7 Ways to Make Family and Pets Respect Your Writing Time

Writing time is precious. Once you’re sitting at your desk, fingers poised over the keyboard as you wait to rendezvous with the characters you’ve been dreaming about all day, the last thing you want is someone barging into your solitude.

Picture this: There you are, typing merrily away, the sweet violins of inspiration gliding along in the background, when—hark!—a knock on the door, followed by a loved one poking a tousled head around the corner and asking what’s for supper. Screech. There go the violins…

7 Ways to Get Others to Respect Your Writing Time

Continual interruptions are enough to make even the gentlest author go all homicidal maniac.

What can you do about it?

Following are a few guidelines for getting friends, family, co-workers, and maybe even pets to respect your writing time—without your needing to resort to death threats.

1. Determine Your Priorities

If you don’t make your writing a priority, why should anyone else? Before you can ask others to respect your writing, you first have to respect it yourself. Once you’ve determined you’re willing to sacrifice an hour of family time for your writing, don’t allow yourself to feel guilty for making that sacrifice.

2. Explain the Situation

Don’t expect others to realize the importance of your writing via telepathy. If you don’t explain your needs, they’ll never be able to respect them. Make a point of telling them your muse turns into Rip Van Winkle every time someone bangs into your office.

3. Remain Calm and Kind

By the time the third person peeks around your door with that query about supper, those homicidal tendencies are going to be boiling close to the surface. Instead of losing it and screaming at your interloper, remain calm. Kindly, but firmly, explain that you’re busy and ask for a hold on questions until you’ve finished writing.

4. Set Boundaries

If you can establish specific boundaries, you’ll make it much easier for everyone to know where they stand (and where they shouldn’t). Let people know you’re going to be writing for the next hour. If they don’t know you’re writing, you can’t blame them for accidentally interrupting. Make sure you balance their needs with your own. Tell them that if they leave you alone for this one hour, you’ll spend the next hour helping them with their needs.

5. Schedule Your Writing

Schedules can not only increase your general productivity, they can also make it much easier for other people to understand and remember at what time you need them to leave you alone. I for two hours at the same time every day. Because of my consistency with this schedule, friends and family have no trouble remembering when I’m writing and, therefore, when they need to respect my need for privacy.

6. Work Around Your Family

You can’t always force other people into your desired mold, but you can work around them. Instead of jamming your writing into the heavy-traffic zones of your day, work around other people’s schedules. Get up early, stay up late, and stay at home when the others are out of the house.

7. Buy a Flamethrower and a Machete

When all else fails (and people being people, it will occasionally fail), it never hurts to invest in a high-quality flamethrower and machete. Keep ’em under your desk and give them a little pat, accompanied by a knowing look, whenever somebody comes barging in. This one’s fail-safe, folks.

(Oh, and, by the way, I lied. These tricks may work on your kids, but you’re on your own with your cat.)

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you feel your friends and family respect your writing time? What methods do you use? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I’m seriously considering making a ‘sock on the door handle’ rule. If you see *predetermined item* that means DO NOT BOTHER!

    • When I was studying with Open University, I did a similar thing. I purchased a bright pink headband and wore it whenever I was studying. Worked every time, even for Facebook as I’d change my profile picture to the one of me wearing it so my fb friends knew I wouldn’t be about to play games or natter.

  2. I am blessed to have a very understanding husband but(isn’t there always a “but”..?!) I find I often have to reset boundaries. Especially after a busy period of time like recently, when we had out-of-town guests for three weeks. Like you say, communication is key :-)Thanks for such a helpful post!

  3. @Clarissa: I like that rule!

    @Kenda: Company always makes writing difficult – and sometimes it difficult to get back to it after they leave.

  4. Thanks for the post. I haven’t written any new fiction in quite a while, but I will definitely put these thoughts into practice. The articles I write tend to be short enough that no one bothers me; however, due to my 11-hr day job, I tend to live on the laptop. With that in mind, I totally understand my family members coming by to see me. I really try to take breaks for outings, going to dinner, etc.
    It’s definitely not easy for any of us.

