The other day I was cleaning out some boxes in the basement and came across a gift from a design agency I worked with when I was in corporate. We were in the depths of annual report season and I was ready to pull my hair out from the back and forths and revisions and redos and oy! The agency sent over a “survival toolbox” that included a candy bar, a small jar of NyQuil, a packet of Advil, and a shot glass.
That toolbox was promptly put on a shelf in my office. And it got me thinking—what would a survival toolbox for writers look like? Coffee beans, an extra large mug, chocolate, wine glass & opener, Advil, gummy bears.
*scuse me while I go fill my coffee mug and grab another bag of gummies*
Yesterday I was whining (sorry, Kathryn Craft, I was all out of gold) to a friend about various frustrations. Her response was a kicker of a reality check: “You forgot to enforce your boundaries.”
Coffee and gummies (or chocolate, whatever floats your boat) are all great, but maybe that survival toolbox needs to also come with blueprints for solid boundaries.
Protect your writing time.
When I first started writing, I was also working full time as a freelance writer and editor. My days were mapped out and I knew I had x amount of time to write. And I wrote during that time. There wasn’t the option for “I’ll do it later.” Later was spoken for.
Then I started writing full time. Luckily my son was in elementary school so I had all of those hours to write. Except that I had “all of those hours” to write. And that meant I also had “all of those hours” to do all the other things that needed to get done – cleaning the house, social media, volunteering, blogging, beta reading. Because I had the time. Except, with each thing I said yes to, it took away from my writing time.
Your writing time should be sacred. Whether you have an hour or four or an entire day, set your boundaries and stand firm. Sure, sometimes you have to tuck your writing behind an emergency. It happens. But it should be the exception, not the rule.
Protect your writing space.
I have an adorable office that is affectionately known as the lemon room thanks to the neon yellow walls. There’s a white board on the closet door for brainstorming, a kick-in-the-pants reminder about my mission above that door, there are bookshelves all around, and inspirational quotes tacked where I can see them. I also write on the front porch when the weather is too nice to stay indoors (or the dust bunnies are too big to ignore). Those are my creative places.
When I’m working on a blog or on association things, I usually move to the kitchen table. Granted, there have been times I sat there and wrote on one WIP or another, or spread out with revisions when my office desk felt too cramped.
But my creative places are my happy places. When I’m there, I don’t have legos spread everywhere, I don’t have to look at a pile of bills that needs to be paid, and I don’t have to see a pile of dishes out of the corner of my eye.
Whether you have a room of your own or a corner in the house or you write where you can find a clean spot to sit with your laptop, that space needs to be yours (if only for that period of time you’re using it). The only “people” you should scoot over to make space for are the characters in your head (and maybe a cat or dog).
Protect your thoughts.
Think back to when you first started dating someone. The relationship is new and exciting, maybe you mention to your friends that you’ve met someone really cool but when pressed for more, you clam up. Why? Because it’s fresh and yours. Because you don’t want the opinions of others influencing your decision on the relationship.
A new story isn’t much different than a new flame. There’s the initial courtship time when you noodle story ideas and character traits, plot twists and sidekicks. The characters become friends and what happens to them becomes personal.
A year or so ago, I started working on a new project that had me bubbling with excitement. I was completely smitten with my main characters and the story between them and so excited that I couldn’t wait to share the idea with a writing friend. Her lack of enthusiasm and criticism for my baby idea was a major bucket of ice water. That story has become my “the one I think about,” you know, the guy/gal you wonder what could have been if only you hadn’t blown them off.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying never share ideas. I have a writing friend who I always run to with new ideas. She may think that one of my ideas has a big nose or needs to learn table manners but she’d never say anything to derail the budding romance.
I read once that the first draft should be for you, the writer only. The revisions are for your agent/editor/readers. Fall in love with your characters and their story first. When you’re secure enough in the “relationship,” then go public.
Protect your energy.
Someone recently posted an image on Facebook that disturbed me for some reason. The message was actually quite nice – “Do your thing & cheer for others.” That’s a good thing, right?
So what about that bothered me? The realization that I wasn’t protecting my energy to do my own thing. I was spending so much energy cheering and supporting everyone else, that I was too drained at the end to make that same effort on my work.
One of the things I admire most about the writing community is how generous people are. I love being part of this community and being able to support writer friends. But back to boundaries … know your limitations. Know how much time you have to commit beyond your day job, your family, your writing obligations, your you time. Know when you can take on a volunteer role or a request to beta or blog or whatever you’ve been asked to do. As founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, I’ve seen so many volunteers who genuinely want to help, to give back, then find themselves stretched too thin and unable to meet all their obligations (*raising hand sheepishly*).
Set your boundaries. Make sure you leave yourself enough energy (just for clarification, I don’t mean just physical energy; I’m also talking about emotional energy) to be able to do your thing and cheer for others.
Maybe with stronger boundaries, I’ll be able to wean myself off gummy bears.
I’d love to hear if any of you have stumbled over your own boundaries. What did you do to remedy the situation? Or maybe you’re willing to share your secret for holding fast to your boundaries? And what would you put in your survival toolbox? 🙂
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.