All my life, I’ve found saying No to certain people and situations difficult. I’ve done things I didn’t want to do for people who may or may not have actually been grateful in order to achieve goals that weren’t mine. As you might imagine, I became an easy mark for anyone needing… just about anything. Newsletters written, belongings moved, furniture stored, books edited. I took on all sorts of tasks, many of which I was good at, because I was striving to “be a good person,” whatever that meant.
The end result, as you might imagine, was me suffering frequent migraines from stress and seething resentment when my help wasn’t valued the way I thought it should be.
Something within drove me to taking on these little projects — a sense that if I worked hard enough, gave enough, and helped enough, then I would be loved, accepted, and worthy. Many hours of personal work taught me I couldn’t earn love and acceptance from outside of myself, and the liberation that came from saying No (in a kind way) to all these requests was incredible. I could finally breathe!
The $64,000 question: What does any of this have to do with writing?
The two-bit answer: Old habits die hard.
While I didn’t take on other people’s projects, I still tried to fill my time with projects of my own devising. When I stopped working a full-time day job and started writing for Silhouette Bombshell, I had what I perceived as scads of time to pursue all kinds of new projects. The result of this activity could be good — the JABBIC was a direct result of my having some spare time — or less constructive — writing a screenplay based on an Isaac Asimov short story that a director-wannabe friend of mine requested and that never got off the ground.
The work that needed to be done while I was writing for Silhouette was… writing for Silhouette. And while I did that (mostly), I also wasted enormous amounts of time on non-writing activities that weren’t even career-related. My brain was telling me that I had tons of energy to apply to these projects, even when I didn’t. Because that’s how I’m wired on a very basic level: I have high mental energy and low physical energy, so I always think I can do more than I actually can.
Hence my tendency to overcommit.
Which brings me back to the writing. These days, I live with my significant other, who also works from home, so we’re together most of the day. My spiritual practice requires about an hour a day, more on the weekends. My nearly full-time job requires most of my brainpower on my work days and that I travel out of town periodically. I volunteer for my local writing chapter. I do other volunteer work that can take between one and four hours a week. From time to time, some folks for whom I’ve done contract work will email or call, requesting additional projects. Writing chapters need judges for their contests. And so on.
Are you seeing any actual writing going on in that list so far? Do you think that if it doesn’t turn up on my To Do list, it might not get prioritized?
And that’s where I might start to see some truth in what I’m doing. If I were to log each day’s activities for seven days straight, I know exactly what I’d see: 8 hours of day job, 1 hour of spiritual practice, 2 hours or so of time spent with my partner, and everything else crammed into whatever’s left when I’m not sleeping, doing chores, weeding the garden, and so on.
If “everything else” isn’t writing, then I’m saying the writing isn’t all that important to me. If “everything else” includes faffing around on the internet or reading the newspaper or what-have-you, and at the end of the day I don’t have the number of words I’d set for my goal, then I’m saying the writing isn’t all that important to me. If “everything else” includes caring for an ill loved one or taking on the second job to send the kid to college, then I’m saying the writing isn’t as important to me as the person I love so much.
Because sometimes, for a week or a month or a year, it’s okay to Just Say No to “being a writer.” We’re writers when we write, not when we want to write or plan to write or read about writing.
Every day, we get to choose who we are and what we want to be, where our heart is and what we expect of ourselves. The best part is, There’s no shame in any choice we make. As my spiritual tradition says, we’re always on the path even if we don’t see it.
What are you choosing to do and be today?
Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.