Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 25, 2014

Time Management Secret: "YES Makes Less"

Cellar Door Films, WANA Commons, Jenny Hansen

Photo credit: Cellar Door Films via WANA Commons on Flickr

What's the time management secret that's sure to help us all get TONS more writing done? "Yes makes less." It's my new favorite motto.

If you've never heard of Steven Pressfield or Shawn Coyne, you're missing out on some amazing lessons. Pressfield wrote The War of Art (edited by Coyne) and they often blog about creativity.

In Why and How Creative People Say No, they referenced a post by Kevin Ashton.

Fascinating stuff!

The part that resonated with me the most:

Time is the raw material of creation.

Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating.

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.

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.

We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.

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, this last day of summer. How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code?

The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less.

We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.


Amen to that! I've put my "new favorite motto" on a big pink index card next to my computer, and taped another one to my bathroom mirror. (I'd love to hear where you put up your motivational quotes.)

Are you a "YES" person, a "NO" person, or somewhere in between? What helps you guard your creative time? Do you have any time management secrets to share??


Bonus: Laura Drake wrote a doozy of a post called Can’t We All Just Get Along? over at More Cowbell about some of the wild behavior happening online lately. I guarantee you, it’s worth your time. 🙂

About Jenny

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

37 comments on “Time Management Secret: "YES Makes Less"”

  1. I'd never thought about it this way, Jenny. Since leaving the corporate world to pursue writing, I've worked hard to learn to say "no."

    Other writers have given me inspiring words: Anne Lamott frees me to write "shi**y first drafts" while Sue Monk Kidd says, "Every morning I tell myself: Write recklessly today. You can play it safe tomorrow." I also keep Peter DeVries words in mind: "I only write when I'm inspired, and I make sure I'm inspired every morning at 9 a.m."

    1. Carol, I am honored to have my wisdom added to the likes of Sue Monk Kidd and Anne Lamott. Thanks for making my day! Every day that we write gets us closer to finishing our works in progress and THAT is always a win, right?

  2. Great post, Jenny! And the BONUS post from Laura was a real eye opener! My "African American" son-in-law was always offended when he heard that phrase; he'd say "I'm just an American,I wasn't born in Africa".

    As to your post: Being a caregiver for a brief time the "no" word isn't in my vocabulary. But, boy howdy, when I'm released from that other world I'm going to exercise my right to say it loud and clear!

    1. M. Lee, I have been a caregiver for a long stretch of time and I agree that "no" is scarce. Often when you get free time, you need it to fill the well for all that giving. However, I've noticed that caregiving provides short snippets of time where tablets can be used in waiting rooms and at pharmacies to get in writing sprints and jot down ideas. Here's hoping you get to capture some of that time.

      And yes, as someone who grew up as the ONLY blonde in an all black neighborhood, "African American" sounds bizarre to me. I've adjusted, but it will likely never feel natural.

  3. I am learning to say no. I'm an introvert and homebody so it's pretty easy. It's even easier when school is in session (I'm a graduate student). I value my bits of free time very much (I work a day job and run a busy freelance business) and want to spend every spare moment nurturing my passions. I used to feel guilty, but I also realized that people don't really want to hang out with me anyway since I'm so introverted. That made it a lot easier to say no.

    1. Brianna, we always tease Orly here at WITS because she is an introvert who is delighted to burrow into her cozy little writing nest and stay there. There's nothing wrong with doing what makes you happy!

      That being said, I am sure that people DO want to hang out with you. However, since introverts get worn out by people, there is a lot to be said for limiting those doses to increase your own comfort. Just my $0.02.

      1. Very late to the party ... bad internet reception in the back of the cave. Kidding!!!!
        It's been a busy summer running my 9 year old from camp to camp to pool to whatever next is on his social calendar. Yes to him has definitely made less time for writing.

        The sticky above my computer - and you guys can watch Laura's acceptance speech from her RITA win for Best First Book (see how I snuck that in ... yeah, I'm very proud of her!!) to hear it in all its glory: "There are many of you thinking about quitting…don’t. The walls are there for those who don’t want it as bad as you."

  4. Hi Jenny,
    An acquaintance invited me to meet her today and I said thanks, but no (in so many words). I realized I needed the time to prepare for a writers conference and would have to sacrifice a large chunk of time if I met her. Saying "no" was an absolute must. Appreciate the reminder.

    1. It sure made a big difference for me to have something catchy and solid to remember when my "yes gene" rears its ugly head. I'm happy to pass it along. 🙂

  5. I like the way you phrased "the math of time." Everything's a trade-off in terms of your goals, duties and enjoyment in daily life. More cowbell! 🙂

    1. Deb, wasn't that cool? I can't take credit for that part, since it is in the excerpt, but I remember stopping and reading that two or three times when I first came across that article. Pressfield's book "The War of Art" is just ah-maze-balls. Seriously.

