Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dealing with Writing Interruptions

Many people do not regard writing as "work." This is especially true if you're writing on the side while holding down a full-time job. People see (or imagine) you sitting in a comfortable chair, writing or pecking at a keyboard, and they know that's not work. It can't be: no one is yelling at you, there's no heavy lifting, you're not running around with a look of fear on your face, and you're certainly not building anything anyone can see.

Most of these folks figure you're just goofing off. (Or, as my late, famously alcoholic father, who made a lot of money doing something else entirely, used to put it, "Sitting on your ass all day.")

It gets worse when you are writing full-time. People who see you home all day may assume you aren't working (or you're on the Midnight shift, or selling drugs). Combine being home all day with sitting on your ass, and you're a perfect target for people who figure they can get you to help them garden, move, run errands, or give them a ride somewhere, since you're not really doing anything.

I learned the hard way that you have to say “No” to most such requests. Some people try to get you to agree by whining, begging, threatening—whatever they can think of. But I noticed that every time I took time away from my work for someone, it just encouraged them to impose on me again. And again.

Not long after I started writing for a living, I was forced to adopt a policy of always being on deadline—even if it was invented on the spot.

“I’m really sorry," I would say, "but I have to finish what I’m doing before five o’clock, so I can FedEx it to my editor.” I never discouraged a petitioner from their errands or tasks; I simply excluded myself.

Sometimes, I suggested someone else who might help them, or a different way they could do what they need to do on their own. After a couple of months, people stopped calling for help. A few took it personally, figuring that I didn't drop whatever I was doing to drive them into the city (where the one-way streets confused them) because I didn't care about them. Others thought I was really smart when I came up with a way for them to move that piano without my help.

A very few finally got their heads around the idea that someone could be at home yet still working.

And I got to write.


thestoryofhealing said...

I get this post entirely. It was an uphill to say no and more of an uphill when they expect an explanation why you cannot. I do not write for a living. But there are times in my life that I have to sit in my ass all day too, to study. And on days when I'm not, I still sit on my ass to try to write for pleasure, mostly my own. And for some, because they think you are not out and going somewhere everytime these days they think they can just include you in their plans every time. It could be stressful. Then I learned not to pick up the phone if I don't have to. ;-)

Michael A. Banks said...

Way to go! I often turn off my phone.

Speaking of sitting on one's ass, I've been experimenting with voice-recognition software (and I'll be doing some writing about it). In theory, you might be able to dictate rather than type--in which case you can sit on your hands! :-)