How to stop interruptions to your writing (video)

Viewing time: 5 mins. 6 secs.

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #96,  which addresses how to stop interruptions to your writing. The post first ran on June 21/19.


Welcome to The Write Question, I’m Daphne Gray-Grant and my topic today is how freelance writers can stop interruptions when they’re working.

I have an email from Jan Maroscher — a work-at-home writer based in Ohio. Here’s what she’s asked via email:

“How can I handle work-at-home distractions from a husband who also works at home and who says he understands my need to focus but then interrupts and says, “Just one quick thing …” Then there are the Facebook messages from my best friend that keep coming through … ping, ping, ping. I’ve told them both I have work hours. I put up a sign that says “Do not disturb, I’m focusing.” I turn off messenger (although it comes through my watch or phone). Is the problem them or me? What should I do besides give up and go to the library?”

Thanks for your question, Jan. Isn’t it interesting to see the great lengths that other people will go to in order to disrupt our work?

But you ask me if I think the problem is you or the other people in your life. Rather than try to assign blame, I advise this: Don’t waste time trying to ID the guilty party. Instead, figure out what you can do about the situation.

Let’s look at the issues in the order you mentioned them. First, you have a husband who SHOULD understand the issue because he faces exactly the same challenges himself. But somehow he’s not getting it. Here’s what I suggest:

You need some more documentation, so for the next week or 10 days, grab a piece of paper and put a note on it every time he interrupts your work. Note the day, time and subject of the interruption.

And, to be fair, note whether there are any occasions in which you interrupt him.

Then, schedule a date to review this record. Perhaps you can go out for lunch. Try to present your concerns in a way that is friendly and non-threatening — and that acknowledges your own contribution to the problem, if appropriate.

Also, understand that we’re all wired differently. Perhaps your husband is more social than you are and needs the opportunity to chat with other people. That other person doesn’t always need to be you! Suggest he develop a list of people he could phone or email whenever he needs such interaction.

If he’s not a writer himself — and I’m assuming he’s not — he may not understand your need for quiet. So, explain it to him. Maybe draw a metaphor relating to areas of HIS work that require his total concentration? Make that type of comparison and he may be more likely to understand it.

I also suggest you invest in a pair of high-quality noise-cancelling headphones. My husband and I share an office one day a week and when he gets on the phone, I pop on my noise-cancelling headphones — link below — and I’m able to ignore the racket he makes. Another bonus, the headphones are LARGE so when husband sees me wearing them, he knows it’s pointless to speak with me.

OK, now let’s move on to the issue of your Facebook friend. Yikes! This should be a really easy problem to solve. TURN OFF every interruption that could disrupt your focus. I don’t use Facebook myself any more (and am so happy to be out of that stream!) but my tragic flaw is that I’m easily distracted by email.

As a result, I asked a technician to disable every sign of email from my computer. I have no dings, no whooshing emails emerging from the side of my screen, no little red number showing how many emails I need to read. There’s just blessed silence. Perfect for writing.

If you don’t know how to disable your phone or other devices in a similar fashion, then put them somewhere else while you’re writing. You don’t need to go to a library to achieve this kind of quiet. You just need to get technology to HELP you rather than HURT you!

Finally, let me wrap up with a quote from American psychologist and writer Daniel Goleman. He’s the author of the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence, link below: “One way to boost our will power and focus is to manage our distractions instead of letting them manage us.”

Jan, there’s no question that other people are trying to derail your writing, albeit not deliberately. Instead of trying to escape them by going to the library, marshal your own internal resources to focus and hold these distractions at bay. You can do it.


Bose noise-cancelling earphones

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

Try these strategies to manage interruptions

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