Don’t Be Afraid of the “No”

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A few weeks ago my granddaughter was at my house and started doing what I call “the ask dance.” This consists of 1) silently wandering into and out of whatever room I’m in, 2) twirling around, and 3) coming up to the table and drumming on it until I say, “What’s your ask?” She told me — Donatos Pizza — to which I readily acquiesced. I decided, given that she is a pre-teen, that it was time for “the talk.” The topic was “don’t be afraid of the ‘no.’” I explained that in most cases she would hear (and has heard) “yes” when she’s asked for something of me. After all, grandparents and grandchildren have a special relationship given that they have a common enemy. I went on to tell her that if she encountered a “no” from me it would most likely be a result of the impossibility of performance and that we would find a way to get to “yes” or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The only time a problem would occur is if she was so afraid of “no” that she didn’t ask at all. At that point, what she fears — “no” — becomes the de facto answer.

We all hate “no.” We hear it constantly when we are little and helpless as we reach toward candles that are lit and the tails of sleeping dogs, when we are old and confused and reach for car keys and checkbooks, and occasionally at all points in between. It stands between us and what we want (other than when it’s used in the context of emptying the dishwasher or mowing the lawn). “Yes” is the key that opens doors, moves mountains, and makes dreams come true. “No” disappoints, derails, and detours. “Yes” is always possible. “No” is occasionally unavoidable.

It’s important to understand as writers or as anything else, that “no,” as destructive as it is, is much less powerful than “yes.” You can get turned down a hundred times by agents and publishers and have your dreams crushed and strewn across the landscape. Get out that broom, dustpan, and epoxy, put everything back together, and try again. And again. One “yes” will outweigh each “no” and will blow them away. Keep chasing that “yes,” but remember that you’ll go through a lot of negativity to get there. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace it for a moment as you move it out of your path. It’s in the way of your “yes,” which is waiting for you and your dream just down the road. That is true whether it’s a Donatos pizza, your manuscript, or anything else. Just don’t be afraid of the “no.”

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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

21 thoughts on “Don’t Be Afraid of the “No”

  1. Love this post, Joe, and especially my new favorite quote: “Grandparents and grandchildren have a special relationship, given that they have a common enemy.” (grin)

    • Hatvey, thank you so much for your kind comments here and on Facebook. They made my week.

      • Hatvey?! I’m sorry, I meant “Harvey.” I shouldn’t answer these before my second cup of Bustelo…

  2. We were afraid one of our kids was going to think her name was “Nickie No No.” We started calling her Nu Nu to differentiate.
    And a very good reminder, Joe. The “yes” means so much more after a string of “no’s.” (I followed your example and used the apostrophe for the plural, and assume it’s an exception for clarity, because under normal circumstances, every time you use an apostrophe to form a plural, a puppy dies.)

    • Beyond the implications for writers, this anecdote contains such an important lessons for anyone who wants something. You never know if you don’t ask, and how you phrase the “ask” can influence the answer.

      I always remember a line from the film “Clueless”: “No is just the starting point for future negotiations.”

      Thanks for sharing that story, Joe. My Granddad, God rest, is largely responsible for the woman I am today, and I always counted myself grateful to have such a relationship.

  3. Terry, you know how to get to me. I can’t spare one puppy. I went back and changed the sentence to “each” thus changing the “no” to singular which would have eliminated the problem to begin with if I were a better writer. Thanks for the good lookout.

  4. No no no no no no no no no no

    No no no no no no no no no no no

    No no no no no no no no no no

    Nobody can do the (shimmy!) like I do

    Nobody can do the (shake!) like I do…

    But I digress. As Octavia Butler Jacqueline Briskin put it, “Let rejection hurt for half an hour, no more. Then get back to your word processor.”

    • Jim, the version of “Nobody But Me” by the Human Beinz (let’s hear it for Youngstown, Ohio, and for the Isley Brothers, who wrote and recorded the original version) contains the word “no” over one hundred times in a little over two minutes. All of the band members went on to work for publishing companies…

      That’s a great quote from Octavia Butler, whose early and mid-period science fiction was groundbreaking. Thanks for sharing.

  5. As usual, Joe, your posts are full of wisdom.

    The best advice I ever received as a new writer came from novelist David Cates. He said, “Make it your GOAL to get 100 rejections.” Turn the no on its head and make it a positive instead of negative. By golly, as I kept submitting, working toward that magic 100, I started receiving acceptances at a rate of about 1 in 10. Once I reached 100, I kept going toward 200, and more acceptances resulted.

  6. Debbie, you’re very kind. People as a general rule describe me of being full of something far removed from wisdom. Thanks as well for your story about the 100 rejection goal. I LOVE it!

  7. Joe, great post. You ARE a wise man.

    When someone begins talking about grandchildren, I listen. And yes, I too will “find a way to get to yes.”

    And on the subject of no, like Laura, I agree that this applies to about every other endeavor in life. Growing up I was so afraid of failure (hearing a no) that I was afraid to try. When I finally learned that I would never achieve perfection, I began trying anything with the expectation that I would fail at least three times before I got it right. I remember a quote from a book – Breaking the Rules – “Celebrate your brokenness.”

    Thanks for your post.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Steve. You are as always easy to please. And a special tip of the fedora to you for sharing your own experiences and expectations. They’re words to live by. Hope you’re well.

  8. Great post, Joe. I try to retrain from saying no to my twin six year old grand daughters, but sometimes it is hard. They come into grandpa’s study and want to handle all his interesting toys. Like 50 year old guitars and 100 year old cameras. So I try to encourage them to handle them with me, as I show them how they work or whatever.

    Sometimes hearing no leads to a better yes. I have to say no to eating salted foods, or doing what I want, or going to bed without hooking up to a machine for eight hours. But, hard as that is, it leads to saying yes to staying alive. So far, that’s been preferable.

    • Thank you, David, for your kind comments and for sharing your own story about getting to yes, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. As far as telling yourself “no” when necessary…indeed, that’s extremely important. Yes. Indeed. Thanks for stopping by and hang in there, my friend.

  9. A great post, Joe. Sometimes it’s as hard to say “No” as to hear it said to you. My son used to set up a campaign when he wanted something. My husband and I used to laugh as we knew the signs. He was a super salesman. 😀 — Suzanne

  10. Thank you, patriciaruthsusan! And thanks for the reminder about how hard it is to say “No” sometimes. One of my sons had a very predictable pattern of approaching me when he would want to borrow my car. When I would hear his footsteps after dinner I would quickly grab the newspaper (you can imagine how long ago that was!) and hold it up in front of me as if I were reading it to block him. It got to be a standing joke. He was a supersalesman too. Still is!

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