Setting Boundaries on Yourself

As I write this, I am sitting in my car in a parking lot, waiting for my library branch to open. (And no, that isn’t my library. I wish!)

Why am I not sitting in my cozy home office, complete with all the joys of a writer’s surroundings?

Because I have several rapidly approaching deadlines, and I am slightly-to-terribly behind on each of them.

And why is that? Distractions.

Follow the Bouncing Ball

My attention lately has been ricocheting all over the place.

Even though I don’t have Internet on my phone and we haven’t had regular TV for years, distractions at home abound.

At any given time lately, when I should have been working, I could be found eating, reading a fun mystery, watching a movie mystery, poring over a book about traveling England, talking to a friend, surfing the Internet, or a combination of the above. (Eating goes with almost everything.)

Mental Distractions

As much as those external distractions pull at me, I have a bigger problem lately. No one would know it to look at me because it’s all internal.

We all have periods where life hands us things we’d really love to avoid altogether. They can be worries about our kids or parents. It can be unwelcome news about a health issue. The hurt feelings can be from real or imagined betrayal by a friend or loved one.

Because we writers are such thinkers by trade, we tend to ruminate about such things more than is helpful. (I sometimes think I would make a good bovine since they chew their cud three times as it passes from stomach to stomach to stomach.) I can chew on things about that long!

Hours of thinking, praying and planning can (for me, anyway) sink into self-pity, depression and obsessive thinking.

What happens to the writing time when I’m in this state? It goes out the window.

Stop That Habit!

I realized the other day when talking to a friend that I was letting this mental state become such a bad habit that I was falling behind on my deadlines.

I wasn’t over-due–yet. But if something didn’t change, I soon would be.

[Brief note: sometimes the interruptions outside the home are very distracting too! A police car just chased a red sports car through this parking lot and out the other side. But...I digress.]

When we’re talking about boundaries, sometimes the most important ones–and the most helpful ones–are the ones we set on ourselves.

The Great Fixers of the World

I’m a “take action” kind of person, so the things I obsess about are beyond my control. (If I could control them, I would have done it already.) I don’t lack courage to confront, but once I’ve done all I can about a situation, I have difficulty giving it over to God and truly letting it go.

However, much of that, I realized, is simply a bad mental habit. I don’t have a brain disease, and I’m not “addicted” to wrong thinking.

But I have fallen into some bad habits in that regard, and trying harder wasn’t working. It required some drastic action.

That action consists of treating my writing like a 9-to-5 job for the next few weeks until I get caught up and meet those deadlines. (The only exception will be my babysitting days.)

Practical Changes

Because my laptop comes with its own distractions, I brought my mini word processor Neo2 with me to the library. It does nothing but word processing, and it is guaranteed to run at least a YEAR on three AA batteries. A blog reader who raved about her Neo2 got me to investigate it.

For only $119 a few months ago, I bought freedom from writing distractions. It has a huge font, which I love, and is easy to read indoors and outdoors. The main thing for my boundaries, though, is that I can’t do a darned thing on it but write.

A change of location to jump-start my new writing schedule was also critical. I needed to get away from the temptations at home until I got a grip on those deadlines.

I will work primarily at the library. It’s quiet during the school day. The mall basement has a food court that is also deserted during the day, and so far my car is working this morning. (I wouldn’t like to sit in the car and type all day though. I need a table for my notes.)

Mental Re-Focus Time

One other thing I am doing, courtesy of a writing coach’s tip, is helping me refocus when my mind starts to drift to obsessive junk. She suggested that I free write for ten minutes, mentally getting myself back on track, then smoothly transition right back into the work at hand.

It’s a simple technique, but it really helps to “re-dump” the worry, remind myself that I’ve done all I can, and then get back to work.

I plan to treat this like a regular job until I get caught up. I will take two fifteen-minute breaks today, plus half an hour back in the car to eat my healthy packed lunch. The rest of the time I’ll be writing. I’ll add a note below at the end of the day and report in!

Take Action Now!

If you are truly stuck and unable to write in your current physical or mental state, don’t give up. Explore alternatives. If you’re drastically stuck–like I’ve been lately–then take drastic measures to get back on track.

No one will do it for you. No one cares about your writing dreams as much as you do. Be determined to do whatever it takes to get back into the flow of your writing!

[UPDATE at the end of the day: I wrote six hours at the library! I am shocked at how easy it was. I was alone in the study room for a bit, then two students joined me. Other than having to blot out one young man's constant sniffling, it was good. I wrote more than 4,000 new words, plus this 900-word blog post! I am thrilled! I didn't take breaks, other than to stretch, so I took a full hour for lunch at a nearby park. It was lovely--just me and my mystery!]


