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How do you communicate to people that writing is a job and prevent interruptions?

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I’ve been a writer for fifteen years, five as a full-time writer, and still haven’t figured out how to get the people in my life to view it as a job. Right now, I’m editing a novel to a very tight deadline (in force due to timings with the London Book Fair and they aren’t going to move that for me ;)) so extended hours without interruption are vital.

How do you do it? How do you get people to understand that writing is a job, a very time-consuming job, that needs long periods without interruption? As a professional writer, how do you get people to give your time and work the same respect they give to people who work in an office?

I have friends and family who wouldn’t dream of calling my husband at his office in the middle of the day, but will quite happily call me over trivial matters, every day, despite me suggesting as an alternative, a quick text to ask for a call back when I’m free, or to call after 7pm, which is when I finish for the day. They turn up on the doorstep in the middle of the afternoon, make plans that require endless days off and get annoyed if I resist. Most days, I struggle to get an hour or two uninterrupted. I’ve tried asking nicely. I’ve tried being firm. I’ve even completely lost my temper. Yet a week later, once all the dust has settled, everything is forgotten and it all starts again.

So, how do you manage interruptions without upsetting the people around you?

This may get closed as off-topic, but it is a question regarding the craft of professional writing, focussed on an actual problem, and I’m hoping for some solid practical advice rather than opinion/discussion.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/q/32608. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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12 answers

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Just to emphasize what others have already said:

If, as you say, your explanations "go in one ear and out the other", then that is because through your behavior you have indicated that your explanations are irrelevant and inconsequential.

If you say you need to not be interrupted but then answer the phone, you effectively say that you can be interrupted and in fact love to be.

The solution to your problem, therefore, is quite simple and straightforward:

If you do not want to be interrupted then do not be interrupted.

That is:

The solution is to change your own mindset.

You must believe that writing is a job and that you must not be interrupted. As soon as you believe that – and act on that belief – people will learn that you mean what you say.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32623. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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As a quick preamble, note that I am not a professional writer, and therefore I am not speaking from experience.

From the sounds of it, you've tried the sensible approach. I'm going to assume that there are some people among the group that you can trust not to bother you during a work day, though, even if they are not in the majority. My suggestion then is to Silence your phone and get some good sound-canceling headphones.

You need to establish solid boundaries, and if people aren't willing to respect them then you do not have to respect them.

However, shutting yourself off in isolation entirely is risky if there is an emergency. Most modern phones allow you to selectively silence your phone for ALL callers EXCEPT a specific set. You can assign the people you trust not to bother you to that specific set, and group-block everyone else while you are working.

This may seem extreme, but you've tried the normal approach, and people were not willing to heed your requests. I would let everyone know that you will no longer be available at all while you are working, and leave it at that. You don't need to give details about what specific method you are using- for all they know you are actually out of the house.

I would note that this method obviously falls apart completely if you ever waver in your conviction.

I hope this is useful in some manner. Best of luck.

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I have worked from home for over fifteen years, I treat it like a job, with minor laxities (but not in my schedule). I have a separate cell phone which is the only number I give for work colleagues.

On my personal phone, my message is approximately: "I am working, if this is an emergency then text me, or leave a message and I will check at my next break."

In general: Do not allow people to do anything they would NOT do if you worked for a boss in a building somewhere. If you wish to answer the phone, be a tougher boss of yourself: You are a writer, so say what you would say if that were true for some character of yours: "I am sorry Mom, I am in the middle of something and I have a deadline and I cannot afford to talk right now. I will call you later on my break."

If they try to talk any way, "this will just take a minute," then say "No, I am working, I am hanging up, don't be mad," and hang up.

Think about the situations, write responses for a character that really cannot take personal calls at work, and use them.

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The ideal solution, despite being impracticable for most writers, is to find a new workplace in order to work in isolation. A small office, close to your home should do. Some musicians afford a separate place for rehearseing their songs - but they do have more requirements (acoustic-wise and so) than writers.

For cheaper alternatives, a coworking office, the local library or even a coffee shop are places that are harder to reach.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32617. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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The number one thing you have to do is set boundaries and stick to them. As a freelance professional, this is as much a part of your job as the actual writing. If you aren't respecting your work hours, no one else will either. So, train yourself to NOT answer your phone OR your door during your work hours. If it's important, people will leave a message. If they are dropping in unannounced, they are choosing to run the risk you won't be available. Every single time you answer the phone or door, you are reinforcing a message that your work hours are negotiable.

My wife is a professional artist and over the years, she has learned to remind people firmly (including me!) "No, I can't do that, that is my studio time."

