On saying no…

Ann is scared.jpg

I’m about to do it again.

I’m about to say no to a prospective client whose work in progress (WIP) is messy and needs my help to sort out its raison d’etre before organising his thinking and restructuring it accordingly. It also needs a decent increase in useful examples so that its target audience can be shown, not just told, how to do what the author says they can do. It also needs differentiation from what’s already out there.

It probably needs a whole lot more that I didn’t see in my hour-long initial read.

I can do this work. I would do it well. I could add great value to the manuscript.

The audience is targeted. The author is well connected and says his business is growing. I believe he would pay well.

So why say no?

Because the topic doesn’t stimulate me. More than that, I’m not sure about how I feel about it ethically. And when the author and I chatted first up, I felt bulldozed.

I’ve felt bulldozed before, and it’s ended in tears. So I’m passing up the opportunity to write a proposal for him.

Saying no leaves space for a more fitting opportunity to come along. Even better, I get to refer her to a colleague who would also do the work justice, possibly without my personal misgivings.

Working solo allows me to make these decisions for me, not have to account for a little empire. It feels oh-so good!

But golly-gee, it’s hard to say no. It feels icky in my tummy. It brings up uncertainty that has to be inhabited quietly in a really similar way to not knowing what’s coming for me as a creative writer.

The hardest part about saying no is picturing the person’s disappointment. This is a big assumption, though. Perhaps he has plenty of options up his sleeve. Or perhaps, like me, he knows that as one door closes, a better door will open soon.

As soon as I tell him that I can’t work with him on this, his heart-and-soul project, I know I’ll feel better. But right now – I got the jitters, bad.

Yet I have recent success to draw on.

Last month a most delightful older woman phoned with a unique query. Let’s call her Christine.

Her husband of many decades had died just two years before and she promised him she would find someone to help work out if his spy novel ‘was any good’ thus could ‘anything be done with it’. In the last ten years of his life, he hadn’t been able to find the right person to ‘add the details and the conversations’.

I sat down to read and found many gaps. As an intelligence officer he certainly knew all the techniques and had barrelled them into one story without heeding the concepts of characterisation, plot or setting. Occasionally a really vivid detail popped through but mostly I read a summary of all he knew.

Not wanting to tell her that I thought I couldn’t help, I picked up the phone and swallowed. I was gentle, yet direct. Soon I realised the crux of what I was about to say and in my head pushed back and back against saying it out loud. But it had to come out. At once it explained the ‘no’ but plunged our conversation into territory that many people don’t face. Grief, raw after only two years without him, and loss.

‘Christine, if Geoff were still alive, we might be able to work on this together, but without knowing his motivation and the direction he wanted to take it, I don’t think I can be of much use.’

After a significant pause, this gorgeous woman and I shed a few tears while chatting about who Geoff was and how we would’ve really liked working together, and what a shame it was that we didn’t all find each other five years ago. And isn’t timing a funny thing?

Christine ended by saying, ‘Well, at least I honoured my promise. I found someone to take a look at it …  

When I hung up the phone I felt lighter, honoured to have been a part of Christine and Geoff’s life. I felt trustworthy and useful. I felt brave. I said what needed to be said, and survived. Perhaps I even thrived. I certainly grew up.

Now it’s time to write that email and say ‘no’ again.


I have no idea how the above ‘no’ email landed. Even though he contacted one of my colleagues within an hour of receiving my email he didn’t reply to me. I guess I’ll never know how he took the no. So why all the worry and fuss from my end?

May your words pour onto the page,