The benefits of saying no

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Last week I wrote about the benefits of the word yes. Today, I reflect on the advantages of just saying no.

I have a bad back. I know I’ve created this back myself, after 30 years of stooping over a computer keyboard and hunching my shoulders forward. Years of physiotherapy, Pilates, back training and even meditation have not helped.

Recently, I decided to try a therapy popular with performers, Alexander Technique.  My son, an opera student,  recommended a practitioner he liked and I visited her last Sunday. Before going to see Gaby, I had my husband take photos of me working at my desk. I also dutifully measured the height of my chair, keyboard and desktop.

Gaby took one look at the photos and announced: “There’s the problem.” Even though I’d been on my best behaviour for the photo session, I was seated too far forward she pronounced. (If she’d seen how I sometimes sit when I’m deeply ensconced in writing she would have been horrified.)

She had me practice standing up and sitting down several dozen times (yes, this helped) and then, with a glint in her eyes, gave me her most profound piece of advice. “Stop it,” she said, referring to my crummy posture. She even suggested I look at a Bob Newhart video — I’d already seen it but I like funny homework so I watched it again. (If you have six minutes to spare, I guarantee it will make you laugh. )

I’m now working hard at improving my daily posture but seeing the Newhart video made me realize there are many things that writers also need to stop doing. Here’s my list:

Stop waiting for inspiration. Writing isn’t as difficult as your high school English teacher may have led you to believe. The tricky job is editing. But that requires more perspiration than inspiration. (Hint: The Hemingway app can really help.)

Stop sitting at your desk so much. Too many writers spend endless hours staring vacantly into space trying to figure out what they want to say. You’re far better off walking, cycling, swimming, cooking or doing anything else active while you’re thinking about what you want to write. Develop the habit of sitting at your desk only when you already know what you want to say.

Stop procrastinating. You’ll find it easier if you develop the habit of writing first thing in the day. This is because willpower, like oil, is a non-renewable resource. You have only so much every day and then you run out. If you spend your willpower on other things you won’t have enough left for writing.

Stop expecting too much of yourself. Instead, can you resolve to write for just five minutes per day? Doing this five days a week is far better than writing for 25 minutes once a week, because it builds a sustainable habit. And it’s infinitely better than writing no minutes a day. Having an easy-to-achieve minimum goal is the secret to so much success. (I have a great deal of difficulty getting myself to spend any time on my bookkeeping. I’ve recently resumed the five-minute-a-day habit for that and it’s working.)

Stop editing WHILE you write. People are either born writers or born editors. If, like me, you fall in the latter camp, writing a sentence without editing it immediately is like trying to ignore the smell of fresh-baked cinnamon buns sitting right beside you. It’s difficult. Here are seven tips to help you get around that.

Stop comparing your work to that of other writers. There are always going to be greater and lesser writers than you. That’s just the way the world works. Remember: every voice is unique. We all have something to say.

Stop assuming the worst. Your work may never be published. Or it may be a bestseller. Or it may change the life of a handful of people. You’re in no position to judge the impact your writing might have until it’s actually finished. Even then, you’re not the best person to judge. Someone else is probably going to have to tell you. But they can’t tell you anything until you finish it.

Bottom line? Two words from Bob Newhart: Stop it!

How do you stop your own bad writing habits? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me, below. If you comment anywhere on my blog by September 31, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for no-cost copy of the uplifting read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.