Tuesday, 13 September 2011

It's OK to say 'No'

In order to write for a living, you'd better be writing, which is something I haven't been doing a whole lot of recently.  Worse, I've been turning down opportunities to write.  'Why, you doughnut?' you might entirely reasonably ask.  There are two reasons; the first is I don't have the time and the second is that I don't have the interest.  The first reason is the most galling.  Travel writing has scored me some good bylines recently, both in this month's Sunday Times Travel magazine ('Lone Star' about Texas - no weblink because of the Times paywall) and also at MailOnline.  As a result I've been offered trips to Thailand, North Carolina and Texas recently but haven't been able to do them as keeping the 9-5 (and it's oh so important regular money) has had to take priority.  I can see a time when I can give that up (when I've paid for a wedding for one), but it ain't now.

I learned something about myself with the second reason.  About a year ago I would have taken any writing opportunity, so keen was I to garner bylines and contacts.  What I've learned is it doesn't do anybody any favours if you say yes to something that you don't have any interest in.  The first time it happened to me, I was so flattered that someone had wanted me (ME!) to write something for them, I said yes right away.  It was the blog for Square Mile .  No money in it, just writing something for someone who had a bit of faith in me.  After struggling to write about 400 words for each of them and then leaving a period of about six weeks in which I dreaded an email asking why I hadn't filed the next installment, I bit the bullet and wrote to them explaining why I couldn't continue.  Thankfully, the Editor was very understanding but if I'd have said no in the first place it would have saved all concerned a lot of time.  It's OK to say 'No'.  Probably better to miss out on one byline than have people think you're unreliable.

I really admire people like copy writers and business writers who can be given a project, let's say 'washing machines' and fulfill a brief, making the client happy and getting paid.  If it was me, I'd be sat in front of the laptop, probably having sat in front of one sentence that went something like 'Washing machines are the greatest invention of the 20th Century' for 20 minutes before getting onto Twitter and any number of subsequent websites that all the people I follow had posted links to.  I got into writing because I like to write, but also because I really like writing about all the good, interesting stuff of life: food, travel, movies, theatre, achievers, believers, deceivers...many, many topics.  But the point is that I have to write about stuff that is interesting to me.  Can't do it if my heart's not in it. Life's too short for that.


  1. I think you're right Lee. One thing I've learned as a freelancer is that when I take on jobs that I'm not 100% interested in, I struggle to motivate myself and don't deliver the work that I'm capable of.

  2. Dan I think you just managed to summarise the whole of this blog in one sentence. It's always good to hear from like minded people. Thanks for reading.