I need to start this post with a confession: I know a lot about this topic because I am bad at it. I do not set boundaries well, people-pleaser that I am, and because of this weakness on my part, I am acquainted intimately with the way that my own failure to put up fences around my writing space and time (and around other things in my life, too) is harmful to me and, in the end, to the people I love.
How I Sabotage My Writing Time
Let me see if I can give an example. It’s a Thursday morning at 9am. I’m about to settle full into my two hours of dedicated writing time when the phone rings. Rather than let it go to voicemail untended, I glance at the screen and see it’s my dad. I love my dad, and I love to talk to him, so I answer. He’s hoping to come to the farm later today to work in the garden, and I’m thrilled to have his help. We hang up in a few minutes, and I then begin to think about what I need to do to prepare for his visit – lunch supplies, garden tools, etc. . . . and before I know it, I’ve lost an hour of my writing time, and my mind has shifted entirely away from writing.
There’s no one here to blame but myself. My dad could have easily left a message to which I could have replied with a text. I wouldn’t have missed a thing, but still, I sabotaged my own writing time. I do this with Facebook, with chores, with farm work, with television. If it’s easier than the hard work of writing, if I can make an excuse that I can “just get this done and then,” I’ll do it. You may know the feeling?
Constructing Our Writerly Fences
The idea of “boundaries” is a little fuzzy to me. National, state, and county boundaries have always struck me as a bit arbitrary, a bit too controlled by powerful people, so that word doesn’t really work for me. I do better with the ideas of fences, things I build to protect myself and my time. (Note – I often think of these fences as temporary because I don’t want to be fenced off all the time.)
For me, the best fence for my writing time is one of those privacy screens that are built around compounds. Mine is constructed of planks of cedar placed horizontally side by side. The spaces between them are non-existent because if I see out, I think out, and it stands well over six feet tall.
This fence – the one I build in my mind – both protects me and clearly communicates to other people that this is not a space or time to enter. I try to help the people I love know about this fence by setting specific work times or communicating when I will be writing and for how long. Of course, people online or away from me – via text or FB messenger or phone – can’t see the fence, so I have to stay behind it and leave my phone off and my browser down.
In the end, the responsibility of putting up the fence belongs to me as it belongs to you. It’s not our spouses, our children, our friends, or our business associates that are the problem if we don’t get our writing time. It’s us.*
What Kind of Fence Do You Need?
If you struggle with protecting and honoring your writing time, try this process as a way to build a mental fence for your writing space.
- Set a writing time. Pick days and times in the week that work for you, and then schedule them for writing. Only you can decide what schedule works for you.
- Select your fence. Maybe you need something light, a split-rail line that just separates you a bit, or maybe you need to build a cinderblock barrier against assault. Maybe you need the chain link that shows you are off-limits or maybe a plexi-glass barrier that keeps out sound but lets in all the light. Visualize a fence that suits you and your needs.
- Visualize your fence going up. When the time for writing comes, imagine this fence sliding up into place. Leave your phone and your browser outside the fence. Soundproof the door with music or white noise. Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe in that fence.
I’d love to hear what kind of fence you put up and what you allow to breech that fence and interrupt you. Leave a comment below if you’d like.
*If you are the caregiver for a young child, an aging parent, an ill partner, then it is hard, I know, to set a boundary. But remember to care for yourself, too, and remember that writing is sometimes self-care. Maybe a friend or other family member can give you some respite to write.