When I was unpublished, before I knew anything about being an author, I had a lovely daydream about how fantastic an author's life must be. You know those authors you read about who follow their routine of getting up at a certain time, perhaps getting to the gym or starting the day with a brisk walk, then locking themselves away in a gorgeous book-lined study with an inspiring view and working solidly till lunchtime when someone else (of course) brings them a beautifully prepared meal. Alternatively perhaps they 'lunch' with writerly friends, enjoying a glass of bubbly or two and a good laugh before returning, invigorated, to the pleasant solitude of their sacrosanct study. They end the day satisfied with the knowledge they've put in a good day's work on their next masterpiece.
Cue real life. Sigh. While writing is a wonderful profession in many ways it's rarely quite so simple. For starters most romance writers are women and like women everywhere seem to bear the burden (and joys) of child care, elder care, husband care, house and pet care, community obligations etc. Not to say our men are slouches but facts are facts and the stats continue to show that working women still tend to do more of the 'work' in families.
Then of course, most of us work from home. That means we're there when the telemarketers call, or the lonely relatives with problems and before you say 'switch off the phone' there are times when I've been glad for the call because it meant I could be there in a genuine emergency.
Working from home also means you're the one who's there when the tradesmen come (or don't show up) to give a quote on work or possibly even do the work (with maximum noise and disruption), when the dog needs to go to the vet or when for some other reason someone has to be home.
Then there are the other distractions - like Christmas. Much as I love it there's no denying that in the lead up to my fave celebration of the year I know my writing output is going to plummet. Most writers I know continually juggle distractions - either time stolen from their writing or time spent brooding on how to deal with the issues in their 'other' life.
So, how do you write through the distractions? I can't pretend to have the answers. I'm still working that out myself but I do have some thoughts. Here goes:
- Set your goals knowing you're going to be disrupted. Add extra time for birthday celebrations, Christmas, school holidays or just the unexpected. There's nothing worse than staring down the barrel of a looming missed deadline and feeling guilty that you didn't meet it. Better to be sensible when setting those deadlines in the first place than lose faith in your ability to keep working (even at a snail's pace).
- Say NO. I'm getting far more ruthless at saying no to things people want me to do (and even to things I want to do) if it means I'm not going to be able to get words down on the page for a week or more because of other commitments. It might seem like a small commitment of time, but added to your other commitments the effect could be fatal on your output. Which leads me to:
- Write down what you want to achieve AND plot all the major things you know you'll also have to do in what is usually your writing time (x days for Christmas shopping, y hours for writing those articles you promised for the school/library/volunteer group). Having some feel for what you've taken on can help you prioritise (if it doesn't make you run screaming for the hills).
- Treat your writing time as precious - otherwise others won't. Shut the door to your writing room, or lock it if need be or even take off to the library or a cafe or park with a notebook and no phone.
- Tell your family/friends/community groups that you're working (when they want you to take on more). DON'T explain. The magic word 'work' is usually all it takes. It doesn't matter if you're working in your pjs at home or in a business suit in the city. It's your job!
- Take advantage of the times when you can write. If you're going through a rough time (family illness for instance) broken sleep patterns are common. Rather than lie in bed knowing you'll stew on problems you can't solve maybe get up and force yourself to focus on one of the problems your characters have. Even deciding where and when the next scene will take place is an achievement and may just help you relax enough to put aside your other worries and sleep.
- Practice writing in places where you think you couldn't possibly write. We all love the comfort of familiar surroundings but sometimes the only time you get peace and relative quiet to think about your writing is surrounded by strangers. I've written in hospital waiting rooms, while waiting for children to finish after school activities and while 'minding' rambunctious children at a massive indoor play centre. I've jotted down ideas for a black moment after deliberately getting to a coffee date 15 mins early because I knew I'd have time alone. Before you tell yourself you couldn't possibly write without your scented candle, fave music or personal writing space, give it a go. Don't expect miracles, but you can achieve something.
- Think about the story. If you can't get a block of solid writing time, try to think about it in your down time and work out the next scene or your characters' feelings. No matter how busy your life you'll usually get some time alone - in the shower, cooking a meal, driving to an appointment. Use that time and jot down the ideas that come or even use a recorder.
- When you've only got small snippets of time and you know you won't get into your story properly use it to write blogs, articles, get your diary up to date or do any of the other writing-related tasks you have to finish so when you do get some solid time alone you can concentrate on the writing.
And now for a confession. I'm writing this because I'm facing several weeks of almost non-stop distractions, after a week where I produced almost zero pages because of a range of interruptions I couldn't say no to (sometimes you really don't have a choice). I'm thinking about the words I need to write and fighting a faint sense of panic. Five minutes ago my son walked by and asked what I was writing. On hearing my topic he grinned and asked if I was going to mention him. He even offered to interrupt regularly so I could get in the swing of things...Argh!
I'd love to hear how you deal with interruptions and distractions - either in your writing time, or if you're not a writer, in just coping with the other things you need to get done. Do you make lists? Do you get up extra early? Do you say no? Any suggestions gratefully received. I think we can all do with a few more ideas on how to keep our focus amongst all the distractions.
One commenter will received a copy of PROTECTED BY THE PRINCE and the other a copy of THE SAVAKIS MISTRESS.