Declining an Offer I Can’t Refuse: Saying “No” ahead of a Future “Yes”

I said “no” to a project that would have paid three months of my rent, but I feel like I’ve gained rather than lost. Here’s why.

This weekend marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Martin Scorsese’s Mafia epic, GoodFellas. The sequence in the film over the course of May 11, 1980—when Henry Hill’s frenetic day of selling guns, dodging helicopters, and cooking dinner screeches to a drug-bust halt—often comes to mind when I’ve got several projects rolling at once. Nothing like having three hefty proofreading jobs, a copyediting project, a pile of author’s query responses to resolve, and an editing test for a new client in house at once to have you humming “Jump into the Fire” or “Monkey Man” while swapping among them.

Copyright 1990 Warner Brothers.

I have yet to be followed around by helicopters, but I have occasionally been run into the red while multitasking!

I love being busy, but I am trying to be smarter about reserving time for myself by taking truly work-free days off and imposing better air traffic control on incoming projects. Some of my clients offer jobs weeks in advice, while others only email me when the materials are in hand. This makes predicting the next couple of months a crystal-ball affair.

Thus I’m always eager to grab large projects when I can. I know exactly what I’ll be doing for four to six weeks, and the bigger invoice never hurts. So when I was offered a month-long editing project earlier this week that would have paid a hair short of three months’ rent, my first instinct was an immediate “yes.”

Instead, I said “no.”

Why would I pass on the copyediting equivalent of Goodfellas’s Lufthansa score? Excellent question. Here’s what went into the decision:

Back in my first couple of years of full-time freelancing, when I was more frequently without any work at all, I’d grab everything that came my way. That’s a tough reflex to overcome sometimes, even now—even after not heeding the above points landed me in huge, weekend-consuming traffic jams of projects all due at the same time.

Resisting that urge, and trusting that the relationships I’ve built through hitting deadlines and doing good work will continue to bring me fascinating and profitable editing and proofreading projects, are why I have the chance this fine Saturday morning to take a stroll in the cool of waning summer, spend extra time at the gym, and—if I’m feeling adventurous—maybe even get a huge pot of tomato sauce going before relaxing with a spot of Scorsese. Now I just gotta go slice the garlic really thin so it liquefies in the pan with just a little oil. . . .

Copyright 1990 Warner Brothers.

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While reviewing your suggestions on a health communication book I revised recently, I was so impressed with your knowledge of health care and your acumen with language that I paused to look up your work online. Wow! It’s no surprise to me that you are an accomplished writer and an expert in the field.

I loved this article and am more grateful than I can say that you said “yes” to my project.

Thanks a million!

– Athena

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