Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

No More Mister Nice Guy

By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 3, 2012

We were speaking last week about returning from a vacation and gearing up to get back in the groove. I said that my first “note to self” would be to start thinking, not in immediate go-go terms, but in longer, extended blocks of time.

Alice Cooper

My role model

My second marching order to myself is to start saying no.

The aim of these admonitions is to establish a realistic project timetable, to buckle down to a serious working rhythm, and to protect the air space around that timetable and that rhythm.

So I’ll stop saying yes to things.

First I’ll stop saying yes to things I want to do. My friend Jake, who has tickets to Springsteen on the opposite coast? Sorry, pard. Can’t waste two days at 30,000 feet.

I’ll go to Lou and Rachel’s wedding. I’ll be there for the festivities after. But I can’t stay out all night, and I won’t do anything that’ll leave me in no shape to work the next morning.

People are gonna get pissed at me.

What’s wrong with Pressfield? What’s his problem? Why is turning into such an asshole?

I’m like the Blues Brothers. I’m on a mission.

Next I’ll start saying no to deserving invitations. Yeah, I could meet that Australian novelist coming into town, or do a favor for my friend Jeanie’s nephew. But if I say yes to them, I’m saying no to the thing that’s most important to me.

Sorry.

I won’t do it.

Next I’ll say no all the sociopathic asks, and clueless asks, and amateur asks, from whatever quarter they appear. For some strange reason, this is the hardest for me.

It’s a character flaw. I have a demented need to think of myself as a Nice Guy. I don’t know why. Being a nice guy has never worked for me. It has screwed me up again and again.

I have had to school myself, like a spaniel, trying to break myself of this habit.

You lose friends.

You get a reputation.

I don’t care.

I know what it feels like, at the end of the day, when I’ve said yes to some bogus “opportunity” because I thought I ought to, or I didn’t want to offend someone, or because it seemed like what a Nice Guy would do.

I know what it feels like, at the end of the day, when I haven’t done my work—or slighted the Muse by doing it in some rushed or muddled manner.

I don’t want to feel like that.

I’m on a mission.

I have laid out a block of time, and in that time I have aims I want to achieve.

So things that I might have said yes to last month, I’ll say no to now.

The goal is to build a focus, to establish traction, to work not like an amateur but like a professional.

No more Mister Nice Guy.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

25 Responses to “No More Mister Nice Guy”

  1. Basilis
    October 3, 2012 at 3:42 am

    No to sociopathic, clueless, amateur asks.

    I feel that it must be more difficult to say NO to the amateur asks.

    To the other two categories of ask: Doctor No, by all means!

  2. October 3, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Damn it. One of the notes I left myself for a future blog topic was “Say No” … I can scratch that off my list. There’s no way I could have put it down as good as this! At least I now have more time to think. I’m still glad Steven said “yes” to my Terry Jaymes ALIVE podcast on iTunes. It was a great interview. I’m sure I’ll never have him on again … and that’s ok.

    Terry

  3. October 3, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Okay well I guess you won’t be coming for tea then? I understand your muse is calling, but just so you know, I bought green rooibos chai. 😉

  4. October 3, 2012 at 4:11 am

    Saying “No” feels like selfishness, so I say “Yes” out of guilt instead of an honest desire to do something helpful. This actually helps no one, and gives power to the lie that what I do isn’t really that important. My Muse (love that image) deserves as much respect as any other person, and so does the truth of my own passion. Good stuff here, Steven!

  5. October 3, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Once again, Obe Wan Pressfield delivers the perfect message at the exact moment I need to hear it.

    Thanks, Jedi Turning Pro Master.

    Glad you didn’t say no to this blog,

  6. Jay Lee
    October 3, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different. Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect. But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more! So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary. Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.
(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)
    – Robert Heinlein

    • October 3, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      Wow, I never saw that before from Heinlein. Thanks, Jay. If I’d known that passage, I’d have run it instead of the blog post!

    • Claudio
      October 4, 2012 at 2:00 am

      Steve’s post and Heinlein’s passage are both powerful. I prefer Heinlein’s in this case because of this quote: (This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)

    • October 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm

      Thanks…great, very good advice.

  7. Brian
    October 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

    I know the feeling, love the use of Alice Cooper too…perfect. Sometimes you just got to say ‘no’, followed by a sorry..but no. Otherwise others run your life instead of you running your life.

