don’t understand people who do.  Perhaps it is different if the writer in question has attained a significant level of success (though I imagine that has its own issues.)  I don’t know a single writer who has never heard someone say something along the lines of ‘Can’t you do it later?’  To many non-writers, writing appears to be less than work.  I’ve been told numerous times that it’s a “hobby” or “just writing.”  To be fair, I don’t believe that any of the people who’ve said these things mean them maliciously.  But the fact remains that if I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do_________, I have to work overtime” then I get sympathy, murmurings of “you work too much” and a couple of “rain checks” or “maybe next times”.  But take the exact same situation and insert writing in place of my day job and it is the rare occasion that the responses are the same.  Usually there is pleading, negotiating, scoffing, and the occasional accusation of avoidance.

The truth is that the daily life of a writer is riddled with issues like this.  Husbands want to spend time with their wives (and vice-versa), kids need, well whatever it is kids need.  (I confess that neither of these pose issues for me, though I know many writers who have to deal with both.)  Friends want to hang out, day jobs get in the way (I know I sometimes feel guilty for not working more as there is always more work to do.)  And often, so very often, writing comes down to a choice.  I can write or I can work out.  I can write or I can go to happy hour.  I can write or I can date.  The list goes on and on and on.  And unfortunately, this choice is very often not understood or even perceived by those in our lives who don’t write.

As writers we’ve got to master the ability to say no.  No, writing isn’t a hobby.  No, I can’t watch your kids.  No, I can’t go to that movie with you today.  And most importantly, we have to learn how to say no to ourselves.  We’ve got to be better about ignoring our inner voices, the ones that try to play devil’s advocate, the ones that whisper “you can write tomorrow” or  “it’ll only be for an hour” or “I’m a bad friend/mother/husband/father/wife if I take these few hours to write.”  Because at the end of the day, it is a far easier thing to retrain ourselves, to value our careers and ambitions, than it is to educate those around us.  Writing is intensive, deeply personal, and very hard work.  And unfortunately, most non-writers simply don’t have the experience or perspective to appreciate that.  So it is left to us to learn the one word every writer should know.  No excuses.  No justifications.  Just…


About the Author:
Amanda was born and raised in Texas - and due to an unfortunate three year stint in Michigan - doesn't plan to ever live anywhere where flip-flops and sweatshirts don't constitute winter attire. Often audacious and adventurous, she tends to find herself in a slew of dangerous (and hilarious!) predicaments  (law school and fighting raccoons in dumpsters) and thankfully has many friends ready to lend aid (while they laugh.)

When not lawyering, writing, or thinking about going to the gym Amanda is often caught sampling local cupcake offerings and planning to someday co-open an evil bakery and sell dastardly desserts. She currently lives in Dallas, Texas with one regular-sized cat and one jumbo-sized cat, and can be seen writing in public places frequented by hot guys (strictly for research purposes, of course!) with her friends and fellow writers Killer-Cupcake and Pantherista (names omitted to protect the not-so-innocent).

As a part of my Month of May Giveaway!  I'm offering up a 20$ Amazon (or Barnes and Noble) gift card to someone who leaves a comment with their e-mail address on any of the blogs I visit this month.  Everyone who "likes" my facebook page will also be entered in the drawing.  I will announce where I'm blogging on Twitter and Facebook.  Contest ends at midnight May 31st CST.  The winner will be announced on June 3rd.


  1. Excellent post and timely too, especially since the teenage daughter was home and kept pestering me. "No," followed by "writing now" worked. :)

  2. I think the word 'No' is one a lot of us need to learn to say.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. I know saying 'no' to myself is the hardest thing. "No, don't flip over to FB. No, don't check on what is happening with the blog. No, you don't have to go see that movie right now."

    Nice blog!

  4. What a wonderful post, Amanda. The timing is incredibly eerie; I needed to hear this. It's a strong reminder that, as authors, we face the same need to say "no," no matter where we come from.

  5. No is a hard word to learn. I don't have the husband issue, and my kids are grown. My problem occurs in the workplace and in organizations that I belong to. I have a friend sit next to me now, and when they see my hand going up for this committee or that volunteering opportunity, they pinch me. It works.

  6. And being able to say "no" and not feel guilt ... I guess it just takes practice.

  7. I'm not very good at saying no. I always end up feeling guilty.


  8. I'm still learning to say no, but I'm also learning to say yes to certain things because I need them. If I don't allow myself time to take breaks, I get cranky and write less effectively. So it's a balancing act and, IMO, both responses are necessary sometimes :)

  9. Everyone needs that word in their vocabulary.


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