Of all of the communication skills screenwriters need, perhaps the least appreciated skill is the ability to say “No.”
“No” raises your status, protects your time, and makes your “Yes” an even more valuable commodity.
NOTE: Experienced writers should check out #8.
Communication Skills Raise Your Status
The more powerful you are, the more often you say “No.”
- Are you able to schedule as much writing time as you need?
- Do your friends and family respect your writing time?
- Do your reps respect your writing process?
“No” (done properly) sets clear boundaries, makes it easier to find the time you need, and earns you the respect you deserve.
Communication Skills Protect Your Time
You know that your writing time is sacred, but….
- Do you end up doing tasks for other people instead of writing?
- Do your writing sessions get interrupted?
- Do you find yourself going out when you had planned to write?
“No” is a suit of armor that protects your writing time.
It’s how you keep other people’s tasks off your To-Do List and prevent interruptions before they happen.
9 Ways To Say “No”
Most of these communication skills are for when someone is making a request and you feel like you should say “Yes,” but what you really want to say is “No.”
Some of what I’m about to say will be obvious. However, it can be helpful to be reminded of these communication skills, so I’m going to be thorough.
#1: Don’t Be Available At All Times
As my son’s kickboxing instructor says, “The best way to not get hit or kicked is not to be in the situation in the first place.”
Therefore, when you start writing:
-Don’t answer the phone. Let them leave a message. If you’re not there, often the caller will try someone else.
-Don’t respond to off-hours emails. The more you respond to emails during off-hours, the more people will expect a quick response.
-Don’t check your social media. A software program that can help you with this is Self-Control.
#2: Use A Version Of “I’m Busy”
As you know, the standard excuse is that you’re busy with work:
- “I’d like to, I’m just not available.”
- “I can’t, I’m just so under the gun right now.”
- “Unfortunately, I’m swamped. Another time?”
- “I’ve got a major deadline; I just can’t.”
- “I have plans.”
- “My plate is full.”
- “I have an appointment I can’t break.”
- “I have a previous engagement.”
This has become such a standard tactic that in certain situations you may want to put a little more effort into your “No.”
Two ways to do that are to cite a higher authority or have a policy.
#3: Cite A Higher Authority
The “higher authority” is typically a person you can’t refuse, e.g.:
- “Can’t – it’s date night.”
- “Wish I could, but we’re having dinner with my parents.”
- “I promised (_____) I’d be with them tonight.”
#4: Have A “Policy”
Having a “policy” diminishes the feeling that you are personally rejecting the person making the request.
For whatever reason, it’s harder to argue against a policy.
- “I won’t be able to attend the fundraiser. It’s our policy to have dinner together as a family every Sunday night.”
- “That sounds interesting, but it’s just my policy not to accept new assignments without taking 24 hours to look at my schedule first.”
#5: Just Say “No”
The most powerful version of “No” are the least complicated.
Say “no” politely and leave it at that. Detailed explanations tend to be seen as fictional (even if they’re not).
Keep your explanations to a minimum:
- “No, thanks.”
- “No, I just don’t have time.”
- “No, it’s not my thing.”
- “Unfortunately, I can’t make it.”
#6: Take a Time-Out
If you’re not sure how to say “No,” one of the easiest things you can do is postpone the decision.
Here are a few classic ways to buy time:
- “I’m sorry but this is not a good time to talk about this. Can we set a time to speak this afternoon?”
- “I need to check my calendar and I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
- “Let me make a phone call to check something out first.”
- And, in case of emergency: “Hang on – I need a minute and I’ll be right back.”
#7: Advanced Technique: Run It By The Boss
Sometimes you need to say “No” to a request you’re getting from a colleague at work, and that can be tricky because of how it relates to office politics.
The trick is to make them get the “Yes” from your boss – not you, e.g.:
- “I have to finish this assignment for (the boss) first. Run it by her and if she wants me to handle it, I’ll be happy to take care of it for you.”
#8: Advanced Technique: Blame The “Fit”
When you have a representative (manager, agent, lawyer) you will often get asked to take on assignments.
While often you’d want to say “Yes” because you want to be working and get paid, sometimes you’re too busy with other assignments or you have a hot spec cooking and that deserves your focus.
Here’s how to say “No” to reps and other VIPs:
- “Great idea, but it’s not sticking with me, so I don’t think I’m right for it.”
- “Exciting concept, but in my heart I know it’s not the right fit for me.”
- “I love it, but my instinct is that I’m not the right person.”
#9: Advanced Technique: Avoid “Upturn Phrasing”
“Upturn phrasing” is where your voice lifts up at the end of the word.
This gives the impression that your “No” can be negotiated into a “Yes.”
Instead, use “downturn phrasing,” where your voice goes down in tone at the end of the word. This communicates, “No” in a much firmer way.
Saying “No” Means Saying “Yes” To Yourself
You know that great feeling when you clean out a closet and donate or throw away a whole bunch of stuff?
Suddenly, it’s so much easier to find the things you need, and there’s space available for what’s new.
The same benefit applies when you learn the communication skills to help you say “No” to the people, activities, and requests that are cluttering up your life.
You have more time for the people and activities to which you want to say, “Yes.”