    -Jimmy

  5. I feel like I live on my laptop sometimes too. Life is about balance – especially for a writer. If we don’t write, we’re not writers. But if we’re not out there living, we won’t have anything to write about.

  6. My only family members are my cats, but when I moved my writing office to a different room, I made it cat-free. Of course, that means I also shut out my “mews” as well. 😉

  7. Do you miss the mews – or do you write better without them?

  8. I think I write better with them, especially Millie. Because of this post, I tried to bring her in my office while I was editing, and the words did flow better, but the strangeness of the room made her nervous. Cats don’t like change. She was uncomfortable, so I put her out of the room. :/

  9. I totally stuck it out, waiting to get to the cat-wrangling part–you got me!

  10. @Lorna: Maybe she’ll get used to it with time.

    @Angelica: Sorry! If I had some cat wrangling tips, I’d share ’em. But I’m afraid my cats are hopeless. :p

  11. This is a priceless post! Love it. At long last, a new leaf has turned and the odd demands have stopped (for the most part) while I’m writing. This morning when I scrambled out of bed to type the dialog that my characters were suddenly tossing around, my husband didn’t say a word, but started frying bacon. It was lovely. The cats were another story. They meowed and glared and meowed some more until I got up to feed them. Trying to write to the insistent meow of a cat who thinks he’s hungry is like trying to sleep with water dripping in the sink.

  12. Honestly, I think the best way to manage interrupting pets is just to give in and give them what they want!

  13. Ah,and I was so waiting for the final enlightenment of how to get my cat from doing THIS: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-_JbdIWQGPZc/TdLZsLU_T3I/AAAAAAAAApA/BXjrF1gfnGw/s320/photo.JPG *sigh*. Thanks for this list–it’s coming just at a time when I’m needing it. I just moved in with a new roommate, and we’ve been friends since we were 12. She wants me to write, and I desperately want to, but I’ve been struggling to create the boundaries lately. Buying a desk (finally) has helped. 🙂

  14. Love the pic! It’s hard to be too mad at the critters when they’re that cute.

  15. MSB locked up our flamethrower after I scorched the carpet last time . . .

  16. When I took writing seriously years ago, I told family that if the door was closed, I was off limits. The only exception was signs of blood, vomit or fire. The dogs and cats were better behaved. I created a window seat for them, and they behaved much better than the kids. But the good that resulted from my setting boundaries was that they respected the room. When they entered, it was usually about editing their work, or talking about school. The room because business, and I liked that. Everyone respected it because I made a strong point to do so.

    Hope Clark
    FundsforWriters.com

  17. This blog comes at a good time. I was under the gun to get a chapter in by tomorrow, so I dedicated this weekend to finish the task. This was also the weekend that my wife and daughter dedicated to clean out the storage area of our garage. Since there were some very heavy items out there, I was periodically called away from the computer to schlep something to or from.

    My family tries to understand but it’s tough for them to realize, even after I’ve explained it a jillion times, that working at home is the same as working at an office.

    I’m in the midst of writing several chapters for a highly technical networking book and not only am I writing, I’m doing research, running various software tools, and taking screenshots. When I’m in the middle of capturing IP packets on my network in order to display their headers in a capture utility (I know…most of you probably don’t get excited by these things), it’s not something I can just drop for a few minutes to move some boxes.

    So for me, it’s not just explaining to my family that I need time to write, but trying to communicate the technical issues that make the process more complex and that there are point where I simply can’t be interrupted.

    Sorry for the rant, but I needed to “decompress”. The good news is that I finished the chapter a few hours ago and uploaded all the files (Word, tif, packet captures, etc..) to the publisher’s server. Next chapter is due in two weeks. On your mark, get set…

  18. @Linda: Heh-heh.

    @Hope: There’s a lot to be said for having an office space within the house. Not only does it help in setting boundaries for family members, it also helps *us* get into the writing mindset whenever we enter the room.

