How Big Is No In Your Life?

On a drizzling November day our poetry group gathers around the workshop leader’s kitchen table. Before we begin the critique of our poems that we wrote during the week, our workshop leader, Sharron Singleton gives us a writing prompt to free the writing self. We sit with our loose-leaf paper, yellow pads, our pens poised.  I always feel a little like I used to in school before a pop quiz.

“I want you to write “How Big Is No in Your Life,” Sharron tells us. 

We laugh and groan, oh, no.        images

“Don’t overthink it,” she reminds us.

And off we go, scribbling away. After five minutes, she calls “time.” As it so often happens, some of us, although reluctant to begin, find it hard to stop.  But we do and then each read aloud our five minutes of “No.” I am reminded that when we turn off the ‘editor’ and write how the imagination surprises.

The following are some samples of our class’s ‘NO.’


‘No’  The favorite word of two year olds, some adults suffering from delayed adolescence, me, in fact–that high-minded nobler side of me Who stands tall in righteous indignation demanding the reason behind the ‘no.’ Too many ‘yeses’ when it should have been ‘no’–no to Chuck Baker! Too many ‘no’s’ that should have been a yes-too scared to take that trip alone.

–Helen Cannon



It’s easier to runaway than to say no…and it works. Isolation means you are largely forgotten. Except the Arts Council who voted me (an hour away) hospitality chairman in absentia which meant coffee and refreshments, decaf and hightest, tea, seasonal snacks and coordinated table cloth. But they did offer a committee of two–one on a walker, the other with palpitations. “No” to grandkids is not easy when their mothers tell me I want them to have a GOOD time and as I am some kind of earth mother they are expected to return home knowing the names of trees or birds which I cannot fully recall. “No” to myself is easier if I just slap my hand…

–Linda Verdery



Once, I always said yes, backstroked later, swimming in toxic regret.

Now I say NO, Or, Let me think about it, if I want to soften the harshness of the immediate one word, NO.

NO doesn’t need an explanation or apology. No excuses or lies or stories of why not.

NO. That doesn’t work for me.

NO, thanks. Hope you have a great time.

I taught a class on on How to Say No with a Smile.

Now, I’d leave off the smile.

If you can’t say NO, you can’t give a whole-hearted YES.

NO left me time to think, to become a writer.

If you say NO, those asking for money or a favor won’t be wallowing in anger at you.

They will move on to someone else who can’t say NO. Thank you.

–Joan Mazza



The act of saying no is not very big in my life since I retired and because I was a teacher.  My mindset is always:  if I can say yes, I say it.  I will always try to say yes first and only say no if a request is unrealistic or harmful.

Eric Erikson, the sociologist, wrote that the last stage of life – old age – can be defined by either integrity or despair.  I choose integrity – to look back on my life with few regrets, to embrace my accomplishments and mistakes and to continue to contribute to my community in a meaningful way.
My YES is people, in every way I can say YES!


–Evie Safran


Try it. “How Big is No in Your Life.”


–Trudy Hale, editor



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