Saying “No” in Writing, and Living with the Consequences

Many years ago I watched an interview with Margaret Mitchell on television. She talked about the process she went through when writing Gone With the Wind and she related how she often had to say no to people who wanted her to go out to a restaurant, or concert, or a party.

She said it was hard telling them she had to stay home and write because she knew most, if not all of them, didn’t understand. What was the big deal, right? You can write anytime. Come on out and play, Maggie!

Mitchell knew she was hurting them in a sense because these were family and friends who wanted to see her and be with her. But for her, the novel came first. So she had to say no and live with the consequences of them not really understanding her reasons.

In a way I think all writers kind of understand what she went through. I mean, if you’re going to be a writer it’s going to come about sooner or later when someone will want you to do something and you’re going to have to say ‘No, I’m staying home tonight. Got to write.’

This happened to me quite often. Okay, I fully admit it didn’t hurt that I was mostly a hermit quite comfortable staying at home anyway. It happens less so now that my life has settled down. But I do remember going through this.

I’ve talked about this subject to other writers before and they all seem to be on the same page. They understand what this is like, what it means when you broach the subject. It’s no fun sometimes, but what are you going to do? Story comes first, pal. It definitely comes before you. It remains your decision whether it comes before anyone else in your life and if so, why.

Margaret Mitchell felt bad she had to tell her friends no all the time. But she never felt she made the wrong decision. For her, the novel, finishing the novel, working on the novel, struggling with the novel, was paramount to everything else in life.

I think writers often understand the nature of the contract we enter into when we decide to write. We are often forced, or sometimes think we are forced, to seclude ourselves in some fashion so we can work. I used to know a romance writer who lived in Haughton, Louisiana. I had the good fortune to befriend her through a writing class at the local college and she saw some spark of fire in me, I think. We never got to talk often but all the advice she gave me was good advice.

I asked her once about finding a place to write. Or maybe the conversation drifted in that direction through its own inertia. Get two writers together, and sooner or later they will start talking about where they write. Anyway, she told me she liked to write in the kitchen. She said it was the one room in the house that more or less was her domain and where she felt most comfortable. Sure enough, in a corner of the kitchen, sat her writing desk and typewriter.

I have always said no one understands a writer like another writer. Friends and family may mean well when they offer you love and support, but they don’t understand what you are going through. They sympathize. They want to help. But they don’t understand what it is we have to deal with upon occasion, and the choices we have to make.

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