Thursday, May 21, 2009

no is the new yes

Here is a little essay I wrote for a website today. I may actually start following some of my own advice!!

Has this ever happened to you? It’s late on a Sunday evening, your fourth-grader has a diorama titled “Inuit at Home” due the next morning and he’s just thrown a major tantrum and stormed into his room because the igloo he hastily glued together from sugar cubes has collapsed. There is a now pile of sticky confection on the floor. Your washing machine buzzes to alert you to move the wet clothes to the dryer. Oh, but wait! You promised to coordinate the soccer practice carpool this week. And, you need to prepare for a meeting at ten the next morning. Your child continues to wail from his room.

And yes, there’s more! On the work front a colleague has asked you to respond to her blog post. You’re behind on Twitter, Facebook and Email. Your iPhone beeps to remind you that you’ve double-booked a conference call with a client and a conference with your son’s teacher. Oops!

If you’re a working parent, this is an all too familiar scenario. Even if you’re not a parent, you can probably relate to much of the logjam described above.

When overwhelmed, my business partner used to say, “I’m running as fast as I can to stay in the same place.” Then, when things got worse, she changed it to, “I’m running as fast as I can to stay hopelessly behind!”

Let’s face it, we live in a time and in a world where multi-tasking is the default, and the expectation is that we’ll get it all done regardless of how much more gets put on the plate. We are over-committed. We’ve become a nation of work-bingers! Seriously, think of the tasks in your day as food items. Forget the three squares, we’ve got our hands in the bag of Cheetos, the box of Twinkies and wrapped around the Big Gulp. We’re constantly “eating” and getting limited nutrition.

Okay, enough with the metaphors. What I’m getting at is this. We’re organizing our days around quantity in favor of quality. We continue to say “yes” to everything because we think we’ll let someone down if we say “no.” I can handle it, says that little voice in our heads that doesn’t want to succumb to our limited capacity for quality production.

As co-owners of a communications company, BridgePoint Creative, my business partner and I were also guilty of this behavior. We’d say “yes” to every project, and many volunteer opportunities as well. One day, though, I accidentally said “no.” A graphic designer who often partners with me for Web work asked if I’d be interested in heading a PR campaign for a caterer on the East Coast (I live on the West Coast). For some reason, I hypotheticized the invitation, putting a client in my place, and realized, et voila! that the combination of skillset, location and other work made the likelihood of success a long shot.

“I don’t think I’m the right person for this,” I said, instantly feeling both guilt and relief as the words left my lips.

My business partner looked over at me in horror. As soon as I hung up the phone, I asked her, “What did I just do?”

“I think you said ‘no’,” she said, in awe.

Five minutes later, one of our favorite clients called offering us a huge e-mail marketing campaign. Just like that—no proposal, no bid, just “do it!”

It was one of the weirdest experiences because of the huge neon sign that flickered: When one door closes, another opens! Aha, but that door did not close on its own. When I began to chronicle the myriad ways in which opportunity knocks, I realized that often I’d prepared myself in some way to invite it. By shifting my consciousness to a place, or a space, away from chaos and obligation, I’d allowed more room for intention.

The thing about the hamster wheel, and why we often feel helplessly ambushed by the onslaught of external demands, is that we re-act instead of pro-act. Once we start “driving the bus” instead of being a passenger, we find that we’re less exhausted and often become the recipient of path-altering benefits.

Here are just a few gains we make when we become more discerning:

• The beginning of the end of “analysis paralysis” where a new energy can be harnessed and activated in a particular direction
• Clarity, resolve and peace of mind
• Concrete goals and steps toward those goals
• A strong idea of what needs to be excluded in order for goals to be obtained

So give it a try! Make like a two-year-old and start practicing the word “no”!


  1. When someone asks a favor, pause before responding.
  2. Keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times.
  3. Start your day writing down the three main things you wish to accomplish by day’s end.
  4. Every time a new task is added to your day, write it on the same page as your top three, but underneath.
  5. Practice these words: “I’d love to talk more about this, but I’m going to have to cut it short today. Let’s schedule another time to talk.”
  6. Every month you should fill out a personal “intake” form. At the top of the form answer this question: “What do I never want to do again in my life.”
  7. Remember this: the right thing and the familiar thing are often different.
  8. Stretch out of your comfort zone at least once a week.
  9. Think of your day in a big picture way, rather than in ten minute increments.
  10. Stick to your guns! Don’t cave! Some people will make you repeat “no” several times before they get the message.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

on transcending inertia

As I've posted many a time, I've always resisted staying in scene. I like to click along the horizontal--get my character out of there. Maybe, I'm beginning to think, it's a symptom of commitment phobia. Like--if I stay and explore, I might end up being beholden to something that'll make me have to give up my gadabout pace. My blithely swashbuckling through scene and into slick asides and away from trouble.

In this rewrite I'm doing of the first section of TSTL, I'm challenging my tendencies. I'm allowing myself to become bored in a scene. Staying there until I find something in the room, or in the air, or in one of the character's epiphanies that transcends the boredom. It's hard, but continues to reward me with the sort of prose that writes itself--eventually.

Patience is more than mere virtue. It's a fairy godmother.

Monday, May 04, 2009

pep talk

The rains of May have arrived, and with them, a reprieve from the distractions of sunnier days. Can't mow the lawn, don't want to trudge out into the park for a hike, the ski hill has shut down for the season.

So, write, then, writer. Write amid the gray, the damp, the damned. Finish what you set out to do.

Friday, May 01, 2009

on trusting the voice

I've made what I think of as a bold move with my main character, Fifi. In an effort to court her, to make her my bff, I'm pulling her in, upping the tempo of her voice. Her place at the table is across from you. She's demanding that you look in her eyes, feel her, understand her. In short, you, the reader, has been hired as her shrink--well, okay, maybe not shrink, but, companion.

Sure, she's going to tell you about her family, but her family isn't going to eclipse her as much as in the first draft. Her family is the supporting cast. Fifi is the one. Fifi is the diva. Fifi is the one on the quest for the Secret to Love.

In taking this move, I've upset the apple cart. My colleagues, there at the table, are bewildered. What's with the tone? They want to know. Truly, they are not used to this character being in-your-face. It seems wrong. It's as if she just got a personality transplant.

This is a test. A writer must trust her vision and the voice of her character, even when the character gets that personality transplant. Okay, so now, instead of my sweet girl, you're this snotty adolescent. Fine. I'm on your bus. Take me somewhere.