Just Say No: When It’s Time to Give Up A Writing Gig

Sunday, September 25, 2016
I just opened one of those two-in-the-morning rant emails from a writer friend. It was a legitimate rant against a demanding editor, and yet she sent another email the next morning.

Was she overreacting? Being unprofessional? Had she turned into some kind of writing diva? Basically, she wondered if the editor’s demands were unreasonable or was she the unreasonable one? She’d come to the old “Is it worth it?” fork in the road to publication.

It’s never easy, the “Is it Worth it?” impasse. In the beginning of a writing career, the idea of turning down a project because it’s not worth the time or money is…well, it’s unthinkable. Plenty of writers would give anything to snag a paying gig, and so, more often than not, the newbie writer puts up with the headaches and hassles.

But then comes experience. And with experience, a writer can afford to say no to those projects that aren’t worth it. And yet, it’s still stinkin’ hard to say no, isn’t it? Maybe it’s because we remember all too well the dry periods when we had no work. Or maybe it’s because we have friends still struggling to get gigs and we feel bad, turning down a job when they’re chomping at the bit for work. Or maybe it’s just all those writer insecurities we love to embrace.

I’m not sure why saying no is so difficult for us. But I have a couple of strategies that I use when I’m having a hard time, trying to decide whether a gig’s worth it (or walking away from a gig that’s become way too demanding). No matter where you are in your career, these strategies can help you, too:

1. Talk it out with a writer friend. Sometimes, we’re over-stressed and overworked and we really are overreacting. But we’re caught in the middle of the firestorm. Grab a friend and have a lunch, or a nice long phone call, or even a couple of ranting emails. Get a fresh perspective (and a second opinion).

2. Give yourself a day to thoughtfully consider options. Take a deep breath for twenty-four hours and do something else. When you come back to the situation, you’ll see things more clearly.

3. Ask “Is it worth it?” Yes, I know that sounds a bit simplistic, but there’s really a lot that goes into that question. Is the gig moving your career forward? Or is it just for the money? Is the money worth the work involved? Do you enjoy that kind of writing? Or is the project sucking the soul out of you? Can you see any positives with the gig or just a whole bunch of negatives?

4. Once the decision is made, do you feel good about it? Again, I know it sounds obvious, but if you feel relieved and you can finally sleep, you’ve made a good decision. If you’re still stressed and want to throw darts at somebody’s picture, then you do not feel good about the decision you made. Try again.

Yes, writing is a great job, and the idea that someone will pay you to do what you love is awesome! But sometimes, the job is simply not worth the payout. And it’s okay to just say no.

(And just for the record, my friend walked away from that gig. And she’s a much happier writer now!)

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Usually, with the WOW posts, I can tell it's one of yours by just the title. And your posts always either connect writing to another activity in a clever way or they break down a writing dilemma into manageable bits... or both.

Unfortunately I've never had this problem, but I'm glad your friend made the right decision for them.

Sheila Good said...

Saying "No," is one of the most difficult things for people and I think, women to do (no matter the issue). In the past was a difficult issue for me but a long time ago, someone recommended a book to me and it has been my go-to reference when that problem raises it's head. I've given many copies away, but for those struggling with saying "no," I can't think of a better resource.The book is, "When I say no, I feel guilty" by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D. Highly recommend.

I'm glad your friend did what was right for her. Thanks for sharing such an important post.
@sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

Margo Dill said...

Plus change is not always easy, even if we should say no, when we said yes before. :)

Pat Wahler said...

Learning to say "no" can be very liberating.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Thanks for the book rec, Sheila, I'll check it out!

And Sioux, you're not unfortunate at all. I'd say you were pretty lucky!

(I agree, Margo, it can be complicated sometimes but as Pat said, saying no can be so liberating!)

Debra Mayhew said...

YES. To all of this. Saying no just feels wrong, especially when it comes to writing and you're trying to get your foot in the door, any door, just please let me get my foot in! I've learned though that sometimes it would take SO long to figure out what they want, and how they want it, and if that's the case maybe that particular job wasn't right for me. Writing is definitely work, but it still should be something you're passionate about. Great post, Cathy!

Theresa Boedeker said...

Your article is a great reminder not only for writing, but also for life commitments. I often feel guilty about wanting to say no, but my husband says, "A decision motivated by guilt is never a good decision."

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

You always give the best advice, which is why you're my Yoda. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this and...well...everything. :)

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