I had several writers as clients in my life coaching practice. They often raised questions about how to find enough time and energy for writing amid the other demands and distractions of life. They might have agreed to take on extra responsibilities and activities, whether work- or family-related, because they felt obliged to accept or did not know how to refuse without causing offence or risking disapproval. Many were women working from home, and I could empathise when they described feeling tense and frustrated about having their creative flow interrupted when husband or children wanted something, a visitor came to call or it was time to get the dinner ready. Writing, more than most other activities, requires sustained periods of solitary concentration.
The answers sound simple in theory: Reserve a dedicated space to write in, preferably a room which is not shared with anyone else. Close the door when you are working. Switch off the phone. Reserve set times for writing each day. If there is too much else happening during normal waking hours, consider getting up earlier or staying up later, though without losing too much sleep. Say no to unwelcome requests.
Before putting such new strategies into practice it is advisable to have a friendly conversation explaining them to other household members, and asking them to respect your privacy by not interrupting unnecessarily or making a lot of noise. If all goes well they may even suggest helping in other ways, perhaps by taking over some of your usual tasks at times.
Many people find it difficult to follow these recommendations because they have been taught always to put others before themselves, and never to refuse when asked to do something however unreasonable or inconvenient it may be. As a result they may become overworked, tired and resentful, and are unable to pursue their own wishes or develop their full potential. If they ever do decline a request, they feel guilty about it. But:
If you never say No, what is your Yes worth? Tony Neate
Overcoming this ‘people-pleasing’ mindset is not about going to the opposite extreme of ruthless selfishness, but finding a balance between the best interests of others and yourself.
Many of the Bach flower remedies, selected alone or in combination on an individual basis, can be helpful here. For example Centaury is for those who are over-eager to serve others, and Walnut for those who are being distracted from their chosen path by outside influences. For details about these and other remedies please visit the Bach centre website.
Not all distractions from writing are external ones. If you are finding it hard to focus because of intrusive worries or wandering thoughts, or are continually being tempted to check your emails or get another cup of coffee, you need to set firmer boundaries for yourself.
4 thoughts on “Setting personal boundaries: or, writers who never say no”
Great advice! -RB
Very relatable topic, and so important to address in your life before it burns you out. It is good to have someone give me permission, in a sense, to say no to some things. Thanks for this!