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Knowing When to Say Yes (...or No)

I get asked to do a lot of stuff.

Whether it's an interview or a short story or an essay, there are a lot of factors that go into my decision to say yes or no. But my first instinct is always to say yes, even when I don't think I'm exactly right for the job.

Why is that?

Well, every project I've ever agreed to that I was hesitant about taught me a lot about myself as a writer, as a freelancer, and produced work I would have normally never embarked to create on my own. Taking assignments forced me to think about things in ways I ordinarily wouldn't.

I think it's most important, though, to challenge yourself by saying yes with short stories, especially if they're on really tight deadlines.

One of my favorite short stories began as a call from an editor who needed a favor. They had very specific parameters for a story and they needed it delivered within three days. They gave me a rate and wished me luck.

Three days later I had an 8,000 word short story I was incredibly pleased with. After a round of edits, I was doubly pleased.

But if I'd've allowed myself to be intimidated by the hyper-specific parameters and the short deadline, I would have never written that story. It's a skill writer's (in my opinion) need to learn. We're supposed to be creative people. And if we're disciplined enough in being able to tie ideas togethers with words on a daily basis, being thrown a curve ball every now and again shouldn't be something to be dreaded, instead it should be embraced.

It also ingratiates you with editors and other people who might get you work. "Oh, this guy can deliver a short story that we can use in three days if necessary. He's not going to miss his deadlines and the work is good. Call him up again."

It happens more often than you might think.

But there are times when you might have to say no. And it's a very personal decision. And it's something I tend to agonize over. I want to say yes to everything and when I'm forced to say no, I feel guilty. Like I'm missing an opportunity or burning a bridge.

Rarely is that the case, though.

If you know you don't have the time to make the deadline (within reason: take risks), or you're already coming up on a number of other deadlines, or you're going to be on a legitimate vacation, or something...  Go ahead and say no.

Don't say yes and then beg for more time later. Just say no, thank them for asking, and let them know that you'd love to be asked again.

That's it.

There's a level of timidity we need to get over as writers. When an editor asks you for something quickly, they now you're going to be battling the deadline. They want to see as much of the structure and prose as you can put together, and they'll help guide the polish work. And they'll help you get to that finished product fast.

So think about a project you wouldn't ordinarily say yes to and think about how you'd get the job done anyway. Because life as a freelance writer means writing about a lot of things you'd never expect to.

If you want, leave a comment and I'll give you a prompt totally out of your comfort zone and a fast deadline and we can practice together.

As for my recent work: I had this piece on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad for StarWars.com,  and I got to do an interview with "Weird Al" Yankovic about his guest stint as editor of MAD Magazine for Huffington Post.

As part of my work, I was able to be a part of the White House Press Pool for a couple of days. I'll have more information on that later, but I was able to film this speech of the President's during his trip to Utah. You can watch it here. 

I also finished two short stories since my last post, finished my first, rough pass at a book I wrote a while ago to make sure it was fit for human eyes, and...  there's a bunch of other stuff I worked on, too, that I can't talk about just yet.

And don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter!
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