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17 Responses to Setting Boundaries on Yourself

  1. kwpadmin says:

    I just got home from working “outside my office,” so I’m late posting your comments today. [See below.] I got another 7,000+ words written today! I don’t think I’ve ever done this before! My eyeballs feel a bit par boiled–need some eye drops. I have known that the distractions and mental wandering has been a problem, but I really had no idea how a change of scene with no distractions could matter that much! I hope at some point to have such a solid habit that I can transition back to my home office and still be so productive. It was fun having two days where I didn’t have meetings and appointments and babysitting so I could give it a real test! :-)

  2. Yay for you, Kristi! I’ve been fighting exactly the same battles recently, and I have been using my Neo, too, to get away from the distractions of internet and solitaire. (I bought my Neo several years ago and I’ve never regretted the investment.) So glad that your experiment worked for you. I see a library visit or two in my near future. :)

  3. Vijaya says:

    Kristi, you made great progress! Amazing how much you can do when you can cut the distractions. I love working from home, but as you can imagine, distractions (and food) abound! This is why I do not *work* on the family computer, which has school/church/sports/friends/family … all demanding my time. Having a separate machine and space help. It’s like dust … if I don’t see it, I won’t clean it.

  4. Bonnie says:

    What a terrific blog post, Kristi. I’m going to print it and read it every day. I don’t have the option of 9 to 5 writing but I can do a lot better with the time I have than I have been doing lately. Thanks for sharing with us.

  5. Audrey McLaughlin says:

    I love the ideas in this blog post. I am struggling through one of those “dry” times and am looking for answers and solutions. I have one question about the Neo2. Can you attach it to email submissions the same as a Word Doc attachment? Since that is the procedure for most of the magazine submissions, I am wondering about the compatibility issue. The internet is definitely my biggest detractor and this would definitely stop that endless surfing. But, it also would take away the ability to look up something that I need for my writing. Like all things in life, there is no easy answer. You have given me much food for thought here, and I am going to “chew on it” for awhile!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Audrey, I just plug in the Neo when I get home, push the button that says “send,” and it feeds into my computer’s Word program. Then I just save it like always. You don’t have “Neo documents.” They go right into your Word docs.

  6. Deanna says:

    I know this works! I’ve tried it at my library many times, sometimes in a private study room and other times in the quiet reading room. I was amazed how much I accomplished. It’s time for me to visit again.

  7. Anna Angela says:

    That is one gorgeous library, even if it isn’t yours. I have a Neo, too and I love it. But with everything on my laptop and the need to research on the Internet…it’s a toss up. I keep my Neo in a laptop sleeve and take that with me if I go out to run errands and I think I might find time to sit down for lunch or coffee. I found that it’s faster than writing in my notebook, and easier to transfer the files like you said. There is one distraction with the Neo. People are curious about it! But it’s a fun distraction to tell them what it is :-)

    I write in a coffee shop because my library and the local college library have the slowest Internet service ever and their hours are sadly limited because of budget cuts. But I think I’ll follow your experiment and write like it’s my 9-5 job. Or…um…10 to 6? I’m not a morning person ;-)

    • That’s the main branch of the New York Public Library! I was just there last fall, and my exact thoughts were, “If I lived in New York City, I’d make this room my office and come here to write!”

  8. Nancy says:

    Wow, you really got a lot written in your sabbatical at the library: 7,000 words in six hours? You must have typed off the tips of your fingers! My local library has an open floor plan, so I can’t do that: there is literally not one single quiet place to write (much less read). Plus it has a free public wireless network to tempt me. But I have tiptoed off to the college library on occasion, where there are study rooms and carrels, both of which have power outlets. But there is NO open WiFi network: hurray!

    I’ve never heard of the Neo; is it similar to the Alpha? I have started writing on my iPad Mini with an external keyboard. Same idea: less to distract me.

    • kwpadmin says:

      My local branches all have small study rooms. The open plan wouldn’t work well for me unless no one else came into the library! I don’t know if the Neo is like the Alpha or not. I had never looked into anything like this at all until a Facebook follower started emailing me about hers and how much more writing she was getting done because of it. She made a believer out of me. I took on an extra critique that month so I could buy one.

  9. Hi,
    Great post. Quick question: how big is the Neo 2 screen ? How many paragraphs can you actually see when you’re writing?

    • kwpadmin says:

      I can only see one good paragraph at a time. Of course, for my old tired eyes, I have the font set really big. You can adjust it somewhat, to have smaller font and more lines in the window. I just have four lines at a time. I thought it would be a problem, but so far, it hasn’t been.

  10. Maria says:

    The Neo is the name of one of the AlphaSmart keyboards. They are basically the same thing. I love mine. Just type in AlphaSmart Neo in a search engine and you will see pictures and demos.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Thanks, Maria! I didn’t know that. I don’t keep up with new technology, I’m afraid. Now I’ll know what to tell people when they ask!

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