      Thanks for passing along the cowbell! We all need more of it, right? 🙂

  6. Have you ever read the book "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt? The one lesson is that money spent on one thing can't be spent on anything else. It's even truer of time. Spend an hour doing one thing, you can't spend that hour doing anything else. So you can spend that hour doing what's important to you, or what's important to someone else. I think creative people earn the rap of being moody and hard to get along with because we really have better things to do with our time and we don't have any compunction about saying so.

    I have a sign in my office pinned to the bulletin board at eye level that says "I have better things to do." It's there to remind me of that simple fact.

  7. I've had a crash course the past 2 years in having to say no to so many many things. I hated it but I had no choice. At the same time, it's been a life lesson worth learning. "No" is freeing in so many ways. Did you know if you say no, someone else will pick up that ball and run with it? Who knew? 🙂 Thanks for the reminder, Jen.

    1. I actually DO know that secret, Sharla. It's a nifty eye-opener, isn't it? No one should have to experience the last two years that you have so I'm glad you're getting the bonus of lessons out of it. You deserve some bonus!!

    1. Ooooh, Peg...I love that quote! Thanks for sharing, and I promise you I will be rolling that one around in my head all day long. Happy Saturday. 🙂

  8. Ouch. Must be cosmic. I don't like this post, not a bit not me. My best friend said, James, you have to start saying No." I Took a short trip with friends right before an appearance at my local library. I had a day to get ready after we got back (speech was written but there was other stuff). It all worked out but it nearly killed me. All kidding aside, great, great post. I really do like it. But my friend's comment was just the other day. Must be cosmic. And Jenny, you are tuned in. It's just that the application is hard! Maybe in the future you could share some thoughts on that?

    1. James, I always seem to receive those "cosmic kicks in the shorts" right when I need them. Now stopping and paying attention to them? That's the hard part...

      That being said, Margie Lawson's trick of making an ironclad list of three things you MUST do that day has been helpful. You just write them down and say no to everything else until they are done. It's most annoying some days, but always effective. 🙂

  9. It is so true that we are taught never to say 'no'. Even when we must say 'no', we don't actually say it. We say, "I would love to, but..." or variations on the theme. And we all give reasons why we can't say no. Everything from, "if I don't, who will?" to "it's just easier if I do it." In fact the only people who I've found will actually say 'no' and mean it are the very elderly. It must be being short on time makes them appreciate something we don't.

    Here's to 'no'. Not a dirty word after all.

    1. Little Miss, I agree with you, and I have to fight my "Yes Gene" (aka The Helper Gene) all the time. I've learned to pause before I agree to things because it shreds my self-esteem when I over-commit and don't get them done.

      So, YES, here's to the power of NO. ~~clink~~

  10. Hey, Little Miss. That is quite an observation about the elderly. And I think you are right. Thanks!

  11. Great post, Jenny. I've Tweeted and FBed. I'm a slow learner to this subject, apparently. I first encountered the value of "no" when a young mom with way too much going on. I accepted a PTA office that I really wanted to do and could have done well. As soon as I hung up, I felt that proverbial ton of bricks crashing down. I knew I'd have a nervous breakdown if I tried to carry through. I picked up the phone and called the gal back. She was understanding. When I hung up after that call, I drew in a huge gulp of air and stood straighter. It was a huge relief.
    Flash forward lots and lots of years. I say yes to babysit my grands even when I've got "writing" stuff to do. They won't be this age long. My girls won't need me as much when their own kids get older. So that is the one thing I still say yes, too. Lots of other stuff I can say no to. My message now is just because you can do something, doesn't mean you have to.
    Now if I could just manage my time where blogs and social media were concerned, I could get that next book written. LOL

    1. Thanks for all that sharing, Marsha. We appreciate it!

      On the "no" thing, that remains hard for me, and really grandchildren don't count in that realm because they're little for such a short time. 🙂

      I took my blogging schedule down to twice a week because more of my writing time was going to blogging, than to writing that would earn me money. I've since remedied that and it makes my blogging time more special to me. Each of us needs to find the balance that works best for US.

      However, as Laura says: Write the book first each day. THEN write everything else.

  12. Dear Jenny,
    Thank you for the much needed reminder! I grew up as a "people pleaser!" And by the grace of God my mother who was dying of cancer at the time randomly called me in the middle of the night to share a much needed life lesson! She recited a strong from one of the Chicken soup for the soul books, tilted, "Angela's Angel!" It felt like my life story and the purpose was to give your self permission to say no! With a plethora of examples of how and why! It mirrored and matched my life to a tee! So God bless for bringing the much needed light back into my life!! Priceless and encouraging to keep moving forward without the guilt!! You're an inspiration and keep fighting the "Good Fight!":)

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