Saturday, May 18, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE: There are days when I love Facebook.
And my writer friends. Yesterday I was skimming, as I hadn't been on Facebook in a few days (more than a few days) and a post by my very talented writer friend Catriona McPherson (author of the Dandy Gilver series, wonderful novels set in Scotland in the 1920s) jumped off the screen and smacked me right in the face. It was a photo of a page from Catriona's diary, reproduced here with her permission.


This is the sweetest, and the hardest, sentence in the writer's  universe. And meant, I was sure, just for me.

Following the thread, I saw that Cat had posted a link to a blog by someone named Kevin Ashton, titled CREATIVE PEOPLE SAY NO. 

For anyone who engages in any sort of creative work, I'd list this as a MUST READ. Mr. Ashton begins by recounting the story of a Hungarian psychology professor professor who once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. A third said NO, they were too busy. Another third didn't answer, probably because they were too busy and didn't have secretaries.

Mr. Ashton goes on to say that time equals creativity, and that any loss of time is a loss of productive work. My favorite of his examples is a quote from Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend: "It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.” 

I would go so far as to say that loss of time/work due to an inability to say NO has been the biggest hurdle of my writing life, and one certainly not conquered. 

I'm getting out my desk diary now and putting in my page-per-day goals, and filling in any "free" time with THIS WEEK NO TO ALL THINGS. (And thanking Catriona.)

REDS and READERS, is the constant erosion of creative time by little requests and chores a problem for everyone?  If so, how do you deal with it?



  1. I might be able to plan for a whole week of “no to all things,” but the reality would probably be far different . . . . While I can easily say “no” to chores and errand-running and that sort of thing that eats up so much time, there are some things that aren’t quite so clear-cut, and they are harder to lump into that “no to all things.” I think it truly depends on who is asking . . . and what it is that they are asking for. Sometimes, despite what I might want to say or do, I find it is simply not possible to just say “no” . . . .

  2. This is a great post -- and I'm getting a lot better at it. The one thing I can't say no to is when one of my (young adult) kids calls... of course that's a positive and good thing! I do not, however, have trouble saying no to house cleaning ;)

  3. Whew. I need to say No to Facebook! Just squandered at least thirty minutes of my precious early-morning writing time. Otherwise I'm with Julia Martin: pretty much never say No to my (young adult) sons, because I never see them enough, and frequently say No to cleaning!

  4. As Hallie and I are on a busy book tour in NC with Molly Weston and Jennifer McMahon, this hits home. We are having lots of fun and meeting many readers, but always in the back of my mind: what about the book? what about the book? what about the book?

    It's very hard to say no, but this is a perfect reminder. Thanks Debs!

  5. Pets! Everybody wants to play, jumping or purring whenever I stand up. I feel so mean just going to the kitchen for water.

  6. Boy is this post timely for me, Debs -- I've been promoting a book and everything else slides to the back burner... including writing the next book. BAD. I'm going to print out that page from Catriona's diary and pin it to my wall.

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  8. It is a very fine line. After all, we want to be good people and help when we can, we want to promote ourselves, but not at the expense of the work.

    As a book blogger, I have both the reading and writing time to work in, along with my "real" job...oh and the family too.

    Of course, since I am reading much of the time, people are always thinking I can just brush that off and do something else. But that is not the case, if I want to keep my blog timely and relevant.

    That is why, when an author agrees to do an interview or what-not with my for the blog, I always make it as unobtrusive as possible. A "Here are my questions, please just answer them when you have a free moment" sort of thing.

    When it comes to the review writing, I really have to have an uninterrupted period of time. I have to be in the zone to be able to say what I need to in an effort to recommend and promote the book, without giving away too much of the plot. Another fine line.

    Lesson of the day: Life is a balance on a fine line and we all must strive to not stray too far to one side or the other.

  9. Me, too, Hallie. I've spent the last three months promoting, researching, and promoting again. I need to stay home and write. But it can be very hard to draw the line. I love spending time with my adult daughter. I must take time for my mother, who is elderly and failing, and there I don't manage to do enough. And time with husband and friends is, of course, important, too.

