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How To Handle Interruptions When You’re Freelance Writing

writing interuptionWorking at home is one of the joys of freelance writing. As with many things, writing at home is also a problem. If you’re going to make money writing, you’ve got to be able to keep at it, to write regularly and consistently.

Even when you have a whole room for your office and the writing jobs are pouring in, family, friends, neighbors and even the fridge often interrupt your writing process.

Non-writers really don’t get the writing process. Just because my hands are off the keyboard and I’m staring out the window doesn’t mean I’m not working – it only looks that way to the uninitiated.

Your writing life will be easier if you educate everyone you can about when you’re available and when you’re not. But even if you set up office hours and have a sign posted on your front and back doors and on your office door there will be interruptions.

There are interruptions in any job

It may help to reduce your frustration if you remember there are interruptions on every job. For example, when you’re writing in an office, your boss, or editor, or the water delivery guy are all apt to show up at any moment.

Remembering this also may help you understand why you can get so much more writing done away from the office. Chances are most days you’re writing work will be broken up way less often at home than in someone else’s office.

When someone needs you as a friend

Like you, I’ve got friends who sometimes look to me for support, which I’m happy to give. And I’ve learned to put limits on what I can do during my freelance writing working hours. My two most powerful tools are turning off the phone and putting a time limit on our conversations

Turn off your phones!

There really is no law that says you’ve got to stay connected to the world 24/7. You own your phones and pay rent on their use – it’s okay to turn them off when you need to concentrate on your writing. The world and your friends will be there when you reconnect. Really.

Put a time limit on the writing interruptions

When a friend calls or knocks on the door, I set a time limit. On the phone I’ll say something like, “I’ve literally only got 8 minutes… will that be enough?” Sometimes they say they need more time and we schedule a conversation at a time when I can really pay attention. Most often, however, they’ll agree. At 6 minutes, in this example, I say “we’re getting down to the wire… I have to go in 2 minutes.” When the time is up, I may not even let them finish a sentence and I tell them I love them and I’ve got to end the call… and I do.

It’s a bit more difficult when they are at the door. But I’ve learned to say, “Hi… I’m on deadline… could we get together later this afternoon?” Usually the answer is yes. If it’s not I may let them in with a 10 minute warning which I also enforce.

Yes, it took some practice to be able to do this with no or minimum guilt – and I’m so glad I pushed through my desire to be nice at my own expense.

When writing clients interrupt you

Sometimes we get clients who interrupt us. That’s just another reason I often have my phone off and urge clients to make appointments with me. Most of them are pretty reasonable I find.

I do have a couple of clients who love to talk. I suspect they’re lonely. Sometimes I’ll spend a little extra time with them, but mostly, when we get to the end of the reason they called, I tell them I need to go. it hasn’t been a problem.

Family, particularly kids

When you’re working at home and you’ve got kids, you can’t very well shut them out of the office – or refuse to find out what’s happening when they cry. I know. I raised three of them while I was writing, from infancy on.

When they’re little, nap times are a writer’s best friend. Tempting as it is to take a nap yourself or use that time for doing the dishes, head for your computer instead, and at least get something done on your writing.

A successful writer friend of mine actually hired a nanny to be in the house when she was writing. I did the same thing actually, back in the day. It meant I was available if really needed and I had enough space and time to write.

As the kids get older, it does get easier. They go to school, which opens up all sorts of writing times except in summer! My kids learned not to interrupt me “unless the house was on fire.” That’s what I used to tell them – when they were old enough to have some understanding that I was not at their beck and call during working hours.

We mostly can control our time

The real point is that we all have more to say about how we spend our time than we tend to realize. We can set limits on the time and kind of interruptions we’ll tolerate when we’re writing. Sure, it takes some guts, and some practice. Yes, we may offend some folks along the way. I, for one, would rather risk offending than spend time in a way that makes me unhappy. We really do have a great deal of choice.

Oh, about the ‘fridge and other kitchen goodies… I haven’t found a solution, have you?

What’s your take on interruptions and controlling them?