    @James: Glad you were able to to get your deadline met. The basic problem with interrupting family members is simply a lack of comprehension. They’re not writers, so they just don’t *get* everything involved in that – including the idea that staring into space means we’re working very hard.

  19. Scheduling time to write is essential to my writer’s sanity. I have two young children who rarely leave me alone just because my muse is present. But I make sure everyone is fed, rested and busy with whatever makes them happy for a bit, I don’t answer the phone or my cell phone, I don’t have a TV playing in the background and I try to keep away from any social media during the time when I write. But sometimes the only thing that helps is my flamethrower and a machete. There is just no way around it 🙂

  20. I’m all for #7!!!

    I tend to lose myself in my writing, so I ahd to make a deal with my family. It’s not perfect, but it works. The deal is also thrown out the window when I have deadlines – something they don’t always understand.
    Getting up early – that might be something I seriously need to consider.

    Great post!

  21. @Angela: Taking care of the family’s needs first can sometimes be just the trick for getting them to leave you alone. Kids aren’t always patient when their tummies are rumbly!

    @Steena: Honestly, I hate getting up early. That’s always my seriously last resort. I tried for a few months to get up an hour early and get my writing out of the way first thing. But I ended up rolling over and slapping the snooze button way too often, so I had to resort to a Plan B.

  22. My boss used to put a sign on her door that said “I am not here. If you bother me, I will find the worst job I can and assign it to you.”

    When I either stay at my son’s house or if he and granddaughter (now 4) are visiting, she will color, write, cut, etc., at the table while I am writing. When I’m through, then we discuss what she was working on. Hopefully some day she will be interested in what I’m writing.

  23. So far my family’s been pretty good about not disturbing me when I’m writing. It’s my stomach that interrupts… My parents claim that I have hollow legs, which I have to keep stuffed with food.. 😉

  24. @Linda: Sounds like a scary boss!

    @Gideon: That’s why I keep chocolate within reach whenever I’m writing. 😉

  25. Glad you posted this. It is so hard to balance writing time with family, social networking and those of us still working the day job have even less time. Your idea about working around family time is a good resolution, resulting in less frustration for everyone. And you are also right, consistency is also important.

  26. My wonderful husband actually encouraged me to pick up writing again. I check in with him regularly to make sure he does not feel neglected. But he is super supportive which makes the journey all that more easy.

  27. @Cecilia: Writing, these days, isn’t just about finding time to write. It’s also about finding an equal or greater amount of time to promote. No wonder we’re always hunting for a few extra minutes in every day!

    @Krista: It’s always fabulous when our family members are understanding and supportive of our needs as writers. Makes things so much easier all the way around!

  28. Great post, always enjoy reading your posts! My husband doesn’t disturb me, he’s very understanding. The dog has slowly learnt that I don’t want to play ball when I’m at the desk! My child on the other hand requires more training! He always has something he’s just bursting to tell me! I’ve recently bought a parasol which I put up above my desk (it’s in the conservatory) with the rule: If it’s up, do NOT speak to me! It’s not quite working yet…

  29. Next to cats, children are the hardest to get through to on these matters, seems like. I like the parasol rule – if only because it’s a good excuse to snap the thing open now and then!

  30. ahh–great points. And I love the little kitty paws at the keyboard. LOL! 😀 I do write around my children, and thankfully, hubs respects my writing time. Unfortunately, my mother still expects me to drop everything when she calls…

    wah wah waaahhh… ;p

    but good stuff, KM!

    • I actually like having my cat nearby. Usually she just sits down on a book nearby or near the window where there’s warmth and sunlight and takes a nap. She’s really quiet and doesn’t bother me although she does walk over my keyboard when shes leaving the room

  31. The phone is a major annoyance when writing. Sometimes I’ll unplug it, but then I always worry I’ll miss an emergency call!

