About a year ago, I brought home a husky puppy. My life changed in many ways after that, and I am more than grateful for the vast majority of them. (You know what’s not fun? Picking up dog poop in the rain without an umbrella while the very strong dog is trying to run after a passing car because she hasn’t learned the sit command yet and also CARS.)
One thing I didn’t really think through before bringing Izzie home was how much her almost constant presence throughout my days would impact my writing life.
Before #DogMomLife, I could write whenever I wanted to. I had almost total freedom over my time. That changed very quickly, and at first, it put an almost complete stop to my writing.
That obviously did not last. And that’s a good thing.
The strangest thing about this drastic change in my life is that it actually taught me how to make better use of my time. Puppy naps would be the perfect time to watch a few episodes of my favorite TV show or read 25 more pages of my current book. But it turns out these are things I can very easily do while said puppy is awake and sitting on me (she likes the sits). Do you know what doesn’t happen when she’s sitting on me? Writing.
So guess when writing happens most often now? When she’s napping. And I guess this strategy is working out just fine, since I’m almost done writing my book, I haven’t let this blog go silent out of frustration, and I’m making excellent progress on my writing goals.
This doesn’t mean that I’m never in the middle of writing something when my dog decides she needs immediate post-nap pets. (These are, I have learned, essential tummy pets that must happen after the naps in order to achieve full awakeness.) Usually, I have to stop in the middle of a sentence when I am summoned, because otherwise she stands on her back legs, puts her front paws on my keyboard, and tries making her own words until I intervene.
Dogs don’t word very well. They don’t have useful thumbs. It’s very challenging.
Izzie isn’t the only interruption I have to work around throughout my day. Notifications pop up, emails come in, I get another robocall (STOP). I live with people who insist at watching television at full volume (or my favorite, turning on the television, turning up the volume, and then leaving the room to not watch television at full volume).
I tried enforcing a “please don’t come into my office unless you knock first” policy, but dogs (and apparently people) don’t understand knocking as a general concept. And even if either of these parties did knock, a knock is still an interruption. Interruptions are part of the writing life, really.
So how do you deal?
Honestly, the first thing you need to do to handle “writing interruptions” is to accept that they aren’t going to stop happening. Writers don’t live in an enclosed bubble completely cut off from the outside world. I’m not going to get rid of my dog because she stops me in the middle of a really good chapter. I’m not going to throw out all the TVs in my house to make it quieter (though I can’t say I’ve never been tempted to try it).
But even though I can’t kick out the dog or hide the remotes, I can minimize certain interruptions, adapt my schedule, and work around the inconveniences I face on a daily basis. Or do my best to, anyway.
- List out the things that interrupt your writing time. For me: Puppy. TV. Twitter notifications.
- Highlight the interruptions you have control over and decide how you’re going to handle them. For me: Twitter notifications. I can very easily log out of my Twitter account on my computer if it’s distracting me (temporarily blocking it with Cold Turkey is an effective last resort), and simply flipping my phone over or turning it off takes care of that problem. (I could also give my phone to the dog, but I’m not sure that would end well.)
- Figure out how you can work around the interruptions you can’t control. I have a pretty good idea of when the TV is going to start blasting. Sometimes noise-canceling headphones are enough, but it’s actually a lot easier for me to write in complete silence. (I like being able to hear where the dog is, because long story, she can’t be trusted.) This means I have to do a lot of writing very early in the morning, which actually isn’t my favorite time to do it, but it works. And the dog, well, as I said earlier, when she naps, I write. It also works.
- Don’t blame other people/your pets. Most people (and 99.9% of all pets, the 0.1% is my dog) don’t even realize they are interrupting you. Writers are weird. We sometimes deep focus so hard that we forget our own names. A lot of people aren’t even aware that’s a thing. Don’t roll your eyes at them for not respecting your time or space. Writers have to learn to work around other people’s existence sometimes. It’s not easy to stay in your own head when there are other things going on in your world that apparently need your immediate attention. You have to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
- Set boundaries. It’s not always easy negotiating with your fur children. But people are a lot easier to approach with these kinds of things. Sometimes, you are going to need to confront the people in your life and let them know you need just one hour of uninterrupted time every evening. No interruptions, no noise. Make a deal. Play with the dog for an hour and I’ll take her out at three in the morning because she can most definitely hold it until five, but doesn’t know it. I don’t know what your living situations are like. Do what you will with these tips.
- Plan for the worst. There are small interruptions, like puppies wanting you to pet them at inconvenient times. Then there are bigger interruptions, like unexpected life events that take you away from your writing for longer periods of time. Expect these things to happen every once in a while, and give yourself permission to step away from your work when they do. You don’t have to shut out the world to get writing done. Especially when important things come up.
Interruptions can be frustrating, and very difficult to manage for many writers. But don’t let them stand in your way. Write around them. Thrive despite them. There are many things in this world you will not be able to control. Focus instead on the things you CAN control, do your best, and be patient.
If writing truly matters to you, you will find a way to make it happen.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.