Four Powerful Ways to Protect Your Writing Time (From Yourself and From Other People)
You almost certainly don’t have all day, every day, to write.
In fact, you might only have little pieces of writing time – half an hour here, 15 minutes there, maybe a full afternoon if you plan ahead.
When you do get time to write, it’s all too easy for that time to end up disappearing. Someone comes to interrupt you. Or your phone beeps. Or you remember you meant to put some laundry on. Or you’re simply distractible, pausing every sentence or two to look at Facebook.
It’s frustrating to find your writing time disappearing, especially if it’s been a challenge to carve out that time in the midst of a busy life.
So what can you do about it?
#1: Leave Your Family So You Can Write in Peace
This one might sound a little drastic … but I’m not suggesting you leave your family permanently! If you can get away from home for an overnight hotel stay, or a peaceful afternoon in a quiet corner of a coffee shop, then you might find that a lot of your writing problems disappear almost miraculously.
I’m drafting this post at 8 am in a hotel room. If I was at home right now, a child would probably be coming into my study to ask me to find their school t-shirt, or I’d be distracted by hearing them running around and chattering at the top of their voices. Plus, four mornings out of five, I’m the one getting them ready for school and out the door at 8.30am.
Whatever your family situation, if you live with one or more other people, your writing time is going to get interrupted – at least occasionally. You’re also likely to find yourself distracted by noise and movement from others. Even if they don’t need your attention, you might find yourself breaking off from writing just to find out what the heck is going on. (In our house, it’s usually some kind of ball game or wrestling match.)
I’m lucky to be in a position to come away to a hotel every couple of months so I can have some big chunks of writing time. That might not be possible for you, if it doesn’t fit into your budget or if you can’t leave kids/pets/family members overnight. But you could still get out of the house to write – even if it’s just for an hour or two in a coffee shop or at a friend’s house.
#2: Write in a Room With a Door That Shuts (and Close It Behind You)
Of course, you probably won’t want to leave your home and family every time you want to write. When you’re writing at home, if you can possibly write in a room with a door that shuts, that can make a big difference. (Make sure you close the door behind you. And consider adding a bolt if necessary…)
If you’re the “default” person in the house who others come to with questions and problems, a shut door can prompt them to try something (or someone) else first. Instead of coming straight to you to ask “have you seen my t-shirt?” or “is it tonight we’re going out for dinner?”, they might find that information another way, like by simply looking in the t-shirt drawer or checking the family calendar.
The other advantage of a shut door is that it helps protect your writing time from distractions like noise. While I might still be able to hear my kids’ enthusiastic rendition of “Sweet Caroline” even with my study door shut, I don’t tend to hear the more moderate bits of household noise!
You may also find that being in a separate room with a shut door helps act as a signal to you: I’m writing. You’ve set aside this time and space for you to write, and you’ll hopefully find that makes it a little easier to resist the urge to get up and do something else instead.
#3: Turn Off Your Internet Connection and Silence Your Phone
The internet is a wonderful tool for writers – connecting us to endless information, as well as potentially millions of readers (and loads of other writers). Unfortunately, it’s also full of a lot of distractions.
When I was in my early teens and making my first attempts at writing, some 25 years ago, I didn’t have any devices of my own that connected to the internet. I didn’t have a mobile phone, either. If someone wanted to get hold of me, they had to either be in the same house – or they had to ring the doorbell or phone the family’s landline.
Today, the world looks very different. Chances are, people who aren’t physically in the same location as you can get your attention very easily.
They send a text and your phone beeps. They email you and an alert pops up on your screen.
This can be a brilliant thing – it’s nice to stay connected! But during your writing time, you don’t want to be constantly stopping mid-sentence to pick up your phone. So switch off your wifi and put your phone on silent or “do not disturb”.
Realistically, it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to message anything that requires an instant response. (If they do, and you don’t respond, they’ll phone or find another way to get the help they need.) You can potentially put your phone on “do not disturb” while writing and allow calls from certain numbers, like your kids’ school or your partner.
As well as removing plenty of potential interruptions, turning off your internet connection and silencing your phone helps make you less distractible. Put your phone in a different room, or at least out of arm’s reach, so you’re not tempted to pick it up just to check for messages.
#4: Experiment With Different Times of Day to See When You Can Best Focus
Most of us have times of day when we’re reasonably well focused and have plenty of writing energy – and times of day when we can barely string together a sentence.
Obviously, it helps if you can write at times of day when you’re feeling naturally focused and engaged with your writing: you’ll be a lot less prone to distractions. But that doesn’t really help if your “best” time of day is when you’re at your day job, or when you’re getting your kids ready for school.
It might also not help if you’ve got a good time of day that other people invariably interrupt. Maybe you’d love to write from 5pm–6pm but that’s when your partner gets home from work and wants to chat.
Experiment with different potential times of day for writing. Look for times when you’re feeling reasonably focused and when other people don’t end up constantly interrupting that focus.
That might be first thing in the morning before other family members are awake, after dinner when your kids are having screen time, late in the evening when your little ones are in bed asleep, or at any other time that is reasonably peaceful.
If you feel like your writing time is being constantly interrupted, or if you find yourself sitting down to write but then letting that time get eroded by a bunch of little chores, then pick at least one of these things to try this week.
If it works for you, keep doing it! If it doesn’t work for you, try something else instead.
And if you’ve figured out another really effective way to protect your writing time – whether that’s from yourself or from other people – then share it with us in the comments below.
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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