Accepting No as an Option (November Theme)

by Naomi Kinsman

Everyone knows that determination is a key factor in success. We're taught from the time we are very small that if we give up when a situation becomes tough, we're giving up on the possibility of success. In writing, this is particularly true. The going does become rough, multiple times on a writer's journey. We hear the story of Madeleine L'Engle's ten year period of rejection letters on A Wrinkle in Time or about Kate DiCamillo's nearly 400 rejection letters before the launch of Because of Winn Dixie and tell ourselves: I have to stick with this. I have to never give up, because what would have happened if Kate gave up on her 399th try, or Madeleine gave up after nine years and eleven months?

Don't get me wrong. I believe these are important, essential things to tell ourselves. In fact, I've built my life on my near-to super-power of stubbornness. A strength? A weakness? Yes––both. When I see the spark of potential in a project, I stick with it until the bitter end. This is how I've managed to dream my organization for young writers, Society of Young Inklings, into reality. And also how I managed to write a series of four books in what seemed an impossibly short time.

Recently, though, I've started to consider the dark side of persistance. Over my professional life, between the Young Inklings, my curriculum development and consulting, my writing clients, the elementary schools who want me to direct shows for them and my growing collection of finished and unfinished books, I've collected quite a few projects. Projects have a way of not quite feeling done when they're completed. The first project leads to a new idea which builds on the old one, causing a balloon effect that at some point swallows up one's entire life. At some point, one has to stop and take stock.

This is when accepting no as an option becomes crucial. I came to such a point this fall, and it was one of the most frightening moments of my life. I had to step back from all of my projects and assess. This was no longer a "Who am I?" question. I know the answer to that: I'm a writer and a teacher and an entrepreneur, the identity that has manifested itself in all of these projects. The question now was, "While I will always write, always teach, always dream... which projects will I invest in putting out into the world, and which will I allow to stay small and private?"

Since this was an others-focused question, I had to stop charging ahead and insisting on my own way, and start listening. I asked my writers' group, my board of directors, my instructional staff, my friends and family: What are these creations separate and beyond me? What do they mean to you? One of my friends said, "You know, because you're willing to let go of this manuscript, I feel free to be honest with you."

Her honest feedback was unlike any she had given me before on my writing, and ultimately led me to commit even more deeply to the story. And I'm committed to not only to finishing it so that I am satisfied with the book, but so that it will work for a wider audience as well. New commitment didn't happen with all of the projects, though. Some have been left behind for now. In some areas, I've given up my leadership role and allowed others to start leading the charge. The many changes have been difficult because I'm still sorting through whether I'm giving up or flowing with life's constantly shifting landscape. The habit of persistence is deeply ingrained.

I'm grateful for my stubborn persistence, though, which means I won't suddenly transform into a person who gives up every time life pushes back. But I'm growing into the kind of person who can also accept no as an answer. I think that's essential, and may be just as important as not giving up. Listening to others, hearing how our work connects (and doesn't connect) with them, and choosing how to focus our time is another key to success. How about you? Do you need to step back and take stock? Come on in, the water's fine.


  1. Excellent post, Naomi! There's a fine line between persistence and unrealistic orneriness, and it helps to have friends who gently point out where you might have crossed over.

  2. As writers, it seems we have to keep revising OURSELVES...

  3. I appreciate your self-questioning; also clearly focused on your purpose you are!


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