Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Deadlines, Setting Limits

My assignment to myself

Someone told me recently, “I don’t know how you do it all.” I’ve heard this before and it’s nice that I fooled that person, but here is the truth: I am going a bit barmy with overcommitment.

This weekend I sat down to my gnawing to-do list and felt entirely overwhelmed. In part that’s because what’s really kicking my ass right now isn’t even on the list for this crowded week: an article that was due in the middle of November. I haven’t been able to see my way through to any solid, sustained writing time. And looking at the calendar for December, I don’t see how when article is going to happen. Especially since the underlying issue is that I have writer’s block and am still not sure how to approach the ginormous topic in question. (I did, however, find time to see the Muppet Movie over the weekend, which was very clarifying.)


Why do I let myself get into these situations? I hate disappointing other people.   Maybe what I need to do is compare how disappointed they will feel if I tell them no immediately versus how disappointed they will be if I delay my follow-through come crunch time.

The blessing of being at this point in my career is that I have more than enough stimulating work to do. The challenge is that I got here by saying yes to almost everything for years and hoping that “way leads on to way,” which it did in a rather fantastic manner. I am so grateful. But how do I unlearn the behavior that got me to this place?

I have Greg Cootsona’s helpful book Say Yes to No on my shelf and it’s pretty clear I need to re-read it. Just as soon as I finish this article. And that other thing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ellen

    As a fellow writer, I have found that most clients/editors (including you) will respond graciously when I’m honest about my inability to do what they’ve asked (either at all, or on time), and that my doing so lowers my stress levels enormously. But, as you hint at here, part of becoming a successful writer is making connections, which often involves helping other people out by giving them good content for their magazine or blog or twitter feed or whatever. Whenever I say “no” to a project or send an “I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to do what I said I would” email, I’m convinced I’ll be blackballed as a writer from every legitimate venue out there. But don’t you think the bottom line is that, while people love when you meet deadlines, what they love even more is if you provide something of value, even if it’s late or not quite what they had in mind at first?

    Please say yes, because I’m counting on that last part.

    And you are now officially the fourth writer friend who has admitted to being on the verge of a meltdown due to either overcommitment, ongoing rejections of what they know is quality work, or both. And none of you are aspiring writers. You are all successful writers, with books and book contracts and blogs that get tons of traffic. Which goes to prove the exact thing you said to me on the phone a few weeks ago: Writing is an incredibly, incredibly hard way to make a living. Even when you’re good at it. Maybe especially then.

    Know that what you write IS valuable for so many of us, so we want you to do what’s needed so you can keep writing it. Even if that means saying “no” to opportunities.

    • Jana Riess

      Bless you for saying all this. Yesterday was a discouraging day, but I am beginning to dig out from under the piles. At least a little bit. And I think the answer to your question is yes, and that sometimes the best writing simply cannot happen on a schedule. Part of the reason I’m late with the article is that I got very inspired to write something else that I’m proud of. It was tugging at me and had to come out! But these things should conform to a more predictable timetable, as in the British rail system. Just sayin’.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Larry Ogan

    I learned the word “no” using my left hand to grab my right arm wrist so I can’t raise my hand to voluteer. It worked sometimes. I finally burned out and hide out in my studio.

    By the way I’m just finishing your book. Thanks for the pee-mail concept. I understand my dog and here life of smells much better when she takes me for a walk.

    • Jana Riess

      Ha ha! Wish I could take credit for the pee-mail joke, but that was my brother’s. Used with his permission. :-) Glad you enjoyed it.

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