Sunday, 17 May 2015

Choosing when to say no to work by Claire Musters

I took on a job a few months ago that I talked over with my husband beforehand, as I knew I was squeezing it in to an already packed schedule – but we both agreed it would be good for me to do it. However it really stressed me out and resulted in rather a frazzled, unhappy home for a month or so.

So, when we are juggling so many different things, how do freelance writers decide what jobs to take and what to pass on, when there is the consideration that the client may not ask again?

Just at the time I was beginning that work, I started reading a book called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands*. My heart sank as I read about how the author has learned to pinpoint what are her best ‘yes’s, and what are those things that she could do, but wouldn’t benefit either herself or her family. I immediately knew that I’d made a mistake.

Of course I honoured the arrangement I had made with the publisher, but I settled in my heart that I would be much more discerning about what I took on. In the first few months after that I passed on what would have given me a substantial amount of money. While we wobbled a bit when focusing on the figure, my husband and I knew it was right for both my sanity and our family’s happiness – and I felt such a surge of relief and excitement that I’d actually managed to say no!

A really helpful writer/editor/speaker gave me some invaluable tips when I first started freelance writing. One was not to sell myself short and not to write for free – a rule she had set for herself.

There are so many people out there wanting content that we could be kept exceedingly busy writing – but so much of it is unpaid. I have used that as a guide to help me make decisions.

Similarly early on, one kind editor said to me that while she couldn’t pay, she would give me regular space in her magazine so I could build up my portfolio. That helped hugely as I also learned a lot from her team. Not having done a journalism degree, it was good to pick up hints and tips.

Now I have products to sell I know I need to raise my profile generally, so there are certain articles I will write for free, but I am very careful and picky about those. I don’t do too many as I need to leave plenty of room for paid work.

So I would encourage you to think carefully about what you can offer clients, but also what you want from your work. Don’t just say yes to every opportunity as you could get swamped. All your writing could suffer as a result.

*My own journey with that book and what it taught me is contained in an article I wrote for the current issue of Liberti magazine.

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Guide: Managing Conflict and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.


  1. Such an important post, Claire. I found that book good and challenging too - and enjoyed a similar one written for the general market, Essentialism by Greg McKeown. It's so hard to pass up opportunities, and like you've I've taken on too much in the past and regretted it. I'm in a super busy season now too, but these are things I've chosen and come out of my core calling, so they don't feel onerous in the same way. Thanks for the discussion starter!

  2. This is really insightful Claire and has made me think. Thank you

  3. Thanks for your comments :) I think this is something that we can wrestle with at various times in our freelancing/writing careers. I'll take a look at that other book Amy - thanks for the heads up!

  4. It's so difficult turning down opportunities, but it has to be done. Thanks for this, you've strengthened my resolve.

  5. Thank you. This was very helpful.

  6. And, I'll add another side to this: knowing when to prioritise your writing above volunteering at church ... yes ... more knowing and learning when to say No. I've got caught by that one. You feel God wants you to put your back into your church ... then, you wake up and realise that if He really has called you to whatever your work is (eg writing, and writing which relates to your faith) He may not exactly or always also want you to kill yourself and your writing by running church groups ... He may, but also, He may not, He may offer you handing over the groups, or knowing when something has done its purpose. Thanks for helping us to think, Claire!

  7. I am looking forward to having the problem of too much work - but already with self-publishing and writing for myself I have had to learn to be really organised. And with mentoring I need to be careful about who I take on and when. This is a great article :)