As a freelance writer, one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is how to say “no” to more work when I have too much on my plate already.

It happened again today: a client called with a huge copywriting project they wanted me to work on for them, but I already have deadlines coming out of my ears (not literally), so I was forced to turn them down. Then I got to spend the rest of the day regretting it and thinking, “Maybe I could have squeezed it in if I’d just given up eating and sleeping for a few days..”

The problem is that when you’re starting out as a freelance writer, the clients tend to be few and far between, so the temptation is to take on every single one of them. For one thing, you probably need the money, and for another, there’s always that fear that if you let them go to someone else, they’ll never come back.

Even as your client list (and bank account) grows, though, it’s still hard to turn down offers of work. No matter how busy you are, that nagging voice in your head will remind you that, sure, you may have lots of work now, but what about next month? And the month after? What if it all dries up and you’re left twiddling your thumbs and playing Facebook Tetris all day long. Won’t you regret not taking on that extra project you turned down?

Well, yes and no. Money is always nice, of course, but there comes a point in your freelance life when you have to accept that you just can’t do everything. When that time comes it’s a matter of working out where you want your writing career to take you, and what kind of sacrifices you might have to make to get you there. You have to work out which projects are the highest earners/the best long-term bets or the most likely to open other doors for you. Those are the jobs you should keep. The rest? Well, those may have to take a back seat, at least for a while…

There’s another reason, too, for turning down clients, though. If you’re really overworked, and would be genuinely struggling to find time for the latest project, the chances are you won’t be able to give it the time and energy it deserves. In that case, you really should say “no”, and let it go to someone who’ll be able to do it justice.

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