An accountant friend was approached for a huge volunteer commitment. She answered with three earth-shattering words: “It’s tax season.” For five months, everyone left her alone. She figured out how to protect her place, and became my private hero. I wanted a phrase like that!
As writers, we’re frequently frustrated when our time or craft isn’t respected. This thing we do may appear as a hobby, a dabbling in the arts. Before blaming the world, I ask the hard question: what part am I playing in this? Am I sending enough signals so the world knows I’m serious? If I don’t protect the physical and mental space to write, I can’t expect others to.
“What are you doing this morning?” This is a common volunteer request asked of us first thing in the morning at school drop off, or places we’re completely caught off guard, (like the fish aisle at Costco.)
Many of us may have replied, “Nothing. Just Writing.”
In a single move, 67% of our three-word phrase diminished our craft. “Nothing.” “Just.” The requester didn’t minimize it; we did it for them. I used to give away my writing time simply because it wasn’t an official appointment. I’d spend those days being a resentful volunteer, which helped no one.
One day, my author friend was pressured on a request. Her reply was stunning: “It’s Writing Day.” She gave full eye contact, added no other words and everyone backed off. Here’s why it was so effective:
“Don’t” “Won’t” “Can’t” are absent, so it feels comfortable for those who have a hard time saying no.
It’s short, clear and easy to remember.
It doesn’t apologize or leave an opening for someone to get in and mess with it or shorten it.
It declares to the world and yourself that it exists. It comes across as non-negotiable.
As you start your writing day, picture that time as a block, or a cubicle where you actually report to work. If you are interrupted during your writing by an invite or non-urgent request, ask yourself: if this were my work cubicle in the city, would I leave it, get in my car and drive the fifty miles home for this? No one would expect you to, and neither should you. Form your writing time into a solid space. Have it front and center in your head for when you are ambushed in the parking lot with “hey, by the way, can you….?”
Your Power Phrase is ready to go. “It’s Writing Day.”
Congratulations, you’ve named it and claimed it.
Sheri Hoffmann is a writer, public speaker, and creator of the “Contented Yes” workshop series. Sheri has presented her seminars to audiences in the East Bay and North Bay areas. In addition to performing in the 2015 production of Listen To Your Mother San Francisco, she also writes about the ridiculous, the mundane and a variety of social issues. She is a fierce advocate for writers’ voices and very protective of their writing time. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org to consult with you or speak to your group about boundaries, whether you’re a writer and/or someone who is relentlessly tapped for their time and skills.