One of the hardest things I’ve had to do recently is turning down work. There is a terrible fear in me; that no once is no forever – that I’ll destroy my reputation by turning round to my putative employer and saying ‘Sorry. Can’t do this.’
The work in question was a piece of emergency proofreading; a short-turnaround job that came with a promised £30 bonus if I were to drop everything – by which I mean cancel family plans – to complete a piece in three days.
I could certainly use the money. It’s been a fallow period for me, earning-wise, over the last month or so and this request was from my one reliable source of income. Not only did I need the cash but I wanted to please: I always want to please, which is perhaps my biggest flaw as a human being.
But a £30 bonus isn’t that much compensation for stress and disruption and a weekend apart from my wife and the tiny monster. So – reluctantly – I turned it down.
And it was fine. I got an understanding response and it turned into a dialogue about my next pieces of work with them. As, intellectually, I knew would happen. Emotionally, though, for a few days, I was a big ball o’ anxious.
Where does this fear come from? It’s nothing but counter-productive. It doesn’t help us do our work, though maybe ensures conscientiousness.
The point, though, is this: it’s okay to say no. It’s much better to say no at the outset then to take on the impossible and fail. And, if you do take on the impossible, tell those who matter that you’ll miss deadlines in good time. These are tricky skills but ones a writer will have to get used to using.
You know all this anyway. You know all this and it makes it absolutely no easier. Well, at the very least, you are not alone. There’s plenty of fools like me around and if I’m surviving, you can too.
UPDATE: Since writing this I’ve been offered another job. And, though it means I have to work like the clappers, I’ve accepted.
Say yes to saying no.