The Courage to Say No

Trust Your LifeSaying “No” can take as much courage as saying “Yes.” We’ve all had the experience of squeaking a mousy “Okay, sure” for something we didn’t really want to do—drive twelve kids to the waterpark in your Mini Cooper, agree to Sunday dinner with new acquaintances when the conversation already stalled at “Hello,” go with a friend to a football game when you’re allergic to fans in painted faces.

I always take heart from authors who’ve proclaimed an emphatic “No” to other pursuits in favor of writing. Not minimizing the difficulties, hardships, and agonies of their decisions, I applaud them. A few:

  • A new writing friend withdrew from teaching middle school to start writing and blogging.
  • A by-now well-known, highly successful woman turned from hotshot attorney to spiritual and career coach and self-help writer.
  • A classmate in graduate school stopped at the master’s to write novels (I dutifully trudged on to the doctorate) and became world famous.
  • A corporate drone left the cubicle and water cooler to peddle his comedy scripts.

All these people, and many others, had to buck disapproval, friends’ incredulity, relinquishment of prestige and titles, disappearance of steady money (sometimes a lot), and exposure at holiday dinners to relatives’ downturned mouths, dire warnings, and protracted head-shaking. Not to mention the writers’ own fears.

But these writers persisted in saying No and following the call of their writing.

You’ve probably heard the advice to do what you love. The rest of that book title by Marsha Sinetar is The Money Will Follow. Well, maybe the money won’t follow so fast, but most days you’ll really want to get out of bed. You’ll look forward to today, and even when you’re tussling with writing block, you’ll know it’s a struggle you’ve chosen. Some days, for no apparent reason, your heart will leap like a fawn.

To be true to our calling has a larger context and connotation. We’re declaring ourselves to the universe. We’re saying, “This is what I was meant for, and nothing else deserves my best attention.” Doesn’t mean we won’t write for bread, or cable, or take a day job, but our major allegiance and commitment are to our writing.

The American spiritual author and teacher Vernon Howard wrote a best-selling booklet called Your Power to Say No. He points out how others, overtly or subtly, want us to say Yes for all of their reasons. But we must exercise our power to say No like a muscle until it becomes strong and discerning. I cherish a bookmark with a wonderfully reminding quotation from the poet James Dillet Freeman (two of whose poems astronauts took to the moon):

Dare to be what you are meant to be and do what you are meant to do, and life will provide you the means to do it and be it.

Whether we do what we’re meant to do for five minutes, ten, twenty, half a day, or full-time, we cannot—and should not—deny our writing vocation. If we do, it will tickle and gnaw at us like termites until we claim it as our own.

Remember—beyond questioning, rationalizing, or excusing, you’ve been given the talent, desire, and drive to create with words. You do have the power and courage to say Yes to these and No to all that would threaten to erode your commitment to writing.

Trust Your LifeAuthor, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction, having published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, ReadLearnWrite, Women on Writing, Transormation Magazine, 11.11, and Unity booklets. Her monthly column, “Bloom Where You’re Writing,” appears in Coffeehouse for Writers. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally), with a psychological-spiritual handbook in progress. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of ten best 2011 ebooks), she draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. See Noelle’s website: With Trust Your Life, Noelle appears in the Unity Books 2013 “Summer of Self-Discovery” on Goodreads with two other authors of positive messages for discussions and free webcasts:


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Filed under Noelle Sterne, Self Help, Writing & Editing

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