“He doesn’t get why I want to write all the time.”

“She interrupts me every time I sit down.”

“I never get a solid hour to myself to write.”

When People We Love Don't Understand Our Writing Needs

© 2013 Daniel Oines, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I hear people say things like this a lot.  Many, many of us feel like the people we love – the people who truly love us – simply don’t understand this writing thing.  They don’t understand why we want to spend uninterrupted time alone, in a room, with some books, some paper, and a screen.  More, they don’t understand how important the “alone” part of that process is. . . and sometimes they can’t quite get the “uninterrupted” part either.

Sometimes, the people we love truly don’t understand what we do or what we need to do it.  I suspect that’s true of every profession or passion on earth.

For writers, maybe that lack of understanding is exacerbated by a cultural apathy toward our work and a general ignorance about the ways of creativity and art.  Maybe because our 21st century ideas of “effective work environment” involve wide-open work spaces, a slew of meetings, and teams as the ideal method of production make it more difficult for people who work in traditional environments to understand the necessary isolation and solitude that good writing requires.  Maybe it’s just that the people we love feel slighted and ignored when we shut the door on them, even if that closed door is necessary for what we do and love.

People I loved have told me that writing is only a “hobby” and that taking that much time alone “just to write”  is “selfish.”  One person even told me, “You need to be realistic. Writing is not real work. You need to get a real job to pay your bills and do the things you want to do.”  (The fact that I wanted to write was, apparently, not included on the list of things I wanted to do.) 

The truth is that some people don’t get it, and they never will because they don’t want to.  I suspect that these folks may be quite focused on income (and may be justifiably so), may be controlling, or may be so disappointed that they have no pursued their passions that they can’t bear the joy of watching someone else pursue those.  For how to love those people and love yourself, I don’t have much wisdom beyond this – think carefully about why these people are in your life. Do they love you? Do you love them?  Do they need to remain a part of your life on a daily basis?  (I don’t say those things lightly.  These are hard, serious questions, especially when these people are those closest to us every day.)

But for those folks in our lives who really love us and really want the best for us, we can do a few things to help them love us better when it comes to our writing:

  • Explain what we need for our work. Sometimes, our loved ones really don’t know that we need silence and time alone to write. Sometimes, they truly don’t understand that one hour behind a closed door can be far more meaningful than three hours at the kitchen table where interruptions are the norm.  We can make that more clear for them.
  • Schedule our time to write. I know we often like to be all “the muse comes when the muse comes,” but I know from experience that the muse will show up when we sit down.  So look at your calendar, talk with your partner, and then slot in writing hours that work for all the people near you.
  • Send the signal. Close your office door, if you have one. Go to a coffee shop. Hang a clock on the wall with “Dad is free at _______” so your kids know.  Explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it then – your scheduled hours, a big deadline, an idea that needs to get noted now.  Help the people you love know that this is the time they need to give you space.
  • Follow your own rules. Sometimes, it’s hard for the people we love to take our writing seriously because, well, we don’t take it seriously ourselves.  We get up during our allotted hour. We wander around to see what everyone is doing. We schedule other things over our writing time.  If we want people to respect our writing space and our work, we have to model that for them.  Sometimes, that’s the hardest thing.

If you are, like me, blessed to have people who get you and your work in your daily life, give thanks.  Philip gets me. He understands, and he gives me the space – both metaphorically and literally – to do my work.  I pray that you have someone – preferably your favorite person in the world – who gets that for you, too.

Have you had people you love be dismissive of your writing? How do you respond? How do you help the people you love support you in your work?