Aside from this, I heartily second @chaotic's suggestion of working outside the home. Coworking spaces are increasingly common in big cities, and coffee shops are everywhere.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32620. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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As a working scientist, there are interruptions at the bench all day. As a teacher, people say "Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach."

I believe there are a number of jobs that do not have the privilege of quietude or respect that you describe. Others, do perhaps, but I suspect that is a 'top dog' quality not a job quality. I bet famous authors don't get phone calls to chat all the time.

As an older person, I am not seen as competitive. As an american, I am occasionally insulted online.

These items are likewise stupid, but normal to being human.

As a writer, I find peace by working from home and turning everything off, and coming online every time my brain needs a moment to process subconsciously, which is happening right now.

Don't answer the phone. Change the message to say "Please call between 7 - 8 pm.

ALSO - Your boundaries will be respected far more easily if YOU KEEP THEM AS WELL. If you are breaking them at your discretion, your friends and family will think its fair game. You need to honor your own guidelines.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32621. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Writing is just a side-line to me, but I work from home, so my situation is similar.

I don't have the nerve to refuse to answer the phone or the door. I'm too worried that it might actually be an emergency, or at least something important.

But I simply don't let people barge in on me. If someone calls me when I'm working and it's not an emergency, I say, "I'm sorry, I'm at work right now, I'll call you back tonight" or something of the sort. I rarely have anyone push it, but if they do my next sentence is something like, "Seriously, I have to get this job done today. I don't have time to chat." And then I hang up.

I don't want to be rude, but if someone demands I give them time when I am trying to work and earn a living, THEY are the ones being rude. If I spend too much time on the phone and miss deadlines, I presume I would eventually lose my job. If you're a free-lancer, you can't not lose your job per se, but you could lose clients. These people are saying that your need to earn an income and support yourself is secondary to their desire to have an amusing conversation. I'm sorry, no. They are being incredibly rude and selfish. I rebuff such people as politely as I can, but I don't feel guilty for doing so. I think the thing is to just be firm. Don't be afraid to hang up. If someone comes to the door, I just wouldn't let them in. Again, "sorry, I'm working now, I can't take time out for a visit". And if they don't say okay and leave, close the door and lock it.

If a friend or relative says you are being rude for refusing to speak to them, I'd say something like, "This is my job. If I just showed up at your office and wanted you to sit and chat with me for an hour, could you take time off to do that?" If they want to argue about it, they're not much of a friend. Even if they honestly can't comprehend why you need to work for a living, a real friend would accept that you can't socialize at certain times of day.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32627. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Time is money, so let it be known. "Sorry, I'd love to do {X} with you, but I can't afford to take the time off work right now."

Also, if you are answering your phone when you are working, that is on you. Stop doing it.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32629. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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If you cannot change other people, you can change your own situation:

  • switch off your phone, set up an answering machine that you are at work
  • have separate private and professional email adresses, only check the professional one while working
  • switch off your door bell
  • if someone knocks at your door, don't answer
  • wake up as early as possible so that you are finished when other people are coming to you after work

The important thing is that you should not be fighting other people's perception of you but the effect of that on your work. But if that perception is also important to you, display the results of your work prominently in your home and gift others the results of your work if they are something interesting for the general public like novels.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32634. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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This problem is not unique to writing. It is a problem for anyone who works from home. Some people have understanding family/friends who do their best to avoid interrupting the work-from-home person. This doesn't appear to be you.

Other people have family/friends who can't seem to ever grasp the concept that what the work-from-home person is doing is really a job. Sometimes, this is the work-from-home person's fault. You mention you have dogs. Do you interrupt your work "often enough" to mess around with the dogs that it could possibly give the impression that you aren't at work? Or similar types of distractions that only occur because you are home? If so, then it's understandable that others don't treat your work-from-home as a job because you aren't necessarily doing so also.

If all else fails, and getting an office outside the home is not financially practical, I've heard of these things called libraries that are generally supposed to be fairly quiet where someone could do some writing for free.

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You've set boundaries, told them to only call during the day in an emergency.

So assume it's an emergency and answer every call with some variation of "OH MY GOD, WHATS WRONG? IS IT [NAME]? WHAT HAPPENED TO [NAME]?".

They should get the point.

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The other answers got the main points about not answering the phone et cetera, but here's one last thing that I didn't see anyone suggest.

Place a sign on your door that says:

I am at work between X and Y. Please do not knock unless there is a genuine emergency

With any luck people will read the message and reconsider knocking.

If they do knock and it's not an emergency then you can point to the sign and tell them they are being discourteous.

(Be sure to add an exception if you're expecing a delivery.)

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/32687. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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