This won’t be the most dire question you receive today, but I’m writing in the hope that you can help me with scripts, advice, and encouragement as I convince my wonderful family that the sky won’t fall if I’m unavailable to them for an hour or so each day.
In a lot of ways, I’m very lucky. Privileged, in fact. I have a husband (he/him) I love, two teenagers (a she and a him) that I also love, and a menagerie of adorable animals who are oh so lovable. I have a full-time job. I also have a book contract! I’m writing about something I’m passionate about, and I’m really enjoying the research, the writing, and the editing as I try on new ideas, write things down, and then edit obsessively to get things just right.
However, whenever I shut myself into my messy little home office to get some work done, all hell breaks loose.
Things will be going along swimmingly at home, and then I’ll say those fatal words: “I’m writing now. Please don’t come in unless there’s blood, fire, or vomit on the floor.” The door closes, I fire up my computer, and then:
Daughter: Can I go to Friend’s house?
Me: Ask your dad.
Daughter: He’s meditating.
Son: Mom, can you come here? It’s important! (Spoiler: It’s never important.)
Daughter: I told Friend2 we could drive her to Friend1’s house.
Husband: A SPORTSBALL PLAYER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF WAS TRADED TO A TEAM YOU DON’T FOLLOW!
Me: I thought you were meditating?
Son: Mom! The dog’s doing something adorable! Come see!
Daughter (via DM): Mom whats for dinner?
Me (via DM): I thought you were going to Friend1’s house
Daughter (via DM): No, she and Friends 2-5 are coming here.
Daughter (via DM): Dad couldn’t drive me so I said they could all come here
Son: Mom! What’s for dinner?
(Enter two cats. One of them takes up residence on my lap; the other, on my keyboard.)
Husband: THAT GUY WE SAW IN THAT THING BACK IN 1997 IS ON SVU!
Editor (via DM): So how’s the book going?
Me: Jesus, take the wheel.
Captain, I have tried it all. I’ve tried closing the door (the doors in my house don’t lock, alas). I’ve tried putting signs on the door. I’ve tried responding with a vague “Mmm-hmmm,” I’ve tried yelling (“WHERE’S THE FIRE?”), I’ve tried talking at dinner about my need for JUST ONE LOUSY HOUR OF SOLITUDE. And I love my family, but if the only time I’m able to get work done is at 8 a.m. Saturday when everyone else is asleep (the rest of my family is apparently part-vampire because no one goes to bed before midnight), I’ll never meet my deadline.
So, from one creative type with a family including floofy animals to another: How do I stake out and claim the time I need to do this thing that I really, really want (and, not for nothing, am contractually obligated) to do?
The Crowd in the Room of My Own (she/her)
I want you to try something for the next four Saturdays or whenever your Hour of Power is.
When it’s Writing Time, leave.
Go to a coffee shop or a local library or somewhere that is not your house. I know you have this room that you are supposed to be able to write in and you should be able to use it (I’ll get to that, I promise). Right now, you have to re-establish a pattern, and for that I think you have to leave. For a while, my secret writing spot was the Roosevelt University Library. Look at it:
They’ve probably updated it by now but for the longest time it had no Wi-Fi. The best. Every script or story I wrote in grad school was born in that room. I was not a student there but they let the public in. You have a view of Grant Park through the giant windows. It’s so quiet.
And listen, I have strategic suggestions about how to leave, especially the first time. Quietly get your laptop (or your cool writing notebook, or a tablet + a keyboard, whatever you can use to write) and your purse and your shoes and your coat and your keys all together, and then as you are about to go, say to your family, “I’m stepping out to get some writing done, I’ll be back around [time]. I won’t have my phone on, so I can concentrate, but I’ll check in if I’ll be later than [time]. See you!” and then walk out the door and go where you gotta go and write your book.
Would it be nice and polite and reasonable to give your husband more notice and discuss it the night before and make sure he doesn’t have other plans? Sure. You can definitely do that! But I suggested it the way I did for a very specific reason. You’re not asking permission to leave, and one of the things you need to do when you leave is to NOT have 10,000 logistical discussions about what needs picked up from the grocery store and who is driving the kids where (answer: Not You!). It’s not even that he would make you have these discussions, it’s that you would get sucked into them anyway because you are a mom and that’s what moms do, they keep track of who needs to be where at what time and how much milk is in the fridge at any given time, and we are trying to do an end run around that part of your brain. What we need: Shoes. Wallet. Keys. Writing materials. GO. The recycling that you could take a minute to bundle up before you go can fucking wait. The reusable bags that you could take a second to put in the car can WAIT. The errands you could run on the way home will still be there in 2 hours. Don’t give yourself or your husband or your kids time to formulate the million questions that only occurred to all of them because they saw you with your purse in your hand. GO. Go and write.
I want you to try that for at least four weeks in a row. I want there to be time that you are physically and electronically unavailable to anyone in your family. Turn your phone OFF. Close all social media & messaging apps & windows. Your husband can get a Twitter account, they’ll love his SVU observations there. The kids can “ask dad” for a change. Your family has been trained that they can interrupt you and you will respond to them. You must train them to stop doing this, but first you must train yourself. So, leave.
“But Captain Awkward, I have a room at home that’s for writing! Shouldn’t I be able to use that for one goddamn hour?”
Yes but it’s full of cats and your family doesn’t respect it. Maybe it can be your first-thing-early-in-the-morning writing space or your after-kids-are-in-bed writing space. It’s not working right now, and you’re having the conversations about what you need, and it’s still not working. So control what you can control, and go find a writing spot and write there.
Then, after that four weeks, see how you feel. Are you making progress on your manuscript? Got momentum? Is this a ritual you want to sustain? If so, this is the new normal! It’s okay to keep stepping out forever or whenever you want some space and a different ritual.
But also, to reclaim your writing room and your writing time at home, try this:
“Husband, I need Saturdays from 9am-11am to be my writing time and I need your help to make that happen. What would really help is if you took the kids out to breakfast and then took them to the library/the pool/the park for that time, so I can have some peace & quiet. I can trade off with you starting at noon so that you can get some quiet time, too.”
He has alternatives to taking them out, of course. He could actively engage the kids when he knows you’re writing. They could all play video games together. He could be like “amuse yourselves, Mom is writing, that means leave her the hell alone.” He could have been doing this all this time. But he’s not (literal LOL at “Dad’s meditating“), so, again, the routine has got to change to give y’all some physical barriers if the virtual ones aren’t holding. This thing where you are all home together and you go into the room doesn’t work because he’s not helping it work. He’s not telling the kids “Do. Not. Disturb. Your. Mother.” He’s not respecting it himself!
Nobody has to be the asshole for annoying patterns to get established, but this won’t fix itself without you taking some steps to physically absent yourself from your family so you can get some space and time to work. The door is not enough. Asking has not been enough. So go, and leave them to their own devices.