Sunday, May 29, 2011

Learning to Say No

By Lisabet Sarai

I hate pressure, absolutely hate it. When I have a deadline looming and my writing isn't going smoothly, you'd be well-advised to go somewhere else. I moan, I cry, I literally tear at my hair. (Fortunately I have a lot of hair.) My head aches. My back hurts. Even the cats know enough to hide under the sofa.

Yet when I started thinking about this post I came to a startling realization. The pressure doesn't really come from outside. Although I expend a huge amount of energy trying to keep my life organized in order to avoid crises and crunches, in fact I create the pressure.

I used to make myself sick when I was a schoolchild, worrying about my grades. An A- just wasn't good enough. If I didn't get an A, I'd be a total mess, most likely in tears, much to the disgust of my classmates. Now, this didn't come from my parents. Certainly, they emphasized the importance education (which was hardly necessary, since I loved the life of the mind from my earliest days). However, they never pushed me to be the absolute best in the class, nor punished me on the rare occasions that I fell short of my extreme targets. No, that need to excel came from somewhere inside of me.

Writing is like that for me, too. I'm the one who establishes the goals. Nobody forces me to write. I willingly commit to deadlines. No one is going to kick down my door and rough me up if I don't follow through.

The notion of not meeting a deadline, though, is practically unbearable. If I've made a commitment, then I'm going to fulfill it, come hell or high water, the Rapture or the tornado of the century. When I suspect that might not possible, I fall apart.

The presence of deadlines, the accumulation of tasks on my to-do list, and the inevitable unforeseen obstacles - these aren't the source of the problem. No, it's my reaction. I panic. I hyperventilate. I lose exactly the concentration that I need in order to make progress.

So really, what I need to do is manage my reactions. Not easy, but clearly possible. Meditation, exercise, enough sleep, these are all strategies that can help. Mostly I need to get my priorities straight. Yes, my deadline is important, but not as important as my relationship with my husband or my own inner peace.

I understood something else, however, as I continued to consider my post. Sometimes the external aspects of a crunch are also my fault, because I'm so bad at saying no.

I'm the perennial volunteer. When my publisher sends out a note saying that they're in critical need of a story or two for an anthology, I'm ready to pony up and commit to supplying one. When I'm contacted by a fellow author, asking if I'll help judge a writing contest, how can I refuse? Peer reviews needed? Lisabet can oblige. Crit for a colleague? Of course - after all, I've received so much help from others' crits, it's only fair to pay it forward. Take charge of editing a series of books? Gee, I'm so flattered - I'd love to.

This happens in other areas of my life, too. A few weeks ago, an academic colleague mentioned passing that it would be great if I could give a guest lecture to her class on a subject where I have special expertise. Before I knew it, I'd agreed to creating a brand new two hour presentation, which ended up taking two days to prepare - two days that I might have devoted to my work in progress, if I'd thought for a moment and declined.

I've wondered whether my urge to say yes has anything to do with my submissive tendencies. Or maybe I just want people to like me. Actually, to be honest, I think that pride is a factor - you know, the kind that goeth before a fall? I know that I'm competent in a variety of areas and also that I'm the sort who gets things done. When someone identifies a need, I figure that I can do at least as good a job satisfying that need as most people. Perhaps at some level I'm even trying to show off.

I've got to watch myself, though. Pressure just isn't healthy, for me or for my writing career. The quality of my writing is far higher when I can approach it in a spirit of play, rather than as a task that has to be completed.

So I've got to practice saying no, even when I'm dying to say yes. Perhaps some role playing as a Domme might help. You want me to do what to you? Dream on, slave!

On the other hand, I know that would be terribly difficult for me. I've written dominant characters, but they're usually far more indulgent toward their subs than they probably should be. Face to face with a submissive who's eager to offer you his or her whole self - how could you refuse?


  1. Lisabet - I don't have a submissive bone in my body, but I also volunteer for everything. I think it's more a sense of responsibility to the balance of everything than submission. We take, but we also give. And you're right - the pressure to do that comes entirely from within.

  2. I can definitely relate! I think submissiveness is one factor, but as you say, there are others too: pride, loyalty (to a person or a community), exhibitionism.
    I'm glad you met the inner pressure to write such a well-thought-out post on pressure. :)

  3. I think most preassure we feel is internal, the preassure we put on ourselves. recently I was watching a movie and a character said to another "You;re addicted to getting aproval from others." or something like that. Anyway the light bulb went on and I heard that inner voice say "You too Garce." Like I'm that way too. You;re a self confessed submissive so I wonder if that might be what makes you open to be
    voluneteered for stuff. But what's wrong with being useful? I think that a good thing.

    Hey - Bodies of Light in on the sidebar! Beautiful cover! Very nice.


  4. Hi Lisabet,

    What would you be like if the pressure wasn't there? What would you achieve? What would you think about yourself?

    I suspect that you are right to focus on what you do when the pressure produces the behaviours that stop you from functioning as you would like to.

    A colleague of mine would invoke "The Angel Of Release" (now there's an image for a submissive) who would let her forgive herself when she failed and live with simply having done her best.

    I wonder if some of this behaviour is simply a function of being talented. We grow up seeing that we can do more than those around us. We have no effective point of comparison other than ourselves, so we push. And we win. Most of the time.

    I also have difficulty saying no. Then I get to the point where I wake up each day feeling that I am already late, already starting to fail, and I know I have to take some time out or I will fail. Of course that is always the point when taking time out seems the most impossible.

  5. Hi, Kathleen,

    Not a submissive bone in your body? Gee, I never would have guessed ;^)

    Seriously though, I've always been (and wanted to be) the good girl. Sometimes I still think I'm trying to get my mother's approval. Of course, if she knew the real me, she'd probably disown me!

  6. Hi, Jean,

    Actually, I considered writing about the pressure to produce for OGG. All your posts have been so wonderful lately, while I've been feeling like mine really lack pizazz. Then I thought about how I'd miss the Grip if I gave it up, and decided that this wasn't really a pressure situation.

  7. Hi, Garce,

    Oh, I get a huge kick out of "being useful". Of course, one might wonder whether writing smut is exactly "useful"... ;^)

    Yes, Bodies of Light comes out as a separate title today! Thanks for your crits - it's a far better story because of your input!


  8. "What would you be like if the pressure wasn't there? What would you achieve? What would you think about yourself?"

    That's an interesting question, Mike. In fact, I'm far less driven than I was when I was younger - and I feel as though I accomplish far less. I wrote the first draft of my 500 page dissertation in about two weeks. Could I do that now? I doubt it.

    On the other hand, I'm far happier and relaxed now than I was when I was in my twenties. But then I look at my output and start castigating myself as lazy and inefficient...

    Nobody is as hard on us as we are on ourselves.


  9. Oh, to be a woman. To be so complex yet so simple. I wouldn't call myself a submissive. Is there such a thing as a dominant submissive? I think if anything, I fit into that category. I challenge most anything...its just in my nature. I've always got something to say, even if I don't say it. I think of myself as blending with the shadows until I want to step away from the pack. Almost invariably, I kick myself for doing it. I don't take on extra things like really has to pique my interest. Otherwise, its just like hmmm, that would be interesting and the thought is gone.

    Its really like I've only got so much room and I can't process it all. I've got a lot going on from a full time job, kid, writing, relationship. Especially right now, I feel pressure to get out the next book. My brain wants to take a break from the series and work on a stand alone title but my audience is expecting the sequel.


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