Seven Ways to Get Other People to Respect Your Writing Time
You sit down to write, having managed to summon up the last dregs of your energy at the end of a long day … and your housemate pulls up a chair next to you to tell you all about the terrible date they went on the previous night.
Or your spouse decides now is the perfect time to talk to you about your holiday plans.
Or your teenagers need you to help them finish their homework … right now.
Or your kids start bickering – loudly.
In those situations, it’s perfectly understandable that you’ll feel frustrated. No-one’s respecting your writing time.
And I don’t think there are any easy answers.
I could trot out the (probably familiar) line that “If you respect your writing time, other people will.”
There is, after all, some degree of truth in that. If other people see you making writing plans but never sticking to them, it’s hard for them to really take your writing time seriously.
But it might not be as straightforward as that. You might be sticking doggedly to your writing sessions … until the third or fourth interruption, when you finally give up altogether.
I’m sure you don’t want things to get to the point where you’re screaming at everyone to leave you alone. And I know that for some writers, family members simply won’t “get it” even at that stage.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for getting your loved ones to respect your writing time, these are a few things to try:
#1: Get Out of the House to Write
If you can escape the house to write, do! If you’re not physically there, it’s a lot harder for family members to interrupt you. (Bonus points if you switch off your phone, too.)
This is particularly crucial if you are the person in the family who tends to do most of the finding of lost library books / sorting out of homework / writing upcoming events on the calendar / etc.
When you’re at home, it’s easier for people to interrupt you and ask you a question than it is for them to sort it out themselves. If you’re out, there’s a much bigger barrier to getting hold of you.
Some good places to go are:
- Your local library
- A coffee shop
- A friend’s house (with their permission, obviously!)
- A local park, if the weather permits
#2: Shut Yourself in a Separate Room to Write
If you can’t easily get out of the house during your writing times, then find a separate room you can write in. Pick one with a door that shuts!
A bedroom is often a good option, if the rest of your family are in the kitchen / living room.
This may mean setting up your technology differently. If you have a desktop PC in the living room that you normally write on, or a heavy laptop with feeble battery life, you’ll need to look for a different option.
This doesn’t necessarily mean splashing out on a whole new computer. You could:
- Brainstorm or draft on paper, which is extremely portable.
- Write on your phone (I’m drafting this post on mine, using a folding keyboard and a little stand).
- Borrow a spare laptop from a friend, or buy a small cheap laptop (e.g. a Chromebook).
Let your family know that you’re heading off to do some writing and that you don’t want to be disturbed for at least an hour (or however long you want to write for). If you shut the door of the room, too, that should seriously reduce the chances of anyone just wandering in.
#3: Have a Regular Writing Schedule
When our kids were little, I worked on my fiction from 5.15 – 5.45pm most weekdays. This worked well for us as regardless of my husband’s schedule (he was – and still is! – a PhD student), he’d be home before 5pm.
These days, our schedule varies more as most of my writing is my freelance work. We have a structured regular schedule that we tweak a little depending on what’s happening during the week: my husband and I run through this together on a Sunday evening, then we write it out and pop it on the fridge.
This means it’s easy for our daughter (who’s almost six) to see what’s happening when, and it’s easy for us to answer our son (age four) when he wants to know who’s taking him to preschool or picking him up.
With your own writing, can you find a way to fit in regular sessions? They don’t necessarily have to be the same time every day – but by sticking to a pattern, it’s easier for family members, even very young ones, to get used to what you’re doing and to accept that you won’t be available at certain times.
#4: Be Clear About What You Want
I’m the sort of person who finds it hard to outright ask for what I want. I think a lot of us can be a bit like that … and it’s not a great attribute when you’re a writer in need of focused, uninterrupted, time.
I know it’d be lovely if your spouse spontaneously offered to take the kids to the park every Saturday afternoon so you could have more time to write, or if your housemate agreed to do the washing up and hoovering every Tuesday and Thursday so you could really focus on your novel … but most people, while willing, won’t necessarily think to offer.
If you want more writing time, be really clear about it. That might mean making a direct request (e.g. “Could you take care of the housework on alternate nights so I can write?”) or it might mean asking others to help come up with solutions. (“I’d really like to have an extra couple of hours each week to write. How could we make that work?”
If you find yourself reluctant to do this, please remind yourself that you’re entitled to write! It’s not in any way unreasonable, selfish, or demanding of you to ask the people around you – the people who love you – to help you make the time for your writing.
(Do, of course, make sure that you’re in turn helping them to pursue their own interests and ambitions: we’re going to come on this in a moment.)
#5: Push Back Against Interruptions that Occur
For some people, it’s really hard to get a hint. You might think that your curt responses and your exasperated sighs are a good clue that they should stop interrupting you … but they may not even notice.
They might not consider what they’re doing “interrupting”, and if you do stop and sort out whatever it is they want, they’ll think that it’s fine to carry on asking for things when you’re writing.
So don’t be afraid to push back against interruptions. You can start gently and escalate if necessary:
- Oh yes, we do need to talk about that. Let’s have a chat tonight, when we’ve both got time to think it through properly.
- I’m in the middle of writing. Can it wait till later?
- I’m in the middle of writing. Can you ask [X] instead?
- Could this wait? I find it really distracting to be interrupted when I’m writing. Thanks!
- You’re interrupting right now. We talked about this.
#6: Wear Headphones
I’m a huge fan of headphones, though I appreciate that if you like to write in silence, they’re not such a great option! I have in-ear headphones that are tiny and easily portable … and that block out background noise brilliantly.
If you don’t like listening to music while you write, you might try ambient noise (Noisli is a good place to try for this), or even silence.
Simply having headphones on is a useful visual reminder to others that you don’t want to be interrupted.
#7: Support THEIR Goals and/or Hobbies
Finally, if you feel that you’re not getting much support from the people around you for your writing … it’s worth considering whether you’re supporting their goals and hobbies.
(If you don’t think they have any, it’s worth asking! You might be surprised.)
Right now, my husband is in the final (and stressful!) stages of his PhD, writing up his thesis. I’m at a point in my business where I’m working really hard to take a big leap that should help me grow the ongoing business significantly. It’s a particularly busy time for both of us, and it’s crucial that we support one another.
One of the ways we do this is through a short Sunday evening catch-up where we discuss how the previous week went and look at our goals and availability for the week ahead.
If my husband has a supervision deadline looming (like he did last week), then I take on more of the childcare than I otherwise would. If he has some down time (like he does this week, between handing in his current chapter to his supervisors and having the meeting about it), then he does extra childcare so I can squeeze in some extra freelancing.
Having the support of your partner or loved ones – and supporting them in turn – is so important. You might not “get” their goal or ambition, just as they might not “get” writing. But try to consider that what they’re pursuing might be just as important to them as writing is to you.
Finally, if a family member is belittling you, if they resent you making any time for your writing, if they’re constantly undermining you or not holding up their end of agreements … then you have a bigger issue than simply having a loved one who doesn’t “get” writing.
You might want to explore options like counselling, for instance, and depending on their behaviour, you might want to consider whether it’s crossed a line into being abusive.
Hopefully you’re not in that position, though … and hopefully, trying out some of the above ideas will mean your family and friends will be able to respect your writing time more (even if they never quite understand why you want to write).
I’d love to hear about your own experiences of supportive – or non-supportive! – loved ones. Just leave a comment below to share your experiences.
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
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