A time to say "no"
As storytellers, we must learn how to say "no."
Now I realize that this point of view goes against the grain of most of us. We are promoters, givers, sharers, keepers of the flame that stories represent in our and every culture.
But after having told for several decades, I am convinced that one telltale sign of a veteran, quality teller is knowing when to say "no."
1. When you become so busy that fatigue becomes the normal modus operandi for you, then its time to say "no" to invitations to tell. The quality of your telling suffers when you are over-extended, and no amount of glossing over or denying this simple truth changes its effect.
This will also give you the opportunity to do what is still rare among storytellers: recommend another teller. This act of generosity is good for the soul (for both giver and receiver) and will come back to you many times over as others begin recommending you in return. This makes for a kinder, gentler storytelling community.
2. When you agree to tell under certain circumstances and those circumstances are changed, then its time to politely say "no."
I shall never forget the time i agreed to tell at a theme park kind of heritage village. I was asked to prepare 30 minutes of material, and we agreed on my normal fee for a telling.
When i arrived to tell, I was astounded to see my name listed SIX times during that day (spaced at even intervals throughout the day), scheduled to tell for 30 minutes each time !
The General Manager of the Park was nowhere to be found, and could not be reached that day. I cheerfully told once (at the prime time when most folks were at the Park), and politely declined to tell those other five times.
Although I thought that I had made it clear during negotiations what the telling was going to entail, either the GM figured hed get the most for his money or I would be shamed into telling all those extra times if I were already on the schedule. Or maybe it was an honest mistake to list me that many times. No matter which reason it was - the situation called for a polite but firm"no." 3. Storytellers are known for their generosity. But when you have given away for free your stories and your time again and again (and often its the same folks who are asking) , then its time to say"no."
What we do has value. Not trumped-up, rickety, tenuous value, but real, authentic, time-honored value of the highest kind. We transmit culture, emotion, feeling, beauty, truth.
Develop a way to tell those who ask (and some even demand ! ) for you to donate your time over and over again, that you are a professional who makes part of or an entire living doing this.
We as storytellers will always be giving away our talent (and I am not suggesting that we stop - as there are always conditions where we will want to), as we are always so excited and willing to share, but there will come a time when you should say, simply and politely and firmly: "no."
These are three of the most obvious instances where saying "no" is the healthy thing to do , but there are others. When you look back over your own experience, arent there times when you and your craft and the stories you tell would have been better served had you said "no?"
During this time of busy storytelling around the holidays, you will have many opportunities to say "yes," and I know that "yes" is still the predominant direction our heads will noddingly take when asked to tell.
I am simply suggesting that you become aware that there may be times when "no" is ultimately the best "yes" you can give. To your stories. To your craft. To your audiences.
Think about it.
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Joe Paris, who, when not saying "no," tells stories, writes, gardens, and goes on long walks in his home area of deep south Louisiana. Reprinted with the permission of the author, who wishes to thank Sean and all the folks at Storyteller.net for the enduring gift of this website !