It’s a holdover from my time spent working as a full-time freelancer after the MFA: the deep struggle of saying “no” to new freelance work. But sometimes, it’s necessary. In the last several weeks, as my email inbox flooded with requests from new potential clients (is every writer and editor in the universe on the same timeline? This was the busiest fall I’ve had in my professional life), I had to force myself to take stock of my schedule and not accept every project that landed at my feet.
Individually, the proposed projects never sound too taxing. Editing a single essay? Critiquing a few short stories and an MFA statement of purpose? Reading what sounds like a fascinating novel by a strong writer? Taking on a quick series of technical articles that might be dry but will pay really well? In my past freelance life, the answer to each and every one of these requests would have been an immediate, uncomplicated yes.
Things aren’t quite as simple now. I have a job—it’s part-time, sure, but it’s writing-related work that uses the same precious energy I need for my own writing. I’m editing a brand-new literary magazine, and while it’s no secret how time-consuming it is to start and run a journal, seriously, it’s a lot of work. I’m also working on novel revisions for my agent, trying to sell the occasional writing-related freelance article, submitting letters of recommendation, and screening films for a film festival, all while also trying to exercise more and eat better and have some semblance of a social life, too.
Oops. It’s never good when my blog post turns into a straight-up stress list. And yet here I am.
As much as it pains me to respond to the writer asking for a critique to tell her Sorry, I can’t take this on right now, sometimes it has to be done. It has to be done for all the other freelance projects I’ve already committed to. It has to be done to ensure I have enough mental energy for my day job. It has to be done for that new journal I’m helping edit and all the contributors who trust that we’ll treat their writing well. And it has to be done for me: for my own writing, for my novel that is maybe finally inching toward being done, for my reading time, for my own new ideas, for my creative energy, and for my sanity.
At the end of the day, no one is going to pay us for the time we sit staring at the blank page at our own writing desks. (If I’m wrong and you’ve found someone who will do this, please refer me ASAP.) This is time we must carve out for ourselves. So if I’ve had to turn down your proposed project recently, I’m sorry to disappoint you, and you should certainly try me again in the future, but I hope you understand. And I hope that you, too, are fortunate enough to be able to sacrifice something—be it leisure time, a bit of extra income, or something else—to protect your own creative work.
Because sometimes, saying no is really another way of saying yes. It’s saying yes to yourself, to your own vision, and to the work that made you into a writer in the first place. Good luck, and godspeed.