The Power of Saying No
It can really mean yes.
There’s a writing trick that’s rarely practiced, even though it consistently produces amazing results: saying no.
“It’s extremely powerful to say no; it’s really the most powerful thing to say,” said Bill Murray.
It’s extremely powerful because saying no is often really saying yes—to yourself.
Since we’re nearing the final leg of National Novel Writing Month, it’s important to remember the power of no. When we say yes to all of the other things calling us in life, whether it’s a dinner party we don’t really want to attend or a simple click onto social media for the latest on Olivia Wilde or Elon Musk, we might be saying yes to something else because we lack belief in ourselves.
It takes a strong belief in your creative work to say no to things in order to say yes to yourself.
I often say that NaNoWriMo’s goal and deadline approach is a creative midwife (quoting NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty). That’s because in NaNoWriMo you have to say no to things to say yes to writing 1,667 words a day for 30 days.
To find the time to write a novel in a month, something has to give.
A time restriction of writing a novel in 30 days forces us to scrutinize the choices available to us—choices that may lead us away from the page and cause us to dally and maybe not write at all. Constraints also keep niggling perfectionist notions from eating away at you: you dive in and just start writing because you have to.
I don’t want to make life a narrow affair where writing is more important than being with friends and family, but I want to make sure that my creative time isn’t crowded out—and to find the time to write a novel in a month, something has to give.
I dream of a time when I’ll have vast swaths of time available to write, but NaNoWriMo has helped me realize that I’m actually lucky to have my limitations. One’s imagination doesn’t necessarily flourish in the luxury of total freedom. One of the many paradoxes of human creativity is that it seems to benefit from the pressures and boundaries of our daily lives.
“The ticking clock is our friend if it gets us moving with urgency and passion,” said Twyla Tharp.
The ticking clock is also a powerful reminder that sometimes saying yes means saying no.
Because writing homework: “naughty fun”
This prompt is from the newsletter Pokrass Prompts that my naughty friendpublishes:
“Write about a character or characters who are having a naughty or unlikely kind of fun. Don’t write the obvious and make it about sex. Instead, write about something odd and personally meaningful.”
Because every novel needs to be romanced
I interviewed the wonderful writer Marissa Meyer recently about getting through the muddy middle of your novel, and she had a great idea: romance your novel.
Take your novel out on a date. Get out of the house. Do something fun together. Light a candle. Play what if. Watch the webcast for more.
Because my NaNoWriMo novel writing series
Each week until the end of National Novel Writing Month this November, I’m writing about a different creativity topic related to NaNoWriMo. If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, don’t worry: all of the topics should relate to any creative project.
Here are the previous pieces in the series:
Because I’d love you to read one of my books
I write this newsletter for many reasons, but mainly just for the joy of being read and having conversations with readers. This newsletter is free, and I want it to always be free, so the best way to support my work is to buy my books or hire me to speak.
Because more about me
I am the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, the co-founder of 100 Word Story, and an Executive Producer of the upcoming TV show America’s Next Great Author. I am the author of a bunch of books and the co-host of the podcast Write-minded.
My essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Lit Hub, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer.