Welcome to Coach’s Corner, where I offer some thoughts on the creative process and breaking through moments of self-doubt.
Never has there been a quote more apt for writers than the one by Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”
No, I’m not talking about the mafia here. I am talking about life. It seems that whenever any of us wants to make a change, try something new, there is some kind of force that conspires against us, to hold us where we are. It happens all the time. You’re making a little more money so you decide to save for a vacation and then the car breaks down. You’re thinking of changing jobs but then your boss dumps a major project on you, and you don’t feel that it is possible to leave just yet.
I’m going to talk more about the bigger life issues in Part 2. For this column, I’m going to keep the focus on the more manageable interruptions.
For writers, it happens when we plan to push ourselves to achieve our bigger writing goals by spending more time at it. All of a sudden the children start throwing tantrums or are extra needy, and friends start to need your advice more than usual about issues they’ve never had difficulty dealing with before. These are all responsibilities we are expected to look after before we pursue our own ambitions. It is the undertow of life sucking us back in, just as the mafia kept pulling Michael Corleone back into the underworld.
I wish I could say that getting a book contract and being able to say you’re getting paid for writing makes this problem go away. Getting paid, giving your writing a tangible and profitable outcome, certainly makes it easier for writers to escape the pull of their family and friends in favor of their writing. But not even full-time writers can fully escape the hurdles life throws at them.
Being aware that life is conspiring against you is the first and most important step in breaking free.
Take note of what is encroaching on your writing time. Is it that your children appear to have bigger problems and need more attention? Is it that family members find all kinds of reasons to interrupt you in your office even when the door is closed? Are you the only one who can open the jars that suddenly need to be opened?
When family and friends see us pursuing something else, like our writing, they feel that we are pulling away from them and they don’t like it. They become more demanding. This is not a conscious effort on their part. The changes you are making for yourself are changes for your family and friends too. They are not getting the attention from you that they used to. You are no longer reliably available at their beck and call. They do not like it, and however supportive of your writing they are, your friends and family will resist it. They will become more demanding, call more often, interrupting you. They do this to pull you back to them, to the world and comfort zone they are used to.
To stop these kinds of interruptions, family and friends need to know that your writing time is important to you, and they need to respect it. You need to respect your writing time too, by saying no to these little requests and interruptions. Lock the door and turn off your phone and e-mail if you must. A friend of mine has a sign on her door, “Do not interrupt unless there is blood or smoke.”
Perhaps you set up a system where you indicate on a scale of 1 – 5 the level of interruption you will allow that day, with 1 being interrupt at will, and 5 being “Do not interrupt unless there is blood or smoke.” This is not my first choice of recommendation because writing time is writing time and it needs to be respected and protected. However, this does work for some writers. As long as you are honest with yourself, knowing how much or how little you need to protect your writing time that day, and if your family and friends will respect it, then go for it.
Also make a note if the interruptions are occurring at specific times during the day, such as during your child’s bed-time, or when your friend gets home from a drama-filled day at work and needs to talk. If that’s the case, re-think your scheduled writing time. Are you able to move it until after your kid is in bed? Can you write first thing in the morning rather than in the evening? Can you schedule drinks with your friend on Fridays to hear about their week on one day rather than every day?
Just as you budget your time for writing, budget time for friends and family. Let them know you are there for them as much as always, just not as frequently. Let them know that you love them. Let them know that your writing time is important to you. If they allow you this time now, you will be there for them after. It will take time but they will make the adjustment easier if they know that they are not being left behind.
Are there times you feel that life is pulling you away from your writing? How do you free yourself?