10 Ways Freelance Writers Can Stop Interruptions Before They Happen

by Anne Wayman

Hats for writersUnless you live alone, and  I mean truly alone, without even a dog or cat or other pet, you’re going to have interruptions when you’re writing. The trick is to find ways to have time to do your freelance writing.

Here are 10 sure-fire ways writers can stop those distractions in their tracks.

  1. Set your office hours. Having office hours not only helps you with the writing discipline you need, it helps the people around you begin to take your working hours seriously. Making office hours also convinces you  you’re in business.
  2. Tell your household  what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a spouse, small children or just roommates, you need to let them know your office hours and request they honor them. The people around you want to support you; you need to show them how. For example, you might want to say that between 8 a.m. and noon you are not to be interrupted unless there’s a genuine emergency.
  3. Get your household’s help in establishing the rules you need to support you. Actually getting your family and/or roommates to help you decide what the rules actually are concerning your office hours will help them honor those rules.
  4. Explain to friends you’re working. Make it clear to friends that you need their help and ask them not to call or drop in during your established writing time. Real friends will be delighted to help you this way.
  5. Turn off the phone. If you turn off the phone it won’t matter if someone calls. Some writers even explain when they answer calls putting something like “I return calls at 11 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.”
  6. Put a notice on your front door. This is particularly effective if you’ve got neighbors who drop in unannounced. It also may stop some door-to-door sales people.

  7. Close your office door. If you’ve got a home office that allows it, shut the door! It sounds unfriendly, but it’s an effective reminder. Adding a sign with your office hours also helps – or try a do-not-disturb sign.
  8. Make it clear that getting a cup of coffee from the kitchen doesn’t mean you’ve stopped working. You’ve got the be able to get a fresh cup of coffee or use the bathroom without it being a signal that you can be interrupted. You’ll just have to include things like this in your rules.
  9. Establish predictable breaks when your family can touch base with you. If you’re going to be in your office for hours and hours it may also help to establish breaks when it is okay for your family to touch base. For instance, you might want to share lunch time.
  10. Where a silly hat when you’re working. People can’t tell when writers are working. It’s obvious when we’re actually typing or actually doing something, but those times when we’re just thinking look like ideal times to interrupt to others. This becomes particularly bothersome if you don’t have a separate office. One way to make sure they have a clue is to wear a hat or a colorful scarf during working hours. A visual clue like that can help people respect your needs.

Ultimately you’ll have to enforce your rules. If you can do it gently but firmly so much the better. But you are the only one who can carve out writing time and make it work. These tips with people. I haven’t yet figured out how to make them work with my cat.

How do you make sure you’re not interrupted when you’re writing?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Kristoffer M.C.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Alicia September 6, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Ha! I absolutely LOVE #8. I’d also add: “8a. Make it clear that just because you’re taking the dog out for a potty break doesn’t mean you must also have time to do this, this, and this for whomever happens to see you.” LOL
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Anne September 7, 2011 at 10:17 am

yes, so tempting.

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Bill Swan September 2, 2011 at 9:36 am

Wow I read this and almost fell over. So much of it fits in my world. Numbers 3 and 4 were hard around here but things are slowly changing at a snail pace. I actually do keep the phone off most of the morning. Number 8 is the killer tho some days. But we’re working on it.
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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:47 am

Yes, it’s generally progress in slow bits and pieces isn’t it.

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Edna September 2, 2011 at 7:35 am

Thanks Anne, the hat is a great idea!

I turn the volume all the way down on my cell phone and leave it charging in another room. I also have background music, just instrumental, playing in another room that gets me in a good zone to write.
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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

Seems like the hat is a big hit. I sometimes have the radio playing in another room – still soothing, but not distracting. Mostly thought I turn it off now, along with the phone.

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Nan September 2, 2011 at 6:38 am

Laughing at the funny hat! My kids would get that… I distract myself by getting coffee, let alone the rest of the family.

I use one browser for regular email, facebook, etc, and another browser for work. That way I can be online and have a few pages open but no ‘fun’ settings or bookmarks are saved. I’ve considered creating a whole new desktop for myself, “WORK”, with a serious theme, but so far I haven’t had to do that!
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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:40 am

A work desktop… what a great idea!

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Elizabeth West September 20, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I like the separate browser idea. I could keep research links and stuff in that one. I tend to get distracted not by links but by chat, email, facebook, etc. So I could get my Internet radio going and then turn that browser OFF. And only go back to it when my allotted time is up!

Also, Anne, I love the hat idea. Since I don’t have a family it isn’t necessary but if I did I would SO do that. :) Maybe I’ll do it anyway!
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jorgekafkazar September 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Very nice, Anne, particularly #10, the funny hat. My suggestion for effective headwear for the busy writer:

http://cdn.smosh.com/smosh-pit/072010/animalhair-1.jpg

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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:40 am

I want a hat like that!

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Kenna McHugh September 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Great items to take into consideration. Setting up hours is the best one. I see it as a self-discipline thing; procrastination is my worst enemy.

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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:39 am

Guess I’ll have to do one on procrastination… good idea, Kenna

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allena September 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm

My kids and husband always fall for the bathroom/cup of coffee/snack thing! But you know what, I do too. I get very easily distracted in the kitchen….

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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:37 am

Yes, Allena – I get distracted there and in the garden ;)

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Nicky Parry September 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Hehe! I too love the idea of wearing a silly hat, that is just hilarious!
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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:35 am

I developed that one when I was living with someone on a wee boat… it’s silly and it can work.

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Jake P September 1, 2011 at 1:24 pm

The silly hat idea cracks me up, Anne!

A trick that I use to avoid email interruptions AND procrastination breaks on the internet is to shut off my Airport wireless router. That way I have to make a conscious decision to turn it back on, as opposed to the unconscious click to email or Firefox.
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Nicky Parry September 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Jake, I love that idea of turning off the router. Procrastination breaks can be a killer!
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Anne September 2, 2011 at 10:32 am

Glad to bring some amusement, Jake and I like your tips of turning off the router.

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