One of the benefits of being a freelance writer is making my own schedule, and having the flexibility to change that schedule if I want to. For instance, I am not a morning person, and in fact joked that I’m part vampire in this post here because I write best after sunset and terribly at sunrise. Luckily, as a freelancer, I have the freedom to write well into the night and sleep in in the morning. My flexible schedule also enables me to take long lunches with friends, visit my parents mid-week when renting a car is cheaper, and enrol in a weekly trampoline class that starts at 4pm – all because I don’t have to complete my work during a regular 9-to-5 schedule. However, it’s important to note that doing these things means I have to make up work hours in the evening or on the weekend.
Now, when I’m working for a client, it’s easy to protect those hours. Everyone understands having a deadline and a boss. But when I’m working on my novel, not so much.
Just this week, a friend called with an impromptu invite to the mini-fair on Centre Island. Her and her kids would be there in an hour! Fun, right? Sure, except I had planned to write that day. I offered to meet up for lunch or dinner instead because I didn’t have the time to spend ALL day on the island, but I could spare a couple hours (and catch up on my writing in the evening). However, after confirming with me that I had indeed finished the last stage of a script for a client, she asked, “So why can’t you come? What else do you have to do today?”
Now my friend knows I’m working on a novel and she meant no disrespect by this question, but as is often the case, people who are not writers or artists themselves don’t see your personal creative projects as real work. To her, I was free to hang out, so she was a bit miffed that I refused. And then I felt bad for being an un-fun friend.
Sigh. This happens a lot and I’m kind of tired of trying to explain that my writing really is work. So I’ve decided I need to come up with a plan for future invites to spare both my friends’ feelings and mine…
1. THE TRUTH EDITED
I’m chasing a deadline.
Just because you don’t have a paying client or a publisher (yet) for your project, doesn’t mean you don’t have a deadline. I like to call this excuse The Truth Edited, because, technically it is true (I am always chasing a deadline because I set goals for myself), but I leave the part out about me being the one who set this deadline. Sure, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to edit the truth, but in reality most people don’t respect personal deadlines as much as client deadlines. So sometimes I lead my friends to believe that someone else is waiting on that outline or draft. Even better is if someone is expecting it, like a beta reader or a critique partner.
2. THE WHITE LIE
I’m sick. / I have an appointment. / I’m waiting on a delivery.
These are go-to White Lies. Because they are common excuses, people might doubt them if you use them too much, so make sure the white lie isn’t the only excuse in your arsenal. Of course, to make it extra convincing, you could have sick photos on hand that you can text. And don’t hold back the fake gory details – that always make people stop asking questions. Though if you have one of those friends who is stuck in the 20th century and still uses their phone to make actual calls, have your best nasally voice or fake cough ready when you answer. Or try tip #5.
3. THE DEFLECTION
I can’t today, but what about this weekend?
If you’re not cool with The White Lie, The Deflection might be more your style. By suggesting another hang out time and making future plans, your friend should be distracted enough not to ask you to explain exactly why you’re not available at that moment. Note: this doesn’t work on nosy friends, so make sure you have another excuse as backup.
4. THE SECRET
I’d love to, but I have to work on this top secret project!
This is totally true if you haven’t given out the details of your novel. The Secret also makes what you’re doing sound super exciting so that your friend is excited for you and less likely to be upset. This excuse has the added bonus of ensuring that you actually get stuff done so you really do have exciting news to reveal when you next see your pal.
5. THE DIGITAL SECRETARY
“Hi, I’m unavailable until 6pm today…”
Set automated responses on your phone/email during your writing time to avoid distracting invites, and instruct friends to leave a message or call back after a certain time. I call this The Digital Secretary because I think of these auto responses as being like a bigwig’s secretary, keeping people out of the office and holding calls when they don’t want to be disturbed. The good thing about this one is if there is a bonafide emergency, you still get the message and can respond, but otherwise you can guiltlessly ignore all the non-emergencies.
Pro Tip: vary these excuses. I use 1, 2 and 3 regularly, but will add 4 and 5 to the repertoire soon.
Ideally, we should proudly protect our writing time and just tell the truth, but if you’re like me and have a rubber arm that is easily twisted into going out, or always feel guilty when you disappoint friends by refusing their invites, using these excuses just makes things easier. Writing is hard enough, so give yourself some leeway when protecting your writing time.
How do you protect your writing time? Share in the comments!