A writer’s aching back and the “saying no” problem

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Learn how a fight with a clerk in a back shop reminded me of the importance of not saying no.

I have a twitchy back.

Like many people, I was born with some scoliosis — an S-curve if you look at the back from the rear. And I also have some caiphosis — a C-curve if you look at the back from the side.

Of course it didn’t help that I chose writing and editing as a profession. Having back difficulties and spending all day hunched over a keyboard is a bit like waving a forbidden lollipop in front of a three-year-old. You’re asking for conflict.

Recently, my back has been even worse than normal. I’ve been going for physio and doing lots of back exercises but my husband fingered my chair as the culprit. When I suggested maybe I should consider getting an Obus form for it, he said such an enthusiastic “yes!” that I wish I’d suggested a trip to Florence.

Anyway, I went to an ergonomics shop and tried out several models. They’re pricey — and unreturnable — and when the clerk suggested I take a loaner home, I leaped at the chance. I returned to my office, inserted the form and knew it was the right thing immediately.

Today, as I write this — a few days in advance of going out of town for 12 days — I went back to the shop to return the loaner and buy the real thing. The backrest portion was no problem, but the seat part of the device was missing. “Oh, no,” said the clerk. (This was the first time I caught her saying no.) “We don’t have any in a matching colour.”

Now I don’t have a finely honed aesthetic sense, except when it comes to words, but even I knew that mismatched colours would be a mistake — especially at the price they were charging. The clerk offered to bring in a model from Langley — an outer suburb of Vancouver — but it would take a couple of days. Could I come back in then?

Well, no, because I was working flat out, preparing to go out of town. We looked at each other for several moments before I came up with a suggestion. Could I buy the back support and borrow the loaner seat until my return to town? The clerk smiled and turned to her colleague. “Is that okay?” she asked.

“No,” said the colleague with a bristle. “That won’t be possible.” I tried being nice, despite being faced with another person saying no. I tried being reasonable. Heck, I tried every sales trick in the book. But it didn’t work — she wasn’t going to back down. She was what I call a “no” person.

As I stared at her in incredulity — it struck me she was prepared to let the purchase go — I wondered how often we all follow a similar strategy with our writing. How often do we say things to ourselves like, “I can’t write this now because I’m too tired,” or “this is going to take way more time than I have,” or “I just don’t feel like writing right now”?

How often do we take away the possibility of getting any words onto paper? In other words, how often are we saying “no” to ourselves?

The next time this happens to you, I challenge you to try saying yes. Ask yourself the simple question: “Can I write for five minutes right now?” Give yourself permission to stop after five minutes if it feels really awful. But stick with it for at least five minutes. I think you’ll be surprised by what you can do.

By the way, I finally asked to speak with the back store clerk’s supervisor. As soon as she heard my story, she immediately said “yes, of course you can borrow the seat.” No problem at all.

I don’t know if this will help fix my back but I do know I have the possibility of help, which is much better than the non-possibility.

Treat your writing the same way. Don’t let yourself get away with saying no.

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