Thursday, April 12, 2012

It’s OK To Say No!

It’s amazing to me how much we New Pulp writers all think along the same lines
when it comes to what we do. I just read this week’s Table Talk column with Bobby
Nash, Barry Reese, and Mike Bullock (and you should too!) and was struck by how
close we are in topics. The decision about what to write, when, and why, is never an
easy one. It becomes much more complex when you have to choose one project over

Sometimes, in writing, an opportunity will crop up that you know you should take
but have reservations about. It might be a question of conflicting deadlines or short
notice, or it maybe even a project you know you won’t do well with. While the
business part of your mind says you need to go for this, the creative side might be
balking. So what do you do?

Well, that depends on the situation, and you’ll need to ask yourself some important
questions. First of all, are you supporting yourself with your writing? If you are,
then getting paid is a lot of incentive. If it’s not about the money honey, then is this
project going to be a career building milestone of some sort? You have to weigh
the potential benefits of exposure with the time and effort this is going to take,
and what else you might have to drop or turn down to get to it. You need to take a
pragmatic look at the amount of writing and research that will go into it, and offset
that against what benefits doing it will bring—even if that’s simply the sheer joy of
working on something that makes you skip happily off to the keyboard every day.
And I always ask myself, “Will I do a good job on this project, or am I just going
to muddle through after making a half hearted stab at it?” I realize I’m not going
to be super-enthusiastic about every story I write or edit, but if I can get through it
without resenting the time I’m losing, and dreading pulling it up every session, I’m
going to do a far better job.

Unfortunately there are no ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ answers when it comes to taking
on new work. It’s good to be challenged by a project and maybe do something
in an area where you never dreamed of writing before, or for a new company/
collaboration where you might gain additional exposure. Having your byline
attached to a story in a prestigious publication or along with a well know author’s
work is certainly advantageous. But if it is going to take over your life, and you’re
not sure how much the outcome is going to affect your career, is it worth putting
aside all you’re doing to concentrate on this one particular piece? That is a question
only you can answer, and you need to be realistic about it.

I’ve considered several projects like that lately myself, and while I can’t go into
detail about what they were, I can speak in generalities.

I am primarily a fantasy writer. It’s what I love to both read and create, and the
genre I know best. But I’ve been testing the waters in other genres with several
special projects. A couple of them I am quite happy with, though I had to struggle
to figure out exactly what I’m doing. Others… I let go by the wayside. So I had to
say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and it’s perfectly all right to do that. In fact it’s often
better for all involved.

I was honored to be asked to contribute to an ongoing anthology that is well loved,
but I knew I would have to wrestle with myself to do a good job. There was a lot
of research involved for me, and I was already knee deep in getting a book ready
for publication, gathering stories for an anthology collection of my own that would
launch my new Hansen’s Way imprint, while doing other writing and time-sensitive
editing. It was a tough decision and I wrangled with it for a few days. Now I’m glad
I did turn it down. The other folks did a bang up job of it. My story would have
been a ho-hum filler at best. Better not to be involved than become the weakest link.

I had a couple recent offers for projects. One of them is for a publisher I have never
worked for—which gives me additional exposure to new audiences—plus I was
dying to do it because I love the concept and know the backstory material very well.
The other was offered by my regular publisher and it will very likely turn out to
be something rather prestigious for all involved. I jumped at the first one because
it is just the kind of swashbuckling adventure I enjoy immensely, and I have been
spitting out the pages right and left. The other was one of those difficult decisions
where it could be a career maker, but only if I did a superb piece. I knew I could
at least turn out something readable, but it was material I have no background
experience with, mainly because it never really interested me. I kicked that one
around for an evening, because while my heart wasn’t in it, my writing career really
could use that kind of boost. And then someone said something very wise to me that
I’m going to paraphrase…

Sometimes it is better to make your impact on the reading world gradually,
with a bunch of small projects that are very well done, than to go for that more
distinguished piece and only do a mediocre job on it. Yeah, that profound and to-
the-point statement from someone whose judgment I’ve learned to trust helped
me make my decision. I respectfully declined, expressed my gratitude for being
considered at all, and never looked back. Again, I know I made the right decision.
Between the writing I am already slotted for, possible editing jobs that pop up
suddenly with short deadlines, the upcoming convention, and recent events in my
everyday life, I have all I can handle without negatively impacting my mental and
physical health. Sometimes you just have to say no.

I am sure this will happen again. Some very lucrative offer will come up and I’ll
sit here mulling it over. There is no way to predict what the appropriate answer
will be because there are too many variables of time and enterprise involved. What
I do know is that if I feel I must turn something down, I can do that with humble
gratitude and a clear conscience. While I am not a newbie writer anymore, this is
my first real experience with writing as a career move. I’ve had to take it slowly,
setting a course for myself that fits within my lifestyle as well as that of my family,
and still work to get where I hope to be someday—supporting myself on what I
write. Have I made all the correct decisions? Time will tell. In the meantime I will
trust my instincts.

The important thing here is that I am in control. If I made a mistake, no one pushed
me one way or another. The days when I had to work to survive are over. Now I can
do what I enjoy. Yes, I would love to make a comfortable living through my writing
someday. Just not at the expense of my sanity. Or my love of what I do.

So as you go about your writing (or editing, or artwork), be mindful of what you
promise to take on. You are not a machine, you’re a human being, and you do have
limits. When your passion becomes one slog after another through endless crushing
deadlines and you find yourself dreading each new day, is that worth it? Right now
I can get a 9-5 retail position and make more than I am at writing, and leave the
hassles behind when I walk out the door. I’m not just doing this for the money; I
actually love what I do. If I ever stop loving it, it’ll be because I made too much of
a drudgery out of it, and I will go do something else to survive that leaves me more
time for doing things that make me feel good.

So yep, it’s perfectly OK to say no. That keeps you in control of your future.


  1. Great minds think alike, eh, Nancy? :)

    I've turned down opportunities before because I didn't feel I was the right writer for it. I'd rather pass on a project than do a poor story.


  2. That's exactly why my name isn't in the credits of any of the Moonstone Green Hornet anthologies...


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