It’s hard to be a writer.
There’s no paycheck. At least, not this week. If you write fast, and your books sell well for many years, your pay can rise far beyond minimum wage. But slowly, oh so slowly, and we’re interested in the writing you’re doing today. For which, the pay is zero.
There’s no boss. This is a huge positive, of course. But that means there’s no reprimand if you show up to writing late, and no note goes in your employee file if you stop early for the day and go get a beer.
Worse, your boss (you know the one) and your paycheck have to come before your writing. And if you manage to write in the mornings or evenings around work, there’s your family to contend with.
Maybe that’s not a problem for you. Maybe your family is wonderful and supportive, and you couldn’t finish the draft without their encouragement. Or maybe you have a family of normal human beings, who have normal human needs. Whether parents, a spouse, or kids, you love them and you want to be there for them. But you want to hammer that keyboard, too.
How can you bring family members over to the dark side, so they support your writing efforts?
First of all, “support your writing” means “give me quiet keyboard time.” It would be nice if your spouse was your first reader and Uncle Stanley did great cover art, but what we writers need most… is to be left alone.
And what families need most is… attention.
Let’s arrange a trade. Here’s how:
1) Find a place to write and choose a window of time. Behind a closed door is better. And the shorter the window of time, the better. Did you get that? If your family doesn’t understand your need to write and won’t give you solitude, start with a shorter writing period. Then tell them about it.
“I’m going to be writing Monday to Friday, from 6:15 to 6:30 every morning.” Then do it.
When they interrupt you at 6:19, remind them that this is your writing time. When they need something at 6:28, remind them that this is your writing time.
Two notes: you won’t get much done in only fifteen minutes, and you’ll get even less done with the interruptions. That’s not the point. The point is to train your family.
2) At the end of your writing window, be with your family. Address those interruptions and show them some love. Let them know that your writing time is over, and that you are theirs now. Likewise, keep a lid on daydreaming or jotting story notes during family time. Again, you are training them. The key is to show them that, outside your writing window, you are with them one hundred percent.
Keep it steady with steps 1 and 2 until there are no more interruptions during your writing time. Your family is learning that when your writing window is over, you will be there for them. This takes faith on their part, so give that faith time to grow. Want to know a side benefit? You’ll learn to be freakishly productive in a fifteen-minute window. Once it’s going well, try the next step.
3) Expand your window. If you have waited long enough, and your family’s faith in you is solid, this will go smoothly. The increase can be small. Twenty minutes, or forty-five. Then back to steps 1 and 2. Be useless to them during your writing time. Don’t engage. Then be totally present the rest of the day.
4) Once your family is trained, and their faith in you is strong, you can try a big bump. Switch from a time window to a word count. Maybe 2000 words per day. Maybe 300. Obviously, it should be close to what you accomplish organically during your writing window. The training will start all over again. When they interrupt you at the keyboard, tell them, “I haven’t gotten my words yet.” If you take a break for coffee, say, “Almost there. Two hundred words to go.” Then go back to it.
When you hit your daily word count, stand up and cheer! They’ll celebrate too, because they have learned that when the day’s writing is done, you are all theirs. Important point: Once you’ve gotten your words, stay away from that keyboard! You’re done for today, remember? Don’t betray your loved ones.
5) The last step is only to listen. You will know that you have made your family into your writing allies when you hear them ask, “Did you get your words yet?” Now, they want you to succeed, because they know that once you do, you will be with them. Congratulations. Your family has gone from holding you back to cheering you on.
This is how Sam looks while he’s waiting for me to get my words for the day.