Sometimes, a Writer Needs to Say “No.”

Carol Tice

In The Writing World it's ok to Say NOJudging by the emails I get, a lot of writers have trouble turning down gigs, no matter how low-paying, stressful or inappropriate to their talents and interests the assignment may be. So my thought for the day is, like Nancy Reagan used to say, “Just say no!”

Saying no is empowering. It establishes healthy boundaries for you in the marketplace. I’m not desperate, it says. I take jobs I want. Taking jobs you really don’t want or that radically underpay you kill your soul and eat up oodles of time you could spend finding good-paying, fun gigs that would help you build your career.

“You mean I just say ‘no’ to the $10 a post jobs?” one writer wailed to me on an email not long ago.

Yes, that’s what I mean. That job doesn’t pay enough. Don’t take it.

“You mean I should say ‘no’ to the book ghostwriting gig that pays $1,500 for 65,000 words?” another asked.

That’s it exactly. Say no. Practice it with me now. Let’s say it like a mantra: “NNNNnnnnnnn…..OOOOOoooooo, Noooooo, Noooo, Noo….No.”

Stop thinking the economy has collapsed and there are only crappy jobs out there. I got one $1,500 article assignment already this year, lined up three new copywriting clients, and have two $800 articles I’m working on right now. One of my mentees just got her first $750 assignment. You can still break into new markets and get good writing assignments. You don’t have to say  “yes” to whatever comes down the pike.

Recently, I received this question from new writer Tom Ryan:

I’ve been freelance writing for a year or so now, and was just presented an opportunity to ghostwrite a business book. The person I’d be writing for…[our personalities are quite different and]…I completely disagree with his philosophy of business. But I’d love to land the project.

So…wonder if you’d have any advice for someone aspiring to do this sort of work on how to best remain separate from your subject?

Can you guess what I told Tom?

That’s right–he needs to say ‘no’ to this gig. Tom, why would you love to land this project? Ghostwriting for someone you dislike and don’t find a rapport with isn’t going to work out. You’re going to knock your brains out, spend umpteen hours with someone you can’t stand, and end up with a product (should this project ever successfully wrap up) that you won’t be proud of. Don’t spend time on that!

The Kabbalists say we are never just “killing time.” It’s really the other way around. Time kills us. Time is your most precious resource. Don’t spend precious moments of your career doing work you abhor or that radically underpays you, even if you want to break into ghostwriting or book writing or whatever it is. The wrong project will not help you down the path to where you want to go.

Your gut knows the difference between a good ground-floor opportunity and exploitation and/or a nightmare project you’ll hate. Listen to it. And then, if it feels wrong, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Better gigs are out there.

Photo via Flickr user fotogail


  1. Brian V. Hunt


    True words. I just sent the paperwork for signature on an $1100 job rewriting two case studies. I imagine the job will take about ten hours max.


  2. Carol Tice

    RIGHT ON, Brian!

    Thanks for leaving your success story to inspire others.


  3. Lindsay Woolman

    Woohoo! Congrats to that mentee for a $750 assignment. This is really great advice and what a wonderful thing to point out. Very inspiring post!


  4. Anne Wayman - About

    "No!" is such a wonderfully magic word… I use it liberally. And my economy hasn't collapsed at all 😉

  5. Star

    Call me nuts–and I may be–but I fired a client who would only pay thru Pay Pal–we had no choice. So the stated fee was $10 less–PP commission. I wanted the money I was promised and asked could I but $10 more on the next pitch (which had been approved). No–I wasn't worth $10. So I quit. I know–it sounds stupid, but it wasn't fair and I felt disrespected. I also kicked a job where they contacted me for eight 400-word stories a month…for $250. Was I intrigued, they asked me. Not really. Pass.

  6. Carol Tice

    I also had a prospective client want me to accept PayPal. I asked them to cover the fee on it, and never heard from them again. I was glad, as they had seemed a little on the flaky side, and this confirmed it. It's a convenience for them…still not sure why I should receive less as a result. But best is if you can build it into your initial quote and simply bid more…

    More on jobs I've said no to here.


  7. Brandi

    Impeccable timing on this post! I was just hemming and hawing over a blog job I was offered. My intuition was telling me that this client would end up being a difficult one. After going back and forth, I finally decided it wasn't worth it and I deserved better. Then, I saw this post! What great validation for what I did! Thanks!

  8. Robin

    "No!" is such a wonderfully magic word… I use it liberally. And my economy hasn't collapsed at all 😉

    • Carol Tice

      I know it's scary when you 'feel poor' to say no to gigs…but I think there's a concept where if you don't make space in your life for good-paying work, you can't attract it…and when you're busy with low-paying gigs, they take up ALL your time — you have to work so many hours at a lower rate to earn well! Then you have no head space to think of high-paying markets you could query, big-company clients you could connect with…and so on.

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