    And yes, Edith, Facebook can be a big time suck, but it also helps me feel connected to many people I know and care about, and just to the world in general.

    It's just how to strike that delicate balance.

    And there is the thing about being self-employed, especially when you're a writer, and female, that encourages people to think you aren't doing anything. And having been brought up a polite Southern girl, it can be very hard to say no.

    But I'm working on it.

    Are others better at setting up strict office hours than I am?

  10. I think we need Jan for a writing challenge.

  11. What a great post! What a great question! Since the day WHIMSEY was released I have been walking that oh so fine line of promoting, and I have to say - it's paying off, even more than I had allowed myself to hope. But. It means Whimsey #2 is not getting written as quickly as it needs to be. So, while I truly don't have much of a problem saying "no" to others (a skill learned from being a secretary my entire working life) I have yet to learn to say "no" to myself as I learn to schedule my time between writing and promoting. And Facebook - oh laws, I am addicted to Facebook.

  12. Kaye, I actually think I need a secretary! (A noble calling, that! I was one, too, but never a very good one...) I've tried over the years with part time assistants, and the whole thing always seemed to take more time and energy than the payoff warranted. My daughter was the only assistant who every really worked out for me, and she is now, happily, very well employed elsewhere.

    Oh, and I had a friend, a very high level PR person, who was between jobs for a year. While she was job hunting, she worked for me a couple of Sundays a month. Part of the problem is that I can't get organized enough to be able to delegate, but I didn't need to tell this friend what to do. That was some of the most productive working time I've ever had. And of course I'd never have been able to pay her what she was really worth. (She's now head PR honcho with another big corporation.)

  13. Sorry for all my typos this morning. My eyes aren't focused yet:-)

  14. But Jack, time with pets is always a good idea!

  15. I'm holding to it so far. I've put off a radio interview until the next week and said no to seeing Star Trek.

    But before every Jungle Reds reader thinks "Jeez, what a diva! (And how her publicist must weep.)" ...

    It's one week a year, it's the week I try to get the new book "perfect" - Hah! - before it leaves the house, and it follows a week of teaching a class of writing students, two press interviews, two skypes to the UK (in the working day because of the time difference), dinner for a friend in from overseas, lunch with another friend, and today a third friend's book launch.

    In conclusion, my biggest problems are press attention, friends on two continents and Star Trek! It's not a bad life.

  16. I've still got Star Trek on my calendar for next week--an anniversary date delayed a week just for that. Some things you just have to make time for.

  17. Debs, I like the connection and have to make myself adhere to a schedule, or whatever I am connected with at the moment wins my time.

  18. That post on Facebook really hit home for me, too, Debs. I filed away the Dickens quote with a note to write a blog on it next week. (We really are sisters under the skin, I think.)

    I'm promoting a brand-new book right now, of course, but I also need to be writing another. And then there are all those boxes of books and bins of manuscripts sitting in my living room. *sigh* I'm judging two national writing contests at the same time. It wasn't supposed to work that way, but there they sit. And I have to meet my deadlines if I want to get paid.

    Last year was very tough for me. I was traveling all over promoting my first Skeet novel and writing two other books, as well. It meant that an organization (dear to my heart) for which I'd served as a sort of unpaid exec. director had to suffer. In January 2011, I left the board, explaining that I couldn't give all that time (as I'd done for 6 years) any longer. Some understood. Some were royally pissed, as if I owed them something. Some are still being nasty to me. but I'm standing firm. I love the group, but 6 years of 30-45-hour weeks was enough to give, I believe.

    It can be tough if you've developed a rep in the community for volunteer work. Everyone thinks you ought to say "yes" to them. I'm taping the Dickens quote by my phone.

  19. OH, my goodness. I missed this.. and it is SO APPROPRIATE. Thank you thank you thank you..I did a speaking engagement with Wally Lamb (nicest, most generous person in the world) a while ago--and he told me he has an index card taped to his phone. On it is one word: NO.