The Power of Saying No in Order to Say Yes by Sarah Madison


I’m late getting here today. I’ve been out of town and, while I had the best of intentions as to writing this post in advance, I got caught up in all the post-vacation work stuff that occurs and barely managed to write this at all. But it’s just as well because my trip influenced my choice of topics here today.

I just got back from an annual vacation that my friends and I refer to as ‘Squee Weekend.’ It started seven years ago as a 3 day weekend among fandom friends and has evolved into a writers/crafting weeklong workshop with participants from all over the world. We still talk about our fandoms, but we also brainstorm over stories, share our love for other hobbies, such as journaling, or jewelry-making, and in general stay up half the night watching movies, talking, drinking wine, and eating too much. I look forward to going every year. It’s a place where I can let down my hair among friends—among tribe mates—and be myself for a few days. Every year the group gets bigger—and the lovely thing is we can all meet together for mass discussions or break down into smaller gatherings depending on what we might be interested in at that moment.

I always learn something new when I’m there: how to creatively decorate my bookmarks for con swag, for example, or the basics of podficcing. I’ll find out what fandoms my friends are in now and what stories I should be reading. One year I might learn how to put on winged eyeliner without looking like Bucky from The Winter Soldier. Another I might learn how to make charm bracelets or create a bullet journal or organize notebooks for my story ideas. I never fail to come home with more ideas for stories, either—the meeting of like minds is a fertile feeding ground for plot bunnies—so if I’d been feeling stale in my writing, I return to the keyboard refreshed and raring to go.

This time, however, my take-home lesson was something entirely different.

It came out of a random conversation. I don’t even remember what the original topic was, but I happened to mention I had a high school reunion coming up and I didn’t want to go.

“So don’t,” said one of my friends.

I grimaced. “I’ve already paid for the tickets and they were too pricey not to use.”

“That money is already spent,” said another friend. “Don’t compound the problem by investing in it further.”

“Yeah,” said the first person. “You’ve wasted that money. But don’t spend it AND be miserable to boot. Call it a loss and do something you’d rather do that evening.”

I confess, it was a bit of a new concept to me. The notion I could cut my losses without having to ‘get my money’s worth’ out of the price of the tickets already spent, that is. Granted, I’m bad about over-committing anyway. I have lots of Big Ideas and I want to implement them, and I frequently agree to things that sound good on paper but I wind up not having the time for it—or worse, I’m stressed by the number of things I promised I would do. This is especially true when it comes to my writing. I’ll agree to submit a story to this project, or sign up for that event, or participate in something I think will get my name out there and hopefully help me find more readers.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better about saying no to things I don’t want to do in the first place—and to not allow myself to be guilted into doing something I have no desire to do. But I’m still bad about over-committing to things that sound fun, or that I think would benefit me in some way.


One of the things I had to do this time at Squee Weekend was pick and choose which discussions and activities I wanted to participate in. It was hard because I wanted to do them all! But Squee has become so large we can’t do everything we’d like. As it was, the days flew by and it felt as though we’d barely scratched the surface of our activities. I came home with a better feeling of what was important to me (yes, spending a couple of hours posing action figures in ridiculous shots and taking pictures of them was something I wanted to do with my friends). As a matter of fact, I ended up going miles out of my way on the return trip because I missed an exit. I wound up in the WRONG STATE and added more than an hour to my driving time. Normally this would have stressed me to no end, but instead, I found myself pulling over at a scenic overlook to—yes, take pictures of actions figures against the backdrop.

I’m going to do more saying no to say yes. No to the reunion, but yes to a nice dinner with the BF. No to all the anthologies so I can work on the stories I really want to write. No to so much marketing and yes to finishing that next novel. No to writing half a dozen blog posts and hosting more people on my website and yes to walking the dogs in this lovely autumn weather.

Saying no because I don’t want to do a particular thing is sometimes hard for me to do. I was raised to be helpful and accommodating at all times. But saying no to doing something because there is something else I would rather do—that I can get behind.

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6 thoughts on “The Power of Saying No in Order to Say Yes by Sarah Madison”

  1. Hey, Sarah! This is such wisdom, and it’s so hard to put it in practice in any consistent way. Thanks for some muchj-needed food for thought!

    1. Thank you! I struggle with this all the time–especially when friends ask me for a favor that will really put a kink in my already over-loaded schedule–and yet how can I say no when I expect favors in return? I think if we all weren’t already stretched to the max in commitments, then the occasional favor to a good friend wouldn’t feel like such a huge imposition. When I already put in a 10-12 hour workday, something that extends my day by even an hour feels impossible. Since I rarely get to tell the boss no, I have to be a bit protective about my ‘free’ time.

  2. This is such a valuable life lesson, and one I’ve really only learned to implement in the last year or two. I’d always say yes to everything before, just to be nice, but that left me feeling stressed and without enough time and energy to devote to the things I needed and wanted to do. By the way, Squee Weekend sounds like an amazing time! Yay for being goofy with action figures! 🙂

    1. I think this problem is one many women in particular face because we’re raised to be ‘accommodating’ and ‘helpful’. We *do* catch flak for saying no and we’re expected to be nice at all times. What I find when I stick to this plan is the people and animals I love most get the short end of my temper–usually because I’ve used up all my stores of patience for the day by the time I come home to them. I don’t want to look back on this time in my life with more regrets than I already have!

      Squee Weekend is *awesome*. I look forward to it all year and get the blues when it’s over until the next time. 🙂

  3. Timely post, Sarah, and a good reminder for all of us. It’s harder to say no to the stuff that sounds cool, and all to easy to overcommit. I know it’s something I need to work on too.

    1. Especially when it comes to doing cool stuff, I think! I’m learning to ask myself not only ‘do I have the time and energy to do this?’ but also, ‘do I want to do this?’ before I commit. But sometimes it’s a choice between two things you *want* to do. Which is why it’s important to cut out the things you really don’t want to do–so you have more time!

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