  32. My daughter and her BFF made me two signs for my office door. The first one says: Come on in! I can talk. The second one says: Trust me it’s cold in here. GO IN IF YOU DARE! I promise you that my daughter did not make the second one. Really. She didn’t.

  33. Hah! At least they volunteered the signs, so you never have to feel bad about sticking them up.

  34. Yes, sometimes the anti-muse is working against you, and no matter how many you explain or set rules, the inevitable knock on the door comes. Your advice is good, though.

  35. We can’t control other people. That’s the bottom line. But we can create patterns in our own lives that will encourage others to create corresponding patterns in their interactions with us.

  36. I learnt fairly early on to set my “auto save” to as frequent intervals as it allows. I had written for hours, edited thrice, then got up to try to stretch ( yes, by then, that was a near impossible feat). Dearest cat saw that I had finally vacated that nice, warm sleeping pad and promptly deleted over half of it upon curling up. I was mortified. I stopped writing that day. It was too traumatic. I have to admit, when I started the rewrite the next day, it all flowed SO much better. I guess dearest cat knew what I didn’t then – the rewrite is nearly always better.

  37. Yikes. Kitty would not have been my friend that day. Once you (finally) get up the mental steam to rewrite a big chunk of text, it is wonderful how much better it usually is. Perhaps we should rewrite *more* of our WIPs that way!

  38. Thanks, I like this post it is very good and informative. I am sure that this post will be very helpful.

    Pet Sitting Mckinney

  39. Sometimes, words are not enough. What really matter is what you does. The reason I quote my these days fav song is I loved your 7th advice. And thinking about working on it 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      True. We have to back up our words with actions if we expect others to understand and respect them.

      • Hmmm…. But most important is stopping to feel guilty.
        Since, they are the exact peoples who make you feel guilty when you don’t produce. So why feel guilty to say no to them while you are busy producing.

  40. It’s hard for me to hash out time for writing. After work, I spend time with my family (wife and three kids, ages 4 and under). After the kids’ bedtime, I only have a few hours to juggle choirs, spending time with the wife, and having /me/ time. My wife often doesn’t understand that when I choose to write during a portion of that time, I need to be left alone. She’ll come in and want to talk about her day before she goes to bed and I just don’t have the guts to tell her to leave me alone! Bad on me, I guess lol. Usually when this happens, my momentum slams into brick wall and the session is basically a bust.
    I’m getting desperate for writing time now as my WIP is taking far too long to complete. I’m considering using my lunch breaks at work to try to scrape out some word blocks–even if I have to type on my smartphone to do it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I would encourage you to talk about this with your wife. If nothing else, your frustration can lead to repressed anger. Much better to explain your needs and where you’re coming from and try to work out a balance that benefits you both.

  41. I tried making a sign with the word “Writing” on it and taping it to my door when explaining and scheduling a writing time didn’t work, and my family still knocks on my door with a wheedling “I know you’re writing, BUT…” And then they act all surprised when I get angry. On the other hand, their antics tend to provide some writing material…

  42. That’s it, time to sneak in to our garage and get out that machete!

    My parents are worried I’ll get the idea that focused, uninterrupted writing time isn’t how life works and interrupt me sometimes because it’s good for me. I’m not sure how to respectfully explain I’d much rather take advantage of being fourteen for as long as I can before I have even less time as I get older… so I get up at three-thirty or four A.M. to work! >:)

    Madi

  43. Discover Mark says

    Other advice is put your phone and other mobile devices on Do Not Disturb as well – because incessant texts, tweets and Facebook messages.

    And on flame throwers – that’s definitely an Elon Musk approved activity!

  44. I think I will just skip 1 thru 6 and go straight to 7.

  45. Jessica Salmonson says

    Trying to teach my chat that he can’t jump on my lap every minute is going to be quite the trick. xP He’ll also go on the couch and pat my shoulder with his paw and plead with his eyes. -_-;; My son is much easier to deal with he goes upstairs to play with his friends. 🙂

  46. Jessica Salmonson says

    Really chat? I meant cat!

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