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Opinion: Never Take Yes For An Answer

Opinion: Never Take Yes For An Answer

Author and performance poet Dan Holloway explains why steering clear of third-party validation is the key to true success as an artist, as a writer and as a self-published author.

Dan Holloway, indie author and performance poetNever take yes for an answer. Yes comes with conditions. Yes stakes ownership. Yes is the devil whispering “you can have everything I show you” while it cups one hand gently to your ear and with the other draws a veil over the most beautiful, untrammelled, unimagined parts of the landscape. Yes is the sweet hit of heroin that shrinks your horizons to the size of your eyeballs.

The most damaging thing anyone has said to me in my creative life is yes. All those “achievements” have been the result of some kind of a yes. Yes, we’d love to feature your book in store. Yes, of course you can put a show on here. Would you like to come and give us a talk/read us some poetry? I love what you did over there, can you come and do something like that over here?

This kind of validation, praise, affirmation, this kind of yessing of the world to your work, it makes you want to do Gene Kelly dances on rain-sodden rooftops. It’s what you live for. It’s the sign you’re doing it right. It’s.

It’s the most dangerous thing you’ll face in your writing lives. Yes does two things to you. As the most addictive substance known to science (actually that’s not just a garbled metaphor – yes is the endorphin releaser par excellence and endorphins are nature’s private crack pipe), yes makes you want more yes, and to get more yes you do more of what got you yes in the first place. And so the cycle of more of the same sets itself running and the quiet inner voice that’s been whispering that key sentence to you all the way through (if it was ever there at all) slowly starts to choke in the sea of yes-endorphins.

And then one day, when we’re aimlessly clicking refresh on the YouTube of our life, we come to that Bob Dylan bit, the video where we’re standing in front of us tossing out cardboard placards with their slogans, and then we stop. And there we are. Freeze-framed, staring through the screen and into our souls, strangers from our past with our fingers clutching the edge of the cardboard and pointing at the reason we took up writing in the first place.

Yes is the door the world opens to all of us hungry for affirmation and acceptance, and as artists we all stand with a foot each side of that threshold. Our bodies, minds, sensations, perceptions, conceptions are porous surfaces through which a constant exchange takes place, and the product of that exchange is our art.

But the door remains open, the lascivious arm of affirmation beckoning just the one way, offering everything it tells us we want if we would only take the second step, submerge ourselves completely.

Now, we mustn’t cut ourselves off completely. The world is the raw material that, filtered through the infinite complexity of creativity and experience, becomes our art, released back out into that world. Stepping into the world needn’t mean taking yes for an answer. Not if we journey as engaged strangers, playing, communicating, watching in horror and delight, learning, observing, but always the outsider, our artistic integrity stamped like the mark of Cain on our foreheads as we tramp through the Land of Nod.

And when those travels, filtered and synthesised, are spewed back out as art, it is we who must hold the door open, offering ourselves to the world so that it may change, by however little, through its encounters with us, just as we were changed by it.

Never take yes for an answer. Issue your invitation to the world and ask it to RSVP, not with a yes, but with a genuine encounter. With your art. With you.

Never take yes for an answer because yes leaves the world unchanged and you irrevocably different.

Filter the world through the prism of your hope and your history and offer it back to the world as art, inviting an encounter that leaves it still fundamentally itself and outside of you but changed, and you changed but fundamentally yourself and outside of it.


Cover of Dan Holloway's new book about self-publishingDan Holloway's Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle. The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that they achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.

Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


This Post Has 34 Comments
  1. This post was put up more almost six months ago but I saw it today, Friday 2nd May. I saw it because I needed to see it today. Just an hour before I was having a stand before the fire hands behind the back, rambling on to my beloved B about feeling lost and unsure and wondering if the lack of income and discovery matters. I talked and she stroked and we went in the usual circle and ended where we must – the art wins every-time. I write what I do the way I do because I have to. That’s my art, that’s my reward, that’s the motivation to begin my sixteenth book.
    None of the fifteen have sold in meaningful numbers but those that have have had the YES from readers and that yes was good. It was also dangerous. I wanted more than I had and felt the pull of searching for validation and approval. I also wanted the YES of sales and a ranking above the bottom.
    I still struggle to find balance between the art that is my engine and that keeps my self-belief fuelled and the desire to be – seen, found, read and even rewarded with a few pennies.
    To be valued in that way remains an element I seek, even if deep down I know I will keep writing and keep putting my work out there and keep trying to get it noticed but – and here is the rub – I can’t seem to devote myself to the efforts that many people tell me is needed to get sales, to discovered to sell sell sell. I play at the social media thing and hope. Like the lottery – if you don’t do it you can’t win so I do it. I still seek the YES but only dimly.
    Thanks for the this boost, found when I needed it.

  2. We answer to only one, that is ourselves. People, places, things will all tell you want they think you want to hear. Your heart/soul/creative driver will tell what is right, but so often we take the “yes” hit from the creeper near the school, dolling out that first hit free. Do it for a reason, live it if it’s the right one.

    thanks for this.

  3. Excellent post (as always). Yes is a dangerous word indeed. So are all kinds of positive comments about one’s work. Lately, I have received a lot of that, from readers and other writers. Nice, of course but it terrifies me too.

    I have just launched into novel #13. And, as every time I start a new project, I feel very unsure of myself. It’s worse than being a beginner, worse than having to tackle the uphill battle of doing better. It’s now about trying to make something new shine as brightly as the one before, that one that so many readers say they love. But what if I fail? What if I’ve lost it? What if this new story will be flat and uninteresting and seem very contrived, without all that lively prose and dialogue I half succeeded in my last book?

    It’s more frightening and difficult than ever before. Can I do it? Please, don’t say yes, say maybe.

    1. “staying fresh” is a real problem (and, ahem, something on which I have a chapter in the book!). The answer for me is to vary what I write so that each thing I write feels new because it’s different from what came before. For writers who write series, that’s obviously not the answer, though writing other things as well as teh bread and butter can still help.

  4. Great article, Dan. I think as artists, we have to be able to say YES to ourselves—that’s the only one that matters. It’s so easy not to listen to ourselves, especially when there’s always someone blowing up on YouTube or Twitter every day. Yet it’s the self-giving yes that makes art happen. Without it, we’re not writing anything of merit!

  5. I went over an bought your book even before reaching the end of this post – just based on your previous posts (especially the one about quality).

    I’m curious what you’re going to have about self-validation, because, though I feel that’s the goal, I have no idea sometimes how to get there.

    “When the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear” means that when you’re ready, you will be looking, and, just as everyone seems to be pregnant when you are, you will see people supplying information you need.

    Now I’m annoyed the doctor was on time for our appointment, because I had plans to start reading right there in the waiting room.

    Keep up this kind of stuff – even if you’re absolutely wrong, it all has to be discussed.



    1. Thank you, Alicia!

      “even if you’re absolutely wrong, it all has to be discussed.” I think there’s far too much worrying about whether we’re right or wrong and what people will say – we’re far too nervous about people laughing at us, I think. But as you say, without risking looking a bit daft, a lot of things that need saying don’t get said.

      I deal most with the question of self-validation in the chapters on self-doubt and self-belief. For me (simplistically), its source is the fundamental conviction in what it is that we have to say, and the validation comes from a feeling that we have done justice to that vision – not necessarily technically (I think we need to separate out the message we have to deliver, which is where we need to be steadfast, and the craft we use to deliver it, which is where we need to learn from any and everywhere) but in terms of not selling it short. My basic thesis is that at the heart of creative energy is a real split personality between a valuable self-belief (what I have to say matters) and a valuable self-doubt (am I doing what I have to say justice?). Self-validation comes, if we know where to look for it, when we keep that balance

  6. Great article. “YES” can be devastating to so many inquiries. Yes to a marriage proposal, can become life threatening, by saying yes to the wrong person. Yes is not generally the word that will bring you positive results, the life style you have dreamed about, or the notoriety you have aspired to reach but rather, a negative, unhealthy, and at times, a devastating end to your unrewarding, arduous work. This is a good read. Thank you so much, for opening our eyes.

