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How writers can say no (and keep their relationships)

How writers can say no (and keep their relationships) banner

This post is a follow on from my post last week about saying no, and how that can help you find more time for writing. This week I’m going to concentrate on how writers can say no. You don’t have to have read that one to make sense of this one, but it will help.

One of the reasons that people are usually worried about saying no is the potential damage it could do to your friendships and contact list. We are programmed as humans to always seek approval from our peers. However in the long term that can be to our detriment, as we constantly run from project to project trying to please everyone and churning out a lower quality product.

It is far better to work on a few projects to a high standard than a dozen low quality stories at the same time. So it’s important that writers say no and still keep the relationships they need so that future opportunities come their way as well. Before I give you a few reasons to use, you need to understand the hierarchy of bad news:

Face to face > Phone > Email


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How many times have you read a tweet or text message and completely missed the sarcasm? Or the finer points of the language used? It’s probably only a matter of time before a poorly worded tweet brings down a government. I’m aware that writing a blog like this (which I’m hoping readers interpret as a little tongue in cheek) could be seen as smarmy and condescending to people who don’t know me, or are in a bad mood, or have had a difficult day.

Or – here’s one that most writers will understand – how many times have you received a short email rejecting your submission? And how many times have you had a phone call telling you exactly the same thing? The chances are that you have a much high opinion of the person who called you up, rather than emailed you.

I toyed with the idea of using a break up as a metahpor, but I don’t want anyone reading this to think I’m having a go at them!

So make a judgement on not just what you’re going to say, but how to say it. If you’re saying no to an annoymous pitch that you can see has been sent to a hundred different authors, then use email. However, if someone has gone to the trouble of meeting you and putting together that you’d love to work on in a different life, maybe a quick call to explain your reasons might be better.

People appreciate honesty and will respond well to it. At least, that’s my experience.

Be honest: you know why you are saying no

Another plug here for last week’s post. You have to be certain why you’re saying no before you tell someone. Don’t try and sugar coat your response, or come up with excuses that bear no link to the real reasons you’re saying no. If you do, people will poke holes in the excuses and start to ask you some really awkward questions.

Like choosing your method of communication, honesty is key in making sure that people respect you as a professional. If you are honest with people, they will respect you, and they will try again. If you really loved what they were proposing, maybe the next time they talk to you, you might say yes. But if you destroy that relationship with (what you think) are face-saving platitudes, they might think you fake and not bother again.

Remember, saying no is not just difficult for you

It’s true – no might be a difficult word for you to say, especially if you have a real excitement around a potential project. But for any real people you have to say no to, it’s even harder. They have risked something by putting the offer in your lap, and they are risking rejection by trying.

I’m sure all writers can appreciate the fear of rejection. Some might think we lack sympathy when we’re in the position of power. Others will argue that it’s probably human nature. And one or two might say that writers are all evil people deep down.

I don’t think the above is the answer. I think that writers are just, in the round, bad at saying no. Hopefully, though, the advice above will make you feel more positive about saying no.

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