On Writing

Productivity Tip for Writers: How to Get Unwanted Visitors to Leave

May 1, 2013

mug copyThe Problem (and all writers have faced it): You are seated at your PC or your laptop or your desk. You are tip-tapping or scribbling away at your Next Masterpiece of Writer-ly Wonderfulness when in comes a Visitor. This is not just any Visitor either. You could easily get rid of a normal Visitor. Normal Visitors pick up on clues (lack of eye contact, your intense concentration, your pained look at their intrusion) and back off. Oh no. this is That Kind of Visitor – Clueless. To complicate matters, the Clueless Visitor is also someone you Like or Love. (Otherwise, you could snippily tell them: “Please leave. I am working on a Masterpiece and you are destroying my Concentration and I am ticked off in that quiet way writers have that you are obviously too Clueless to pick up on.)

Clueless Visitors know you Like/Love them. That is probably part of the reason they are so Clueless. They are sure the Skull and Crossbones on the “Do Not Enter – This Means You” sign you have posted at eye level on the closed side of your Writing Place door is Not Meant for Them. (It is.) They are sure that their news (latest baseball score, junk mail arrived, need to buy more dip for the chips) is more important to you than completing your Next Masterpiece. (It isn’t.)

Long Conversations and Heart-to-Hearts do not get through to the Clueless Visitors. Neither do hissy fits or tears. (“She must be in a bad mood. Probably needs to take a break and chat.”) They are Clueless, remember?

The Solution (and this actually works like a charm): Every time they interrupt you when you have asked for privacy, closed your door, and posted your Skull and Crossbones sign, hand out a chore. Important: Do it as charmingly as they interrupt you – i.e., with the innocent (heh heh) assumption that they have stepped in to add to the delight of your day – and since they have so much affection for you, would welcome any chore you hand them. Next, give them a chore that will 1) remove them from your office, 2) keep them removed from your office for a good long while, and 3) be onerous enough that they will begin to associate: Interruption of Writer = Onerous Chore. Even the Clueless put this together – if only subconsciously – after they keep getting the same results from their interruptions.

It takes a bit of work and planning on your part: i.e., you will need to think up a list of chores and keep them handy along with reasons why the chore can’t wait. Depending on the intractability of your Clueless One, this can take some ingenuity. (“I need you to go to this one particular spice store in the next county because I need Ceylonese Coriander which only they carry. It is the essential ingredient in that roast you love so much and that I plan to make tomorrow.” Adapt the chore and the justification to the specs of your Clueless One. As a writer, you’ll figure this out.)

You will note that the tip applies basically to driving-age Clueless Ones. I have a soft heart and childhood passes by way too quickly. For kids, the Masterpiece can wait. All others: Get your car keys.

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