Embrace your writing community, but don’t be scared to say ‘no’!

This post encourages writers to embrace their writing community, but find the courage to say 'no' when the pressure is on.

Writing can feel like a solitary pursuit at times.
As scribes, we often hole ourselves up for hours on end with just our imaginations and computer screens for company. It can all seem terribly unhealthy.

But it doesn’t have to be, not these days.

The internet has given writers the chance to communicate quickly and easily with other writers. Connect with real people who go through the same creative process and share the same hopes and fears.

Through blogs, groups and forums, we can log on and find comfort in the experience and knowledge of others. We are lucky.

You scratch my blog, I’ll scratch yours

Of course, I’m new to most of this. My background is in creative writing and copywriting. I’ve been part of a number of wonderful writing communities, but blogging is something different. Or so I thought.

Joanna Young, over at Confident Writing, this week asked ‘What advice would you give to new Bloggers?‘.

I was interested to see that much of the discussion focused on the idea of building communities and showing a willingness to contribute. You know, be helpful to others and they’ll be helpful right back.

The conversation was extremely helpful, but one thing struck me: blogging is just like being part of every other writing community I’ve ever known.

It’s a simple formula. You surround yourself with other writers. They read your work and give you feedback. Then you read their work and give them feedback.

The process is invaluable. It’s rewarding. It works.

But, and I’m sorry to say this, there comes a point when all writers have to say ‘No.’

Take responsibility for your writing

I don’t think I would ever have completed my novel without the help of specific people giving up their time to advise me. But that’s all they could do.

The truth is, when it comes down to it, it’s your writing that matters. Writing communities and social networks can provide a fantastic service, but they won’t write your blog, poem or press release for you.

Being part of a community is a two-way process. You can’t expect someone to proofread several pages of work for you and then tell them you’re too busy whenever they ask you to return the favour. That’s just not cricket.

However, your writing is your responsibility. It doesn’t matter how helpful you want to be, if by helping others you are jeopardising your own work, you need to use the magic word.

When is it time to say no?

All writers will have a different breaking point.

You might be a time-management machine and have the ability to juggle your various projects easily. Or, like I used to be, you might be a time-management mess who barely knows what day it is.

It doesn’t matter. There will come a time when someone asks you a favour, and you simply have to decline.

Please don’t feel bad about it.

Your writing is your passion. Your dream. Your income, maybe. It takes time and consideration to provide good quality feedback on someone’s writing. You’re allowed to say no.

For me, it’s time to say no when:

  • you’re struggling to meet deadlines
  • the quality of your writing is suffering
  • your workload is affecting your real-life relationships.

If any of these things are happening to you as a result of too much time spent helping others, you need to start saying no and focus on your own writing.

Exceptions to the rule

There are, as with most things in life, exceptions to the rule.

If your eight-year old daughter wanders into your office and asks you to help her with her homework, don’t slam the door in her face.

If your boss tells you the company may go under and asks you to work late to help out, don’t blow a raspberry and skip your way through the fire exit.

Of course, I’m not advising you to be rude to people or abandon your writing community, whether it’s on or offline. They are wonderful places filled with wonderful people, as I’m currently finding out all over again.

Sometimes, though, it pays to be selfish.

No, that’s the wrong word. It’s not selfish of you to put your writing first. In fact, it’s an occasional necessity. Always feel free to say no.

Get involved

Have you got the give-take balance right in your writing community? Has your writing ever been compromised by your desire to help others? Do you have the ability to say no?


craig@thisfrenchlife.com 10 January 2009 Reply

He may already be on your radar but Merlin Mann of 43 Folders http://www.43folders.com/ writes about gaining a balance so you can be creative as well as involved.
Is a favourite in my RSS reader.

iain@writeforyourlife.net 10 January 2009 Reply

@Craig On my radar, but for some reason not in my RSS reader. That’s been corrected – thank you!

oktoberfive@gmail.com 10 January 2009 Reply

We should be careful when asking for advice, because joining a community and sticking our writing out there is indirectly asking for advice. And people will give it. And you probably won’t like it. Learning how and when to say no is important. And I’ve learned that people, when asked for advice, will want to own your response. You ask for a writing tip, they say stop saying “very” so much, but you like to use that, so you don’t stop. They’ll get mad. They assume that because you asked (directly or not) that you better darn-well take their advice… or else!
On that cynical note, I’d just like to say that I agree: blogging is a great community of communities where we can surround ourselves with all sorts of creative geniuses to help fuel our work.

joanna@confidentwriting.com 11 January 2009 Reply

Iain, one of the things I like about blogging is that the communities are fluid and supportive. It does take a lot of time but it’s time I’d otherwise have spent watching TV rather than writing, so it’s no loss πŸ™‚ And I feel I’ve gained way more than I’ve given. Way more.
Thanks for linking out to my recent post and the conversation there.

george@tumblemoose.com 12 January 2009 Reply

I’ve always found it hard to say “no”. It’s worked to my detriment on many occasion, I have to say.
Lately, the problem is that I am trying to keep the blog focused in a specific direction and there are a lot of requests to participate in things that are not related to my niche. Damned hard to say no to my community, but I don’t want to post off topic.

Balance is hard sometimes.

Loved the post, by the way. Great writing style – I’m gonna go subscribe.



iain@writeforyourlife.net 12 January 2009 Reply

@Ryan You’re right, it can be difficult to ask people for advice about your writing, but I don’t think that should ever stop you doing so. Criticism is always difficult to take, but whether you agree with it or not, it’s almost always invaluable. Thanks for the comment – enjoy your blog.
@Joanna It certainly seems that way and I’m enjoying it so far!

@George Thanks for your comment. It can be so, so tough to say no, especially if it’s to decline an offer that you actually want to take up! You just need to figure out what the most important thing is at any one time, and then focus on it. Sometimes that will be your writing, other times it might be helping out someone else.

Anonymous 14 January 2009 Reply

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dmcneil@dcwis.com 15 January 2009 Reply

Saying no seems to be confused with rejection, or at least the fear that saying no conveys that message. It’s hard for me to say no, always thinking I can get back to my work in a minute and then it takes an hour.I think asking for input instead of advice is what I would do first. Do we really want someone to tell us what to do? or tell us what doesn’t work for them, or what they didn’t understand, so we would know what needed our attention?
I love the little guys you have going for you, and look forward to keeping up with everything here.

drwasy@gmail.com 16 January 2009 Reply

Interesting post. It does take courage to say no because then you run the risk of your supporters doing the same to you.
But you are correct: your own writing must take priority.

I am still at the place, though, where critting my colleagues’ work helps me as much as it helps them.

You’ve got a great blog here. Peace, Linda

jude@fleurdelyspublishing.com 18 January 2009 Reply

To all at writeforyourlife:
I thought as everyone here has a sense of humour you may like to read a blog article I’ve just stumbled upon by a bloke called John Scalzi, entitled How to Irritate and Annoy People in the Name of Blogging. It is funny as fook, made me laugh out loud and was such a relief as I’ve been feeling swamped by the whole desperate “marketing” aspect of many blogs and Twitterers. Yanno, we are all human beings and we all feel as insecure as one another! I think you’ll like this article, anyway πŸ™‚

Love Jude xxx (an appropriate non-corporate sign off.)

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