  8. Kathy Valentine
    October 3, 2012 at 6:50 am

    here’s me, all too often: a wishy-washy back n forther living in a torturous netherworld of indecision, pro-ing and conning, looking at this hand and then the other hand, wondering what chain of events will tumble like dominos in what direction when I commit to a yes or a no! pathetic, but once I’ve arrived and made a choice, I try to be fully present and open to the experience – who knows, a yes might open a new path for the muse. Or not! I guess it comes down to time management, balance, judgement and instinct – the right answer in one moment can sure feel wrong in another. thanks for helping, always, the aspiring to be inspired and keeping an eye on the prize.

    • Mike
      October 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you for this.

  9. October 3, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Ha, just returned from a long weekend in Hawaii with the same view – more thinking, less saying ‘yes’ out of, well, essentially fear with all of its “what will…” and “what ifs.” No from strength, Yes from true desire; No to what robs me of my time and talent; Yes to my goals.

  10. Annette
    October 3, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Agree with all you are saying “no” to, with the exception of Bruce Springsteen. His current tour is like nothing you have ever seen and his best yet. The inspiration you will take away from this creative genius and consummate performer is well worth the time you will give in return. Plus, you can write on the plane. For your creative health,do reconsider. You won’t regret it.

  11. October 3, 2012 at 11:46 am

    You had me at the Alice Cooper reference.

  12. October 3, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    You have to say no to things in order to say yes to the right things. Rock it, Steve.

  13. October 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    My New Year’s Resolution this year was to just say “No”. I did well until the month of May. Now, I’m inspired again to go back to this mantra. I have a novel to finish.

    Thanks for the inspiring post!

    Best!

  14. October 3, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Dang. Just 30 minutes ago I said yes to a deserving invitation that I KNOW I should have said no to.

  15. October 4, 2012 at 9:00 am

    I loved every word Steven. I face this constantly when visitors call unexpectedly when I am working. I used to gripe that they didn’t respect my work, but I was liberated when I realised I had to respect my work by saying NO.

  16. coco
    October 5, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    I agree with not committing to asks you don’t really want to do. But not because of the time consumed (doin favors to each other is what builds community after all), but because it mostly causes procrastination symptoms ending up with emotional blocks.

    On the other hand – I was not sure how to read your message, Steve. Do you knuckle down to a rigid work schedule that minimizes social contact?

    I have done that for years as I have taken this work attitude from my business administration life into my artist’s life.

    I found out that this kind of work habit is somewhat contraproductive for my artwork. Social contact is fueling my inspiration and my lust to work. We are social beings, after all. Attachment is crucial to us (hint Bowlby/Ainsworthy). Closing myself away in my studio regularly ends up with being blocked.

    Since I have given more room to social interaction, the flow has become much better. And surprisingly, the work gets done nonetheless, and quicker. Like 8 hours of pressing myself through something is replaced by 4 hours getting to my result more easily and with more joy.

    Just two cents to consider.

    Thanks for all the valuable thoughts on your blog.

  17. October 7, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Boom.

    (I hear that “boom” is what the kids are saying these days…)

    They really should teach this stuff at school. I could have used it to save me heap of time, money and self-esteem.

    I learned it (the hard way), but always have to find ways to remind myself of it.

  18. skip
    October 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    tempus fugit. hell you dont owe squat to anyone. enjoy the time you have left. and, you have already given us so much more than we can ever thank you for!

  19. October 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Well, it’s important that you know how to say yes or no to certain situations. You must determine what’s most important. Learn how to say no when you can and it’s up for the people to understand you or not.

  20. October 11, 2012 at 8:48 am

    I find myself trying hard to find the fine line between “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels”!

  21. Michael
    October 15, 2012 at 4:55 am

    Steven,
    Great post. For some reason your ideas of inspiration and doing your work really resonant with me more so than other inspirational authors. In a year and a half I have gone from playing and practicing guitar and songwriting (my craft) for minutes to 8 hours a day. By delaying gratification, being aware of Resistance, and just shutting up and doing my work, I have given up smoking, drinking, shitty eating, longing to always be around people and a restless anxiety. Resistance hates good habits more than anything, because day to day people can break but once a habit is formed it is not so easily trampled by Resistance. That being said I still need to hear these posts and become more professional in my quest to continuously grow in the thing that gives me purpose. Keep writing.

    Michael