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Here’s a question for you: Do you know how and when to accept no for an answer? I submit to you that many of us do not. As the old MTV Diary show’s old tagline said, “You think you know, but you have no idea.”

There are certain situations in which “no” means “no.” The phrase “no means no” is closely associated with victim’s rights advocates who decry rape and sexual assault. When it comes to sexual interaction, no always means no, for both parties. Don’t say “no” if you mean “yes” and don’t assume the other person’s “no” means “yes.” This also applies to children and parents. If your parents say “no,” they mean “no.” Depending on how liberal or conservative your parents are, the appropriate response to disregarding a no could be time out, grounding, hand slapping, spanking, or being “whooped.” Remember, kids, no means no. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Parents, let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.

But in other situations we are told not to take no for an answer. We are told not to roll over and play dead, but to fight for what we want. We won’t be denied. We will not be moved. We won’t take “no” for an answer. Sometimes, people advocate that after a “no” we keep going until we get a “yes”. As a writer, I’ve been told to expect rejection. I’ve had rejections. But you keep submitting, keep writing. You don’t accept no for an answer.

So, which one is it? Is it situation specific? Do you always assume that  a “no” is final, definite, or are you more of a “is that your final answer?” person?

When it comes to people rejecting my writing, rejecting my ability to achieve my dreams, rejecting the things I say/know about myself, even when it comes to romantic rejection and being turned down by friends and family for things, I have one rule of thumb. I treat all “no’s” the same way. I accept their answer but not necessarily their findings and determinations.

If someone doesn’t want to date you or isn’t attracted to you, accept their answer; it’s a no for them (just like on American Idol). They have not found you attractive or dateable, but you don’t have to accept that finding. Someone else may find you attractive and dateable. Just because it’s a no in one situation with one person doesn’t mean it will always be no. You can make your own determination. You don’t have to accept the conclusions someone has reached about you.

If one agent doesn’t want to represent your work, accept it. Maybe he doesn’t represent that particular genre. Maybe he thinks your writing is awful. If he sends you back a rejected manuscript that says you are a great storyteller but you have no grasp of writing mechanics, evaluate this information. Do you struggle with writing in a consistent tense? Do you have problems with subject/verb agreement? Could your vocabulary use some expansion? If you find him to be correct, that you do have a problem with certain writing mechanics, you can choose to correct that. Just because you agree your writing needs work doesn’t mean you have to accept the answer will always be “no.”

In summary, here’s how I approach no:

  • accept the answer: If a person says no, assume they mean no. It’s their prerogative to say no. Everyone won’t agree with you.
  • evaluate their findings/reasoning: what does their “no” mean they have determined? Did they say no because they find you unattractive, unreliable, amateurish? Is there any validity to what they are saying? Most importantly, ask yourself if someone else, when presented with the request as is, would say “no” for the same reasons. Would you say “no”?
  • come up with your own findings/determinations based on the feedback you receive. 
  • If there is something to be taken from the experience, take it. If there is something to be worked on, work on it.
  • Keep trying. Maybe that prospective boyfriend or agent didn’t work out. Maybe you didn’t get into that MFA program or you didn’t do well on that test. It may mean you need to look at other people, agents, schools, and tests, but just because one door is closed doesn’t mean you have to turn around and go home. Either knock again or look for another door.

How do you deal with no?