You are a small business
A long time ago, back in the 80s, first lady Nancy Reagan launched an anti-drug campaign based on the words Just Say No. Depending on your viewpoint on the Reagan administration and drug use, this was either a valuable and important campaign or a waste of time and money.
If you’re a writer, it’s a message you cannot ignore.
If I were starting a delicatessen and someone asked me to attend an event with them, or come over for dinner, and if I said no, they’d understand. To tell them “No, sorry, I’m writing,” doesn’t carry the same weight. But it should.
If I start a delicatessen, I’m starting a small business. I should expect to work my butt off getting it going and making sure the business is successful. And most people would give me the leeway I need.
It’s the same thing if you’re writing. If you want to be a published author, you are attempting to create a small business. You are trying to create a product–your writing–that you can sell to other people. At that level, it’s exactly the same as selling pastrami sandwiches and home-made kettle chips.
It’s the same as if you were making your own furniture. If you sell furniture on the side and you have to take a Sunday afternoon to make a chair, well, that’s your business. You have to make the chair to make money. And you have to invest in your craft with tools and some training.
It takes time and money to establish a business, whether it’s sandwiches, chairs, or novels.
You get to miss some things to make that happen. It’s allowed. You’re a businessman (or woman). You’re doing business. If you were starting a deli or a furniture shop, you wouldn’t feel bad every time you said no. Neither should you feel bad if you’re spending time writing.
Of course, you have to decide where the line is. Even deli owners or furniture makers say yes sometimes. But not all the time. Neither should you have to.