Protecting your Turf: The Right to Write

December 1, 2010

I’m sure it’s happened to all of us. You’re typing away, engrossed in your words, just reaching that point when you’re seeing the action in your head more clearly than the words on the page…

When the phone rings. Or someone physically barges in, with perfectly good intentions and perfectly dreadful results.

You smile that tight, icily polite “I’m trying to be civil and not kill you” smile and get them out as soon as possible. But it’s too late. The flow is interrupted, and while you can probably find the thread again, the interruption is annoying at best and a productivity-killer at worst.

As a writer, you need to protect your turf.

For those of us who live alone, that’s not so bad. Think of your writing space as having the same rules as a theatre: no cell phones, pagers, or other electronic devices (except your computer, if you’re typing on it). As for landlines, either take it off the hook entirely, or if you’re worried about emergencies, let the machine get it.

What about the friends and family who drop by unannounced? There are a few solutions. You can always turn off all the lights and pretend you’re not home. Personally, I find the sickly glow of a monitor in a dark room makes my eyes “loogy” after a while, but if you’re writing a techno-thriller or something, it may create the perfect atmosphere. Plus, you can hunch over the keyboard, flex your fingers diabolically, and pretend to be plotting to take over the world.

But I digress. A less distracting (and probably more civil) solution is to establish a certain time as “writing time.” Communicate to your friends and relatives that during this time, you may as well be off-planet, because they will not be able to reach you. Sometimes it’ll take a few times for them to get the hint. If they don’t get it at all… well, you may need to have a (most likely) painfully awkward conversation about why they won’t respect something so important to you.

If you live with other people, you may have to create your own “Fortress of Solitude” within your home. A home office or bedroom works well- again, the same ground rules of “During such-and-such a time, I am not here” works well. A sign works especially well.

But signs only work if they are obeyed. If your writing time keeps being disrupted, even if you’ve spoken to the offending parties, posted a sign, and sent telepathic messages saying “Get out get out get out!” you need to have a talk. A serious one.

Because after all, you have the right to write. Never forget that. Yes, you want to meet your work, family, and friendship obligations, but you also have the right to work in peace, and not be forced to work in pieces due to constant interruptions.

If worst comes to worst, you can always tell the offender that you really need to finish… so that you can add their name to the acknowledgements.




  1. Awesome. I had a time to write every night at eight P.M. At the time I had a private room, but I lived with three other girls. And I told my mom and family also. My mom was the most disturbing. >.< She'd call exactly at that time when I was just beginning to write. I told her several times, but I think all mothers have this mute button in their head whenever their child is trying to tell them something important. LOL!
    Have you ever actually bit someone's head off when they did barge in? I am guilty. XD

    • PS. Great advice, and great post. 🙂

    • Ah, yes, I experienced the same thing with my mother. It must be a universal thing. 😛

      Unfortunately, I have bitten people’s heads off for disturbing me… it was an intense scene, I was emotional… and then there was incoherent shouting at my “innocent visitor.” Not one of my proudest moments.

  2. When I’m in the flow, I am oblivious. My BFF can come in, turn on the TV, get ready for bed, and I barely notice. He can listen to cartoons, or late night TV . . . and I’m none the wiser.

    Except for one TV personality . . .

    SpongeBob Square Pants. That voice kills my concentration. 😉

    • Great post. Love the spectral hand on the monitor . . . the force is with us!

      • Haha, thanks.

        And I know what you mean about SpongeBob. As entertaining as that show can be, I have to be in the mood for it. Otherwise, I’m scrambling for the mute button. 😛

  3. Most of my favorite authors give the same advice: find a time to write when you won’t be disturbed, write everyday, never quit. Much like all the other sage counsel I’ve ever received (eat your veggies, exercise everyday, etc) it can be hard to follow. I’m married with three kids. Finding quiet time requires imagination. Fortunately, I’m a sci-fi/fantasy writer. I am cursed with an over abundance of just that.

    Every morning I get up at 4AM. I write until 6:30/45 then eat breakfast and get ready for my regular job. Needless to say I rarely get disturbed. Even better, I find that writing in the early morning suits me. I feel more imaginative creating worlds just after dreaming. I more quickly hit that stride we all seek where the rhythm of typing and hearing the words in my mind meld into a seamless tapestry of prose and dancing images. It’s sweet.

    — david j.

    • I definitely agree- I find that sticking to a particular time “teaches” your brain that this is writing time. For me it tends to be later at night, but as the “Magic Hour” approaches, I can feel myself getting excited, the ideas starting to come…

      That’s interesting about writing after dreaming. I’ll have to try that some time, although writing *before* I go to sleep can definitely spark some interesting dreams!

      • Finding time to write can be hard for me, as I am constantly plagued by Writers’ Block when I have free time, and I get an overload of excellent ideas when I’m far too busy to write.
        But when I DO have time to write…wondrous things are born.
        My Magic Hour..right before I go to bed, and right after I wake up.

  4. I totally understand. I live with five other people. That is five different personalities, five different schedules, five different distractions on any given day. Peace and quiet is so very rare around here! 🙂

  5. I live alone and no one can get into my building without getting buzzed in. Thankfully, I rarely get any random,hey lets grab a coffee, gosh I just need to tell you about my day visitors, like i have in the past. I do however have an inanimate nemesis…my constantly leaking and refilling toilet. The gurgling noise is somewhat hypnotic as the water leaks from the tank to the bowl, but the sudden rush of water with the corresponding chattering of the pipes is rather distracting. Think I will call the landlord every six minutes until he comes and fixes it….see how he likes being disturbed.

  6. I think this is the hardest part of being a writer, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned while working my way through college it’s how to guard my time. Some people just won’t take a hint. In their minds, “I’m working on this right now” means “Hey, let’s talk for ten minutes about whatever”. Grrrr…

  7. I LOVE this post! It reminds me of a post I did a few weeks ago called “Distractions”.


    My dog, to which I affectionately refer to as “Officedog” is usually the main distraction, besides “Officehusband”. I have to remind myself to put the letter opener DOWN…

  8. This is a great post, and I particularly like david’s idea (above) about getting up early in the morning to write before your day wears you out. My life isn’t organized so that I can do that at the moment, but I will definitely try this out down the road. Thanks for a great post!

  9. I’m restoring an old cabin as my writing space. No electricity or running water. The no electricity will remain a rule because that will keep my husband and son away…no toys for them. I’m lucky in that they respect writing time, although the son has been known to lean over my shoulder and say, ‘I’d put a comma in there.’ Surprisingly, he lived through that…

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