It’s January. Time to set goals. Plan your work and work your plan. In other words, write.

Looking at my calendar for the next six months, I’m already behind—and already exhausted thinking about it. I’m stressing over how to squeeze my writing time into a schedule dominated by a demanding day job, book signings, publishing events, friends and family obligations.

Just like you.

The Year of No

Every January I name my new year. I’ve lived The Year of Yoga, The Year of Mystery, even The Year of Paula (now that was a FUN one). 2020 will be The Year of No.

1) No to (So Much) Social Media

Social media is fun and addictive and the worst time suck ever. I’m now trying to limit my social media to check-ins every morning while I’m drinking coffee to wake up and every evening when my work day is over, unless something special is going on. I (mostly) succeed.

2) No to (Some) Events

They say that when you’re first getting started, you have to say yes to everything. Then you reach the point where you have to say no to everything. I’m not there yet, but between the events I should go to because I’m an agent and the events I should go to because I’m an author, well, that’s a lot of events. This year I’m restricting events to those that will increase my visibility, introduce me to a new audience, and/or pay my way there.

3) No to Round-the-Clock Office Hours

Thanks to texts and emails and 24/7 workaholic business practices, the days of 9 to 5 are over. This is one of the reasons burnout now affects a whopping 77 percent of American workers. I get texts from people at midnight, emails on weekends, voicemails on major holidays—and I’m sure you do, too. When I had one client tell me that I was a morning person like him and another tell me that I was a night owl like her on the same day based on emails I’d responded to at odd hours, I knew I had to set some boundaries. I’m observing regular office hours now, and on evenings and weekends I only work if I feel like it. I take off major holidays. You should, too!

4) No to (Most) Requests

People will ask the impossible of you if you let them. Don’t let them. Writers are always asking me to read their work, to give them advice, to let them pick my brain about the publishing business. My job as an agent is to sell my clients’ work, not personally mentor every aspiring writer in the world. And while I’m happy to help if and when I can, I’m vowing now to do it only within the context of writing conferences and workshops and boot camps and other publishing and writing events. So I will refer people to these events, and to the three books on writing that I’ve published. I can’t be everyone’s agent, but I can share what I’ve learned with everyone in this way.

5) No to FOMO

FOMO—Fear Of Missing Out—may be one reason you have trouble saying no. It’s certainly one reason I have trouble saying no. But I’ve learned the hard way that apart from precious time with loved ones and certain milestone events in my career, I’m usually not missing that much. I’m learning to prioritize, and to focus on those opportunities that most excite and engage me.

6) No to Bad Stress

There’s good stress and bad stress. For me, good stress is the people, places, and things that energize me. Bad stress is the people, places, and things that deplete me. I’m learning to tell the difference. Figure out what good stress and bad stress is for you—and act accordingly.

7) No to High-Maintenance People

These are the people who drive you crazy, take up too much time of your time, require too much effort on your part, and return too little of your generosity, admiration, and even affection. Think of these people as the vampires they are and protect yourself. Tough lesson but I’m getting the hang of it. I’m releasing them to their karma and moving on.

8) No to Multitasking

As I learned when writing Happier Every Day: Simple ways to bring more peace, contentment and joy into your life, multitasking is a misnomer. Our brains can’t do it. What we’re really doing is just forcing our brains to switch gears too rapidly, contributing to higher stress levels. So do one thing at a time. And interrupt-proof that time. This is especially important when we’re writing. When I’m writing, I put my phone on silent and store it in my purse. Out of sight, out of my writing mind.

9) No to Interrupted Writing Time

When you’re juggling too many responsibilities, you may find those responsibilities eating into your writing time. Declare your writing time as My Sacred Writing Time and warn everyone that you will be unavailable during that time. No exceptions, unless someone is bleeding. Note: That’s what I used to tell my kids, and it worked.

10) No to Interrupted Writing Time

This one is so important that I’m listing it twice. For my sake as much as yours.

Scripts for Naysaying

If you’re anything like me, one of the reasons you’re overscheduled is because you’re so used to saying yes that you literally don’t have the language at hand to decline. I call this The Language of No. We can all learn to speak it fluently. But until then, here are some scripts I find useful:

That sounds wonderful, but I’m afraid I’m already booked at that time. You are not lying, you’re already booked for My Sacred Writing Time.

I’m so sorry, but that would not be in keeping with our policy. I’ll have to respectfully decline. Try this when people try to manipulate you into doing what they want. You are the master of your own policy. I’m just saying.

That sounds interesting. But it really falls outside my wheelhouse. You’d be better off looking elsewhere. People are always trying to talk me into working on projects that really aren’t my thing or don’t offer enough ROI or are simply ill-conceived or not well-executed. Too often they succeed. But no more. Now I’ve established “house rules” that keep me and my workload on track and on target.

I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. See fill in the blank here for guidelines on how to proceed. The lack of boundaries is so rampant that you do everyone a service when you set people straight.  For example, I use this script with writers who try to query me on social media, in restaurant bathrooms, etc. I refer them to our website.

I know this isn’t what you want to hear, and I’m sorry about that. We all have to deliver bad news from time to time. As an agent, I have to deliver bad news all the time. Rejection is part of the process for all of us in publishing, and none of us likes it. But this language can help.


Here’s to 2020, The Year of No.

Just repeat after me: No. Nein. Non. Niet. Nahi. Nej. Nu. Nei. Nee….