Nanowrimo for the Anxious: 5 Ways to Write Around Family

There must be a sizeable chunk of text devoted to writing around family interference in No Plot? No Problem!–and if not, you’ll find it in other books.  Also on other blogs, like posts about maintaining creative routines during the holidays over at The Writing Life.  I really like her suggestions, because they emphasize flexibility and address problems like feeling guilty for missing your planned writing time.  In fact, reading her mission statement, I get the feeling this is a blog I should be following.

I’m aggressive about my writing time.  My family should know better than to interfere, because it’s not like this writing thing is new, but–yeah.  “Of course you can have thirty minutes of uninterrupted time, Amber,” is followed by interruptions every two minutes.  I know they mean well, and I love them, but it’s frustrating.

Let’s talk about family visits.  Thanksgiving hits mid-Nanowrimo, but I’m not worried about that; my family is scheduled to visit during Week One, so I need to think about this now.

So, how do I find time to write when my family doesn’t always respect my space?  I get sneaky.

Take Advantage of Sleeping Schedules to Write

Most in my family are late risers on weekends or non-workdays.  I remember visiting my aunt for Thanksgiving or Christmas, sleeping on the air mattress in her living room, and waking at 8 AM to find that nobody else was up.  Now, to be fair, as I got older I also stayed up later, and woke up later in the mornings.  But without exception, wandering to the bathroom at the crack of dawn meant a silent house.

After wage-slaving for Starbucks for a year and a half, I got used to early mornings.  The same isn’t true of my family, however!  During visits, I can wake up early and get my writing done hours before my guests wake up.

Normally I don’t write in the mornings, but if that’s the only time I can have peace, I’ll do it.  I also don’t (normally) get up at the crack of dawn, but again, I’ll do it.  Maybe.

Go Buy Coffee/Goodies For Everyone–and Then Write

Of course you can’t do this on the day (stores lately have been closing on Thanksgiving, finally), but if your family is staying for the entire weekend, or longer, this is a great excuse to get out of the house and take a little while coming back.  As long as you come back with treats, nobody should complain if you’re gone an hour.  If you burst into the house and say, breathlessly, “The line was so long, but I’ve got croissants!” what are they going to say except, hell yes, pass those croissants?  Nothing, that’s what.  Unless, like me, they can’t eat wheat, in which case you’d better have a tasty coffee ready for them.

Seriously, though.  I like writing in coffee shops, but even if I didn’t, I’d make a trip specifically to use that time to write.  Before the order, after, during–doesn’t matter.  Take your laptop, do it on your phone (Evernote has worked for me before), write with a pad of paper and a pencil.  Anything you can easily carry (and hide?) is your friend.

Negotiate Writing Time with Your Guests

Maybe you’re lucky; your family understands, and is willing to grant you thirty or sixty minutes of time to spend on writing, instead of waiting on them hand and foot.  (Or, y’know, enjoying their company.)  Try asking for it.  Explain how important this is to you.  If there’s a deadline hanging over your head, explain that. (Especially if you’re getting paid! If there’s one thing my family respects, it’s money.)  Assure them that you love their company and want to soak up their presence like a person-shaped sponge, but you’ve got to get this done, and all it takes is thirty minutes a day.

Then, take that time.  Find an empty room, hole up in your car, hide in the bathroom–get away from the distraction of your guests and write.


Yeah.  I’m serious.  Humor me.

My mother is well-meaning and I love her, but I swear to god, she cannot let more than five minutes go by without saying something to me.  It’s kind of funny, actually!  But it’s deadly when I’m trying to write.  Now, my relationship with her is such that I can just give her a hug, say I’m going to my room, and lock myself up until my writing timer is up, but not everybody can do that.  If your guests won’t respect your time, I think some innocent fibbing should be fine.  For example:

  • Say you’re going to make phone calls (holiday greetings, bill collectors, etc.), and then hole up in the bedroom and write for ten-to-fifteen minutes.
  • Find a pretext to go to the grocery store and write in your car, at a nearby cafe, or wherever.  As long as you come back with the milk, they’re not going to know you stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts first to get some writing done.
  • Same thing, different product.  Maybe your grandmother loves pecan pie, but you don’t have the shit you need to make one; well, go buy one.  Just for her.  Or say you will, and if you haven’t got the money, confess that you couldn’t find any when you return empty-handed.

Honestly, while it’s not great to advocate lying to the people you (presumably) care about, I think it’s justified if they’re flipping out over thirty minutes of writing time.  They’ve got you for the other twenty-three-and-a-half hours of the day, so maybe they need to lighten the fuck up.  I say this goes doubly if you’re the one doing the hosting.  Hosting–versus just letting people sit on your couch and watch TV while you do your own thing–is fucking hard.

You Do Need to Stay Flexible

As the author over at The Writing Life mentioned, taking advantage of these intervals of time–which may sometimes be tiny–might require flexibility.  Not everybody gets their writing in the same way.  Some people insist on a certain word count; others decide they must sit at the computer a full hour every day; some count by pages instead of words.  We’re talking about Nanowrimo here, so somehow you’ve got to choke out 1,667 words a day, at minimum, and not everybody writes fast.  Your normal routine might be incompatible with the slivers of time you can snatch between family obligations.  So, ideas:

  • Put some extra words in the bank: try to surpass the 1,667 word count a few days a week, either before or after your family visits.  An extra two hundred words, three times a week, will allow you to skip a day if necessary, or write less per day, and not fall too far behind.
  • Plan for days off: as described in an earlier post on planning my Nanowrimo process, I assume that I’ll miss at least a few days for unavoidable reasons (illness, holiday visits, writing exhaustion) and raise my daily word count slightly to account for it.  This serves two purposes:
    • first, planning a day off can reduce guilt over missing a day, and
    • second, I know it’s going to happen anyway, and now I won’t panic.
    • Thirdly, it’s a nice buffer for the family issue.
    • Caveat: this does require confidence in your ability to produce.  2,000 words per day isn’t significantly more intimidating to me than 1,667, but YMMV depending on experience level and process.
  • Accept that you will have to catch up: Nanowrimo is purposely scheduled during a difficult time of year.  It’s a challenge.  Falling behind because of the holidays, midterms, or illness is not uncommon.  By adjusting your expectations to acknowledge these barriers, overcoming them might be easier.
  • Change your routine early: sometimes it’s just impossible to follow your usual routine during the holidays.  You might have to write in a different place, on a different device, or with distractions you normally don’t have to put up with.  If this kind of change is difficult for you, start early.  Give yourself a week to make the adjustment.  Even if that isn’t quite enough, it’ll soften the transition by the time your family arrives and you have to put the plan into action.

Any other ideas?  Please share them!

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