Thoughts on saying no...

‘It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.
— Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend (from

A. sent me an article about creative people being able (or needing) to focus on their work and avoid distracting tasks:

I do find it very hard to say no to people. Since writing is a self-motivated undertaking, the general consensus seem to be that I can be very flexible with my time. But the truth is, I really need a huge, isolated mental space to contain my works in my head and to develop them... if i come out of my retreat, say, over the weekend or the festive season, I really have to put in days to reboot my brain. it's really not like how when I was doing corporate work and I can just come back to a document two months later and get started immediately. it just doesn't work that way for me.

A few months ago, G commented that Singapore is so small that we get to see our friends, relatives, very often, unlike how things would be if we lived in a bigger country, and we'd just up and go to a different city and live and concentrate on our work. Perhaps because of this and the connectivity, it's really hard to carve out that block of time and space.

And perhaps it's because we're Asian, and somewhat, typically collectivist, that I feel obligated to honour social expectations and priorities over my own? but maybe it's not an Asian thing after all. according to the article, it seems that western individualists also find it difficult.

Perhaps because writing is an occupation that's commonly associated with employment and work, people tend to think it works like a job. But, really, it isn't. Writing is more like self-employment, like motherhood, it's an obsession which consumes and demands one's entire attention. Actually, I can imagine that it's somewhat like taking care of a child. If I don't see a 2 year old child for 2 months, and straightaway want to carry him in my arms and teach him his alphabets, he may reject me violently (or noisily), for he might no longer recognise me. I'd have to play with him, cajole him, get used to him again, before i try to teach him something interesting.

But mothers seem to find it easy to say no. "No, i can't stay back to do more work, i have to go home and breastfeed." or lawyers and accountants or bankers or whoever else also seem to have the have the right to say no to social functions, "No, i gotta prepare for a big meeting tomorrow." "No, i'm fighting for a promotion so i gotta work hard these few weeks." and students studying for exams find it easy to say no. "No, i got a test tomorrow." Exams and promotions are so important that it even allows these people to say no obligations. in fact, entire families will retire early from social functions if one of the kids have a class test the next day. Why?

Or i am being presumptuous? perhaps they don't find it easy to say no at all. it's just that there are more of them around to make an impact on the rest of us, they've collectively changed the consensus, and people now find it acceptable for people to say no for these specific reasons.

Indeed, A. suggested that maybe because nobody really understands the demands of creative work and its processes, so nobody can properly empathise with the creatives.

Since people think writing or artistic pursuits works like a job (at best), which is typically something somebody likes to get out of as soon as possible, people think that it's the same for me. Actually, the opposite is true, since i gave up a full-time job's pay to concentrate on my writing, i really enjoy spending as much time as possible on my work. Which ironically suggests to others to think that writing or artistic pursuits are like past-time/hobbies, which should not be more important than meeting up with people who care about you? After all, there are those who still think that my creative pursuits are still acts of a spoilt child refusing to get a proper job, so anything i say remotely like, "i got to work", invites snorts and stifled sarcastic retorts like, "(oh please) what do you have to work on?" (with the silent "oh please".)

Whatever the possible reasons, saying no remains difficult. At the end of the day, it comes down to this, is it okay to just focus on my work and perhaps have no friends or social life? After all, maybe that's what full-time mothers, overly-promoted lawyers, accountants, bankers, and parents, who care a lot about their children's examinations, feel compelled to give up.

I haven't found any way about it. I'm just trying to explain things to one friend at a time, which may end up taking more time than just saying "yes" to whatever request, and... just hoping it'll work out in the long run...