Writers: Why you need to say no more often

Reading time: About 3 minutes

As writers, many of us are hardwired to want to say YES! to every opportunity. Here’s why you need to say no more often…

Businessman Warren Buffett once said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” 

If you’re a writer, that might sound like strange advice to you. Can you really say no to an order from your boss? Would you ever want to say no to a client? 

Here’s what I think Buffet means by his comment. 

It’s advice from a macro level. It doesn’t say much about an individual order from your boss or client — of course you probably have to do those things. What Buffett is saying is that you need to think about how you’re spending your time globally. What are your goals? How are you managing your career? How are you improving yourself? 

You will be more successful if you focus on no more than three objectives.  

For a freelance writer, they might look like this:

  • Move my client base to the healthcare industry (or any other industry that you prefer) 
  • Increase my writing speed by 20%
  • Increase my billings by 30%

For a corporate communicator, they may be:

  • Change my schedule so I do my writing in the morning and admin work in the afternoon
  • Increase readership of the corporate blog by 45%
  • Persuade my boss that I need (short) breaks from the phone & email in order to write

For an academic, they could challenge you to:

  • Write daily before doing any teaching or admin work
  • Publish at least three papers a year in peer-reviewed journals
  • Identify a short list of the journals in which I’d like to appear and study them intensely to identify their requirements.

For a fiction writer, goals could be to:

Do you see how all of these tasks are mostly independent of what you need to do on an individual day? But you also need to recognize that each of these goals is time-consuming. That’s why you need to say no more, even to some highly attractive tasks. 

I’m facing this situation myself right now. I have multiple clients. I’m creating new products (including one coming out early in the new year on how to hire an editor.) And I’m writing another book. My days are jam packed!

A few weeks ago, I had a request to appear on a podcast. I said yes because I love podcasting and it’s a really good way to promote my business. But shortly after the word was out of my mouth, I realized I’d made a mistake.

I don’t really have the time to do this and podcasting is not one of my three key objectives. Don’t worry – I’m not going to back out. I’ve made the commitment and I’m standing by it. But I won’t be saying yes to future requests over the next year. I just don’t have the time.

The world is filled with good ideas. Piles and piles of them. In fact, it is rare for there to be a lack of ideas. What’s missing is a way of eliminating the many good ideas that aren’t the right ideas.

And saying no is never easy. To be able to say it successfully, you’ll need some practice. I like to begin with a policy of not agreeing to anything right away. Instead, I ask for more time to think. Here’s the phrase I use: “Can you give me a couple of days to think it over and make sure I have the necessary time to devote to it?” This sentence is an excellent transitional one, as you work to become better at saying no. It gives you the chance to marshal your arguments (which are often arguments with yourself). And if you do want to say yes, you will have preserved that option. Here’s more info on how to say no.  

Productivity expert James Clear points out that saying no is the ultimate productivity hack. As he puts it: “The words “yes” and “no” get used in comparison to each other so often that it feels like they carry equal weight in conversation. In reality, they are not just opposite in meaning, but of entirely different magnitudes in commitment. When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option.”

Focus means saying no to something you think just might be a phenomenal idea. But you’re saying no because you’re already focusing on something else. That’s why you need to say no more often. 


My video podcast last week addressed the perils of writing too quickly. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel


Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.


Do you understand why you need to say no more often? How do you do it? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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