Monday, 25 March 2013

Do Creative People Always Have To Say 'no'?

I recently read this interesting article, which was posted by one of our authors on FB, entitled ‘Creative People Say No’.

It’s a challenging one and got me thinking. In it the author quotes various creative people who insist that saying ‘no’ is the cornerstone of their work, including Management writer Peter Drucker, who says : “…productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”
The article also included ideas which I resonate with to some degree, like ‘Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.’

The thread of this article is that as creators we must become very good at saying ‘no’ to those things which distract us from our creation. “Saying ‘no’ has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. ‘No’ guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.”

The author of the article concludes “ Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. This interview, this letter, this trip to the movies, this dinner with friends, this party…  How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph?... The answer is always the same: ‘yes’ makes less. We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, families to love and day jobs to do. No makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But ‘no’ is the button that keeps us on.’

For years as a psychologist I’ve taught people about boundaries, and often have to return to my own words about the need to say ‘no’ to things that take time and resources away from the most important things in my life. Whether as Christians, parents, friends, or authors, it’s often a hard lesson to learn, and many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by other people’s agendas, to the detriment or our own calling, creative process, or energy. I don’t pretend to have this issue completely in balance in my life. But in the discussion of whether we support others in their creative work, I feel we need to be very careful not to go overboard on saying 'no'.
Of course we need to protect time that we can give to our writing, editing, planning of stories and then to promotion of our work. But I believe we must also remember that without the support of others; editors, publishers, promoters, and other writers who give great encouragement as well as their own precious time, none of us would succeed.
The creation of a work of art, be it writing, or any other project, may be the inspiration and vision of the writer, and no writer would dispute the enormous number of hours we need for our writing, the agony and ecstasy of digging deeper and deeper into ourselves for creative ways to present our stories, the ominous task of editing over and over again, the painstaking planning and execution of promotion.
However, surely most writers would acknowledge the absolute necessity of the support of others in the completion of our art. What if others always said ‘no’ to our requests to read our work, to give feedback, to consider publishing, to review, to promote through their own networks? I cannot overestimate the help and support I have received from other writers, readers, promoters, not to mention my publisher.  I feel that being part of a writing community, supporting each other and achieving something together for the world of publishing, reading and writing, is very worthwhile. I believe this is a vision we share together, a calling we have from God to share ideas, stories and challenges to a reading public, and I can see that together we can achieve so much more than any of us can achieve alone.
So in this case, in spite of any teaching I’ve given on boundaries – and I certainly believe we must be good at setting boundaries in our lives – I think we must be very careful that we acknowledge the value of saying ‘yes’ to helping the work of other people.
Carol Preston

With thanks to all those who have said ‘yes’ to helping me create, publish and promote my Turning The Tide series of historical novels.



  1. I know I have to work hard to protect my writing time and a lot of the time I end up saying 'no' in order to do so. At the same time, I realise it's important to also say yes - and when I do, to do it well. Ultimately although I am a writer I am also more than that. It's about balance, I think, and love. Thank you for your comments and the reminder to say yes too.

  2. Hi Carol,
    It's more of a tight rope walk or balancing act, in a way. We do have to use wisdom in discerning when to say "yes" and when to say "no." Like you, I'm extra thankful to the wonderful people who have said "yes" to me too, as there's so much in the process I cannot do.

  3. I suspect that some of those quotes from creative people were taken out of context, at least I hope so, as they do seem a bit harsh. The trick is, of course, finding the balance which is not always easy.

    Thanks Carol for your encouraging thoughts.

  4. I agree with you, Carol. There are some things that I have gone overboard on that I would definitely call distractions. But then when I am feeling down the best thing for me to do is to get in and support other's work. Shifting the focus away from my work and onto others lifts me up, gives me a boost, and keeps my eye on the 'body' that we all belong to.
    Creativity can be a 'me' occupation, but we are only one part of a greater purpose. I think there is great joy when we help each other. You don't want to miss out on that!

  5. I fully agree Carol - that we need one another. And that while we need to spend time on our own to create, we should also spend time helping and lifting one another too. As the body of Christ, that too is our calling. I was rather shocked at that writer's statement about not helping others. We are all in this together. We are all building for the kingdom.

    And while saying 'No' needs to be said in order to write and create, plenty of 'Yes' answers need to be given if we fit into God's order in the world.

    Thanks Carol for your interesting post.

  6. I guess one of the questions to ask ourselves in all this is WHY we are saying yes or no to doing something for someone else or undertaking that extra task. I know that for years I found it so hard to say no to anything because I thought the person asking might not think well of me. So now I am extra careful to look at my motives. Also, I try to make sure, to the best of my ability, that my saying yes won't detract from the things God really wants me to put my efforts into.

    1. I can certainly relate to this Jo-Anne. Sometimes saying "yes" all the time just wears you out and then you become resentful. Like Paula said, "It's more of a tight rope walk or balancing act" and seeing as I have lousy balance and am totally uncoordinated, well, sometimes I say "yes" to keep the peace and avoid being nagged.

  7. Good point Jo-Anne. Having a criteria for saying yes and no is crucial. It seems we all struggle with the issue and it's good share ideas about it, so that we can keep each other accountable as well as supporting each other

  8. Hi Carol - A great post. Balance is so important. Following on too from what Jo said, I think part of the answer is really knowing what our mission is and what God has called us to do. Several years ago, I felt God calling me to write but to also encourage others to write. It's still a balancing act knowing how much to spend on each. Some weeks I feel like I could spend all my spare time encouraging other writers, reading their drafts etc and then not actually getting any of my own writing done. One of the keys I think is not whether we say yes or no, but that we wait before saying either and pray about it. Wish I could say that I always do that, but of course I often forget :) But if we continually put it before God, we can trust he will direct our time. Mmm ... now if only I would take my own advice :) Thanks for sharing Carol.

  9. Thanks Carol. I think there are also some very wise comments here which I completely agree with. It has taken me some time to learn to make wise decisions about my time. I used to be constantly asked(and expected)to do anything artistic to help folk.

    Then my mother stepped in. She said you're spending hours doing all this unpaid work. Why not ask that these folk do your ironing or housework while you help them? I saw the wisdom in the fact some played on my good will. We need to ask the Lord for wisdom to judge when a person genuinely needs our help or our time.

  10. Hi Carol. Amen to finding the balance. :) We absolutely cannot afford to lock ourselves away from the world in order to create, we need to be able to do it in conjunction with relationships, and that does mean saying yes from time to time. Thanks.

  11. Fascinating discussion this one, and as Penny proposes balance is important. One of the things I've learnt with age is how life is really about seasons. There will be some seasons where God will call us to perhaps over-emphasise saying "yes" to others, and others when "No" is being obedient.

    But we can never forget the need to write and also the boomerang effect of being generous. As with all things keeping in tune with the Lord is so important in helping guide our decisions.

  12. As the person who originally posted that article, Carol, I'm really appreciative of your thoughtful and balanced response. It put into words everything I didn't take time out to say!