Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Writing Pet Peeve

(otherwise titled: I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No!) 
by Helena Fairfax

A couple of years ago we sold the large house where my children grew up and bought somewhere much smaller.  It was an old Victorian terrace in Yorkshire (in the north of England, where I live) and it needed a LOT of renovating.  I basically spent a year living in dirt.

The cluttered room where I work
Now I’ve put away the step-ladders and the paintbrushes to concentrate on my dream: writing.  I’m lucky to have a little money left from the sale of my first house and, instead of saving it for the old age which is creeping up on me, I thought I’d use it to support myself building a career as a writer.  I’ve done years and years of the nine to five, trying to fit in writing, and now I feel tremendously lucky that I can work on my dream full-time.

So, there doesn’t seem to be much to peeve about here, huh?  There’s just one small fly in the ointment.  Now people know I work from home, I am the go-to person for help.  Since I no longer work in my factory job, people seem to think that “just writing”, especially “just writing romance novels” isn’t really what they'd call a proper job and that I have all the time in the world.

Requests for help can range from neighbours asking me if I’d mind “nipping to the Post Office” to pick up a parcel whilst they’re at work (and believe me, no-one “nips” to my local Post Office!  There’s never anywhere to park, plus a massive queue of people, all sending parcels to far-flung places and paying with piles of one pence coins), or else looking after a friend's ill child whilst she's at work, to running people to hospital for their appointments.

Of course I don’t mind helping people in need – I’ve been in need myself and I know what it's like – it’s just that sometimes I wish people would recognise that writing is actually a “proper job” which takes up a lot of my time, and if I don’t spend time on it I won’t earn any money.  

Now, I’m supposed to finish my post by showing how I deal with my pet peeve…but I honestly can’t think how to deal with this problem!   

I have a Plan A:  Don’t answer my phone.  Obviously this works, but really I'm just avoiding the problem.  Plus, I might miss an important call.
My wild look

 My Plan B is: spend all day in my jimjams reeking of gin, with my hair all wild, looking like thesort of person no one in their right mind would ever ask for help.  This one might be fun for a while, but again, I think I'm just avoiding the problem - plus even my long-suffering husband would soon get a little tired of it!

How do you turn people down assertively?  Does anyone else find it hard saying no?  Any commenters will go into a draw for a free Muse book – and I'll also be massively grateful for any advice or to share your experience!


Oh, and I have somehow found time to write after all, because my first novel, The Silk Romance, is due out in May and is on pre-order here in the Muse Bookstore
You can follow me on Facebook, or follow my own blog here at Helena Fairfax


Anonymous said...


I know how you feel due to a similar situation I faced. But, tell people you're working against a tight deadline. Especially people who want you to go to the post office. Watching a sick child, well, maybe an occasional exception, but you're working against a deadline. As for taking someone to the hospital, well, maybe an get the idea. Good luck with your writing!

anne stenhouse said...

Oh Helena, this is soooo familiar. Long ago a friend said to me "If you work at home - you don't work." As you say, we've all been in need, but there are chancers out there. How about "I'll be going to the post office on the first Wednesday of next month." Find out what hospital transport is available and offer the telephone number. Anne

Wendy said...

Legitimate peeve. Helena. You are so right, nice people can't say 'No'. So, there is no reason at all why you couldn't ask your neighbour to bring you the milk and bread on her way home from work since she is out there already and you are 'so spaced out trying to edit your manuscript for your impatient publisher,' so your friend wouldn't mind stopping by the shop, would she, 'just this once.' :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great advice. Stan, the deadline idea is a great one - I'll definitely use that! Anne, I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels like this. Sometimes you can start to feel like you're on your own. And Wendy - persuading others to help back more often is a simple yet genius idea and I don't even know why I never thought of it. This has actually been a big help, thanks :)

Marian Lanouette said...

Same here, Helena, or the drop ins. I had to be firm and tell everyone I work from 8am to 5pm and on occassion I'll make lunch dates but writing is how I make my living. I just do it from home instead of an outside office. Most people have been very respectful and supportive.

Mary Raimes Curtis said...

Oh, Yeh, know what you mean, Helena. When I was running my communications business from my home office, not only would people drop by for coffee--at all times of the day, but some asked me to write a brochure, or some other writing project they needed--of course it was for free.

How about a sign to hang by your front door: Rottweiler visiting, don't walk, run. Of course when people phone then the message on your answering machine would have to sound just as dire. How about: Sorry, my phone has been taken over by Gremlins and they can slither down the line to your place, I'll post a notice when theyve been flames.

Okay, your a nice person and probably wouldn't do such a dastardly thing, So I guess it's no good suggesting a message that says; I'm in bed with my lover, please don't disturb as he has a craving for fresh blood. Oops! Maybe hubby wouldn't appreciate that. Okay, I'm off to bug someone else.

Marsha said...

This is such a honest pet-peeve, Helena. I think some of us who are people pleasers suffer from it more than others. They just say no and move on with nary a hint of guilt. Whereas, those of us who really want to make people happy--even at quite an expense to ourselves really struggle with that word. It's a little word. No. I suggest you practice outloud some scenarios where you respond: "Oh, thanks for asking me, I'd love to help out, but I have to tell you no." And then hang up.
I've tailored this from one of my daughters who has some friends who go on and on on the phone like they have no other life. She says: "Listen, I'm sorry, Name, but I have to let you go. Bye." and she hangs up.
My daughters have tried to understand, but it's only gotten better since I sold. They seem to get that I really am working sitting in front of the computer. Great post, Helena. Now go practice saying, NO. If you don't look after you, who will?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments and advice. Marsha and Marian, you are both right - I just need to bite the bullet and be firm. And you're right, Marian, I'm sure my real friends would be supportive - anyone else, I suppose I should let it just go. And Mary, your lateral thinking has the gift of genius! I can tell you're a writer. Now, how to find a lover with a taste for blood...

Pat McDermott said...

This one is tough, Helena, and I've seen some great ideas here. I have found several good articles online about How to Say No Graciously. My schedule can't handle another thing, I have another commitment then, I can't give your project the attention it deserves at this time, are all good responses. No need to apologize. Just be sure the person understands you are saying no to the request, not to them. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pat, that's good advice. How to Say no Graciously is exactly what I'm looking for! I'll try Googling it and see what comes up - thanks!

J.Q. Rose said...

There is nothing wrong in saying no. And you don't need to offer an excuse whether you're working or you are doing your nails. Just no, nope, huh-uh, nada, not gonna happen. Well, you get the idea. it may take you a few times to just say no without saying why, but you'll get the hang of it. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Good advice, JQ! I'll have to practise this one, though. Let me just get the hang of saying no at all, with or without excuses - then I'll be able to move on to the hardcore Nein/Non/No!