Just say nay

If you’re not a Shrek aficionado, this blog post’s title will make you go “huh,” but I like to amuse myself.  This isn’t very hard to do (I’m a lot like Shrek that way).


I know I’ve talked before about the importance of protecting your writing time, but if the conversations I overhear on writers’ forums, in meetings and at the coffee shop are any indication, a lot of folks out there are still letting other people dictate their lives a little too much.


I understand this.  Really, I do.  I have friends, family, a kid, a job.  I have random strangers who want things from me, and some of these random strangers need my attention if I’m actually going to do my job well.


But I also know that no one is going to do my work for me – not my agenting, not my writing, not my mothering.  I have plenty of my own work to accomplish.  So if I’m doing other people’s work instead of my own, well, how stupid is that?


I’ve talked about identifying the three most important things in your life and focusing your efforts on those.  That approach has always helped me stay on track.  Through the years, I’ve learned to set boundaries and enforce them, and I’ve gotten good at saying no. 


But the world gets more complicated the older you get and the more your job is about building relationships and less about making things.  So recently I’ve done something a little different.  I’ve started identifying the most important people in my life so that I can prioritize their needs. 


For example, ME!  If I don’t take care of me, the rest doesn’t matter because y’all will be holding my memorial service.  My daughter is next; what she needs is just about as important as what I need, and is sometimes more important than what I need, depending.  Then there are my good friends – this isn’t just some vague concept, it’s a very specific list of people I will stay up late to talk to or will reorganize a day to meet with if they need it.  Then there are the business relationships that matter: my colleagues at the agency, my clients, the editors I deal with.  Then there are potential clients and other people who represent opportunities I may want to consider.  Then there’s everyone else in the universe.


At any point in my day where someone “needs” something from me, I go through a mental checklist.  First, I make sure that what is needed fits my three most important things – so if you’re bringing me an opportunity to talk about my garden, much as I love my roses I’m going to turn you down.  Second, I see where the relationship falls on my priority list.  A client’s request will get scheduled before a potential client’s.  An editor wins out over a college buddy I haven’t heard from in ten years.  Therefore if you’re part of the “everyone else in the universe” group, it may be hard to get my attention.  And that’s exactly as it should be.