Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Learning how to say "no."

Last night I had a meltdown in the middle of Barnes and Noble's cafe. It had been eleven months in the making.

Eleven months ago, I let my self be coaxed, cajoled and pressured into working on a collaborative project with my neighbor Celia. A person I thought was turning into a friend at long last.

Years ago when we first moved here, my first impression of Celia was that she was a condescending know-it-all. I stood firm in that belief for a good 4-5 years. But then she invited me over for pool parties and coffee and she seemed sort of fun and I thought, "At long last, a friend!" My loneliness and need for adult relationships overshadowed my initial instincts when it came to Celia.

Celia discovered that not only could I write, I wrote very well. She latched onto me, like a parasite onto its host, deciding I could be most useful to her. She pressured me into writing a children's book with her even though the tiny voice in my head (the voice I refused to listen to!) screamed, "I'm not interested in writing children's books now! I don't want to write with a partner! I don't really like Celia all that much!"

For the next eleven months, denial and excuses became my modus operandi. As work progressed on the book, the sheer accumulation of words necessitated that I stick with it, despite that tiny, ineffectual voice inside me fighting to be heard as she tried to tell me, "This writing sucks!"

Celia wanted my writing abilities but as we work, she rejects my ideas and suggestions. She sits at the helm, in control, typing her words. My purpose? Was to inspire and motivate her, apparently. Celia's writing style is to take an ordinary object or action and describe it to death. A flashlight hidden on a ledge in a cave becomes an intricately described grooved metal cylinder. And to what end? Purely to pad word count and reach "The End" faster. Celia operates under the delusion that writing makes money and the faster you do it, the faster you get those royalty checks.

I've been writing for publication since 2000 and I'll tell you right now I've made a grand total of about $90 for my writing.

There's so much more I could say about Celia. Anyone who read my blog regularly knows what a struggle I've been through and you're probably nodding your head vigorously now as I admit I was in denial that there was a problem. And you're probably shouting, "YES, FINALLY, SHE GETS IT!" when I say that Celia is an obnoxious pushy bully that I should never have gotten so deeply involved with.

So this meltdown had been building. Recent events leading up to it: I asked Celia for a current copy of our book so I could look it over, begin editing it on my own to try to make it interesting and possibly salable. But I looked at that first page and Celia had listed her name first even though alphabetically mine should naturally come first. Right there - those simple three lines of text symbolized my struggle. When she had first set down those lines and I asked her why her name was first (I can't even remember her reason), that should have been when I bowed out.

But I figured if the thing was ever published, an editor would fix that right up. So I continued editing and as I looked over that first page, I felt ill. My voice wasn't there at all. It was written completely in Celia's dull, klunky, over-detailed style. It was pure crap.

Eleven months and 112 pages of pure crap.

And every Tuesday and Friday morning I'm supposed to head to her house, my mind races for ways out.

So last night, in my writers' group, with my two closest critique partners, I had a meltdown which they watched unfold without surprise. They knew it was coming. And they told me only this:
Celia's got to go.

I spent hours with them trying to teach me how to say "no." And then I came home and spent another few hours with my husband teaching me how to say "no."

No. No more. I'm done. I'm out. No. No. No. NO!

There's nothing wrong with telling people no. If you don't want to do it, if your instincts are saying one thing, don't say another. Just say no. My husband said the only person who can say "no" to look out for you is YOU.

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