Write well and often,

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • Dan

    I have no idea how to handle interruptions. My wife basically treats me like I’m at her beck and call when I’m trying to write, asking for a sandwich, a glass of milk, to fix the bed sheets, etc. And then she wonders why I can never come to bed at the same time as her…
    Dan recently posted..Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.My Profile

    • Anne Wayman

      Dan, at one point I considered wearing a hat when I didn’t want to be interrupted by a spouse… I had realized that he really couldn’t tell by looking that I was working. So much of writing is looking out the window and thinking. Mostly we agreed that I was not to be interrupted during certain hours unless the house was on fire. That mostly worked.

  • Family! Sometimes by the time you’ve said that it’s not a good time, that fleeting inspiration is gone!
    Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..Why I’m a Prolific WriterMy Profile

  • Great tips Anne.

    The best way for me to deal with interruptions is to not be where they can affect me. That’s why I frequently head over to the Southern Oregon University library and hole up in a distant corner with my cell phone off.
    John Soares recently posted..Six Copy Editing Tips for Freelance WritersMy Profile

    • Yeah, John, I’m lucky I’ve got serious peace and quiet where I live.

  • I also believe in turning off the phone, Anne. The constant blinking of the red light signaling new emails is too distracting (and tempting).

    Instead of a child, by far my biggest interruption comes in the form of my 91-year-old mother. When something pops into Mom’s head, she feels compelled to tell me about it. I try to remember she is the reason I moved here so I work on being patient. It doesn’t always work.

    Like Katherine, my most productive time is early morning while Mom is still sleeping.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..LinkedIn Changes to Terms of ServiceMy Profile

    • Cathy, it’s so great you can care for your mom that way, distracting as she may be.

  • One of the worst things I heard lately from a friend who works at an office was this:

    “Well, you work at home; you don’t have the pressure of people coming to you, any time during your working hours, with their different demands and needs. This takes a toll on me, and I need some peace when I get home.”

    Alright-y! As if phone calls, emails, contacts with clients, etc are not putting demands on home-working people…

    Right now, I’m working on making a separate working place for me at home (a real home office) instead of working in the living room. It’ll certainly help me concentrate more — and I really, really hope that it’ll help people understand better that “I’m at the office right now,” darn it!

    • Btw, I didn’t leave the 5-buck forum for good.

      Sorry for not letting you know at the time — I went through a period of mild depression with the results I’m getting with my work, I enrolled in some online classes (marketing, education, etc), and I had to think hard about changing directions & creating a sustainable business. But, as I grow, I tend to be more wired to the “Crisis means Opportunity” mode, and I like that! 🙂

      I’ll let you (and the wonderful people who interact in the forum) know all about it when I get back.

      • Glad you’re okay, Helen. I love the idea that crisis equals opportunity – helps me through all sorts of stuff. We look forward to your return to the forum.

    • Your own space will help, Helen and you’ll still have folks who think it’s not real work taking place. I’m sometimes harsh with them!

  • jorgekafkazar

    Hey, Anne. My worst interrupter, by far, is me. “Look! A squirrel on Facebook! Kitty-cat pictures! Sappy inspirational posters with grocer’s apostrophes! Muhahaha!”

    So now, I go to the library twice or thrice a week and sit in the quiet section, cogitating and planning. No matter how I try, I cannot reach the cookie jar from there. (There are vending machines in the lobby, but that way, madness lies.) My cell phone number is not known to many people, so I don’t get calls. If I run into someone I know and like, I invest a little time in “networking.”

  • Good points.

    Writing at home is the best gig ever, but the interruptions are the drawbacks, and I have lost my patience several times. I still wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Yes, I didn’t talk about the times I’ve been impatient… and I wouldn’t change anything about where I work at all.

  • *What’s your take on interruptions and controlling them?*

    Timing… ! I do my writing during the quietest time of day in my household (which is @ 6am-7am).

    Its the only way I can get completely uninterrupted time to write.
    Katherine James recently posted..The Facts Behind Freelance WritingMy Profile

    • Katherine… early am is my favorite time too… even now that I’m older and live alone.

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