  7. Dan,

    Well done!
    I write stories that I need to write. it’s fun, I’m learning and it’s creative.
    There’s lots of discipline involved and the opinions of other writers carries some weight because I want to be a better writer.
    I am always pleased when a reader enjoys what I have written.
    There are two ‘killers’ out there…’success’ and ‘failure’.
    Treat them in the same way, following Kipling’s advice…they are ‘impostors’.

    Rollie MacInnis

  8. Three cheers for the internal ‘yes’; three boos for the encouraging ‘yes, you have great potential.’ The internal ‘yes’ is the silent one that tells you what others won’t; it’s the green fuse that drives the flower. Or, to leave Dylan Thomas and move to John Donne, how about ‘Then I have done one greater thing than all the worthies did/ And yet a greater thence doth spring, Which is to keep that secret hid.’ Quoting from memory.

  9. Writing to the market’s YES or NO seem both to be unwise, since the market is a fickle ‘mistress’ (to go a little Shakespearian et al here) and though fantasy YA may be what they want right now, they’ll suddenly put out something totally different to that, such as “Eat Think Pray’ (not quite the right title but you’ll recognise it) or as they once did, Lord of the Rings… Off goes everybody, and All-publishers, to repeat the ideas… and satisfy our human need to read more of the same…

  10. Yes yes yes! To the underpinning recognition that seduction is almost always insidious. Beautifully expressed and drunk at a gulp since this was the beverage needed today!

    It seems a book must be bought and this leaflet distributed…shared wherever I have a kind of foothold…not yet a presence.

    1. thank you! interesting you use the words insidious and seduction – the image that kept coming back to me as I wrote this was Kaa in Jungle Bok with those psychedelic eyes and Eartha Kitt’s hypnotic voice singing “trust in me”

    1. yes, I’ve not seen the film but I loved the book. And it’s certainly true that many of the things I’ve been lucky enough to achieve have come simply from sticking my hand up when people have asked for volunteers – but I think that’s a slightlly different thing from having people say yes to you

  11. There’s a typo in here:

    helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so [that] achieve long-term happiness


  12. You could say the same about “NO”. I have an idea for a book. I’ve discussed it with my editor/mentor. She says “No, there’s nothing there. That’s not a good idea for a book. Leave it. move on. Forget it.” But the idea continues to live in my mind. I know the book probably wouldn’t sell, but it’s a story I want to write down and share with others. I expect I will write it and publish it one day…

  13. And this is exactly why the act of self-publishing is so liberating: it allows us to bypass the need to sell our creative souls in return for a “yes” from commercially-driven trade publishers.

    By the way, I LOVE the fact that you have put this book out with a cover that would never have got the endorsement of a trade publisher, going by the discussion we had on the ALLi members’ private Facebook forum over the weekend!

    1. Ha!! Yes, it would never have got the nod. It was a really interesting discussion, and I absolutely take the points made about what a non-fiction cover “should” look like, but it would seem very perverse of me to write a book about not bowing to the pressure of “the market” only to put it out in a cover I wasn’t happy with because that was expected of me 🙂 – and trhe more I see it, the more I really like it – but it’s definitely better with the subtle changes made as a result of the conversation, which shows the importance of collaboration and community as well as knowing your own mind, and learning to draw the boundaries between the two.

  14. A point well made, Dan. I distinguish between what I call the Reactive Yes — that which seeks validation of the world, of the mainstream, of convention — that you discuss here, and the Creative Yes, which is an internal recognition of truth that spurs expression and creation. Unpicking one from the other needs us to look deeply at what we do and why we do it. Thank you for, as always, encouraging that and look forward to reading the new book. Congratulations.

    1. Yes! What is important is that we get our validation from within. One of the things I talk about in the book is the way that creativity is about abundance or outflowing, a pouring out from yourself into the world, whereas seeking validation from the world is something that impoverishes rather than enriches.

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