How to Say No


WENDY MACNAUGHTON is a New York Times best-selling illustrator and graphic journalist based in San Francisco. Her books include Meanwhile in San Francisco, The City in Its Own Words; Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology; Pen and Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them; Knives & Ink: Chefs and the Stories Behind Their Tattoos; The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Wine Expert; The Essential Scratch & Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-It-All; and the newly released Leave Me Alone with the Recipes: The Life, Art, and Cookbook of Cipe Pineles. Wendy is the back page columnist for California Sunday Magazine and co-founder of Women Who Draw. Her partner is Caroline Paul.

Note from Tim: My beautiful reader, as you’ve no doubt noticed (being brilliant, as well as beautiful), one of the questions I like to ask is some variant of the following: “In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped?”

What’s fantastic about this question is that it’s hard to avoid answering. This is true even if—actually, especially if—someone refuses to answer! When I asked Wendy if she’d participate in this book, she sent a very thoughtful and perfect “I have to pass” response after much consideration. I loved it so much that I replied with, “Here is perhaps a very odd question—might you be OK with me printing this very polite decline email in the book?”

She agreed, so here’s the email she sent me . . . to decline being in this book:

Hi Tim,
Gah. OK. I’ve been battling with this, and here’s the deal: after five intense years of creative output and promotion, interviews about personal journeys and where ideas come from, after years of wrapping up one project one day and jumping right into promoting another the next . . . I’m taking a step back. I recently maxed out pretty hard, and for the benefit of my work, I gotta take a break. Over the past month, I’ve cancelled contracts and said no to new projects and interviews. I’ve started creating space to explore and doodle again. To sit and do nothing. To wander and waste a day. And for the first time in five years, I’m finally in a place where there is no due date tied to every drawing. No deadline for ideas. And it feels really right.

So, while I really want to do this with you—I respect you and your work and am honored that you’d ask me to participate—and as capital S stupid as it is for me professionally not to do it, I’m going to have to say thank you but . . . I gotta pass. I’m simply not in a place to talk about myself or my work right now. (Crazy for a highly verbal only child to say.) Hopefully we will get a chance to talk somewhere down the line—I promise any thoughts I’ll have for you then will be far more insightful than anything I can share with you right now.

I hope the space created by my absence is filled by one of the brilliant people I suggested in my previous email.

And really, thank you so much for your interest.

I’ll be kicking myself when the book comes out. –W

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