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Say No to Say Yes

Colorful India [1]India is on my mind this morning. Forgive me for dreaming a little of the faraway, but I am at the end of nearly two solid months of extreme writing. I’ve barely been to the grocery store, much less anywhere interesting.

For a couple of days, I considered writing about how I organized the writing marathon, but India has presented itself, alluring and exotic and beautiful, the place I’ve had on my travel bucket list for longer than any other, and it does have relevance to the marathon, to writing, to our writing lives.

I’ve been saying I wanted to visit India for a long, long time. Decades. The reasons I have not committed to a trip are myriad—it’s a long way, and no one in my circle is at all interested in going, and it will be expensive and it will not be like going to England or Spain. It will be way beyond my comfort zone sometimes. It frightens and calls to me in equal measure. Beauty, sacred sites, ancientness, elephants, color, history. Crowds, heat, poverty. What if I go and hate it? What if I don’t and keep this dream of India forever, pristine and lovely, like the woman in Staten Island who collected all things Tibetan [2] and never went. I loved the museum, but felt such sadness for the woman herself. Why didn’t she go?

I am not that woman. If I get to the last day of my life and have not visited India, I will be deeply disappointed in myself. I must make it a priority, begin to plan, figure out how to actually go, rather than just thinking about it.

It will mean, finally, saying no to some things so I can say yes to India. Just as many of us must do with our writing.

For India, I had to first get an idea of what it would cost, and how long I should spend and what time of year is best to go. One night, I finally declared a date—more than two years in the future—and marked it on the calendar. I looked up possible small, real world tours, bookmarked them. I cut out photos of India, the parts of India I most need to see with my own eyes, and will paste them on a vision board. When I finish this long, long stretch of deadlines, I will buy an actual guide book as a gesture of commitment to the universe that I mean this, that I’m going, and it might as well give me support.

By saying yes to this long-held dream, I will also have to say no to other things. I won’t be traveling to Europe again between now and then (especially as I have committed to a long trip to New Zealand to see Christopher Robin’s brother and family). I will not take smaller trips, either, because I’m saving little jaunts for the little ones arriving in my world. I’ll have to say no to things I really want to do—maybe a trip with friends or doing a big renovation in my garden. When it stings, I’ll remind myself that I’m giving up these smaller things for something big, something maybe not everyone would do.

It’s just like writing, really. I need focus, commitment, tenacity. Last summer, I had a chance to participate in a project (for Serial Box Publishing [3]) with some very smart, interesting women. Because I already had a bunch of deadlines [4] in place, I knew that saying yes would mean my autumn would be a stretch of extreme writing. It would mean giving up a lot of smaller things.

I really wanted to play in this world of the Restoration, in a new kind of format, so I said yes. And then, for these past eight weeks, I have said no to pretty much everything else. Lunches out with friends, definitely. Movies on Friday afternoons. Much in the way of meal planning—we have lived on grilled cheese sandwiches and Amy’s Organics. Most of my well-filling activities like tai chi and zumba. Even my daily walks have been truncated, reduced to a quick mile to wake up my brain the morning.

The yes is to the writing. Everything is arranged the need to do pages—the food I have stocked in the house (carrot sticks and red peppers because I have to snack when I write; when I was younger and had a better metabolism, it was Skittles and other little round candies, which I miss more than I miss cigarettes), and the things I don’t have (Skittles, cookies, pretzels, any other dangerous food). My friends have been leaving messages saying, “I know you’re working right now, but when you’re done, let’s…” My beloved nudges me to bed when I’m tempted to stay up binge watching Netflix.

When I agreed to this gig last summer, I didn’t know that my daughter-in-law was pregnant for the second time, living in a new town with most of her friends back in the old one. I knew I would want to be present for the new baby, and the new mother, and that would cut into the available work time, too. That was a big yes, too, and made the autumn even more important.

It is not easy to write like this, even for me the burst writer. It takes everything I have—

But I also know it will be worth it. I’m a writer and I crave new experiences. When the projects make their way into the world, I’ll be so glad I showed up every day and made it work. When I have time to see my new granddaughter, I’ll be grateful that I said no to everything else this fall in order to get my writing done.

Just as I know that when I actually land in India and see it for the first time, my heart will swell with gratitude. I’ll be so relieved that I committed to it, and that I said no to some things so I could say a big fat yes to a dream.

Are you adept at saying no to make space for the things you want to do, or is it a struggle? Are there things taking up time in your life right now that you could fill with things that matter? Do you have a dream of writing (or life) that you have not been able to commit to because you have faltering courage? Let’s talk in the comments.

Photo credit Amit Gupta  [1]


About Barbara O'Neal [5]

Barbara O'Neal [6] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [7], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [8].