One of the skills that a professional writer has to develop is the ability to say no.

No to social invitations. No to interesting projects. No to clueless asks.

It isn’t an easy thing to do, but when I’m under deadline, saying yes to them means saying no to myself. No to my novel. No to my career. No to my sleep.

Somewhere along the line, Steven Pressfield (one of my mentors) said, “You can’t be a pro if you can’t say no”.

Another mentor of mine, Tim Grahl, said something similar to me recently. In a conversation about book marketing, my latest wild idea, and an “opportunity” that had come my way, he said, “Remember what we’re trying to do here”.

The Muse works in mysterious ways and I believe she used Steve and Tim to let me know I needed a course correction. If I’m going to achieve the goals I’ve set, I have to start turning stuff down.

To make sure I got the message, she sent a third mentor of mine, Shawn Coyne, with a test. Shawn is working on a project that is honestly very cool, and he asked me to be part of it.

Now, Shawn has forgotten more about stories and storytelling than I’ll ever know, so whenever I get a chance to work with him, I jump at it. This time though, I had to say no. Oh boy, that was hard. Of course, when I explained why, he understood.

The Muse wasn’t finished with me yet. She sent yet another message via yet another mentor; Bob Proctor. In a recent seminar Bob said, “‘No’ is a complete sentence. Stick to your knitting”.

I’d said no to social invitations and no to interesting projects, but I was still wasting my time saying yes to clueless asks.

Clueless asks are not malicious asks, and the people making them are not bad people. They’re simply amateurs. As Steve explains in Learning to Say No, they have either “demonstrated that they have no respect for my time—and no concept of the value of what they’re asking me for,” or “they have not done their due diligence”.

By replying to these clueless asks I was also demonstrating that I had no respect for my time.

As soon as I realized this, I got three clueless asks in a row. It was another test. Not replying felt rude and even arrogant. After all, these are fellow writers.

There was absolutely no way I could do the months of free work they were asking of me, but I felt I should explain why. I burned up precious hours and mental energy agonizing over how best to respond in a kind and instructive manner.

That is, until today.

Today, my mentors’ words came back to me.

“You can’t be a pro if you can’t say no.”

“Remember what we’re trying to do here.”

“‘No” is a complete sentence. Stick to your knitting.”

I cannot allow clueless asks to occupy my headspace. Period. I need to be ruthless with my creative energy and my time.

Saying no to social invitations and interesting creative projects is part of what it means to be a professional writer. Ignoring clueless asks is another part.

Those who support me will, like Shawn, understand when I say no.

Those who don’t?

Well, I’m learning to let that be their problem.

About the author 

Valerie Francis

Valerie Francis is a bestselling author, literary editor, and podcaster with a passion for stories by, for and about women.

Each month, Valerie recommends books from literature’s best female authors. Selections come from every genre because women write, and read, in every genre. The Women’s Fiction category offers up some terrific novels, but these days there’s a strong female presence in thriller, horror, crime, and other genres traditionally dominated by male writers. No matter what the publishing companies may think, in the 21st Century, Women’s Fiction is whatever we want it to be.

stories for women, by women, and about women