Here it is:
Let's pretend you're at work. You're very busy with many things to do before the end of the day. If you don't get them done, your boss will be angry with you and it might well reflect on your over-all job performance. You want a raise one day; in fact, you hope to excel that this career and rise to the top of the ladder.
So what do you do when your mom or your good friend or your dear old auntie calls? Do you set aside your work to talk for an hour, knowing that it's going to be hell for you to catch up? Or do you say, "I'm sorry, I really can't talk now. Can I get back to you?"
Chances are, you'd do that latter if it weren't an emergency. And, chances are, your mom, your friend or your dear old auntie would understand. No one's feelings would be hurt because they would understand that you are at work. You are earning your livelihood. You are accountable to others and can't talk right then.
Let's play with that scenario a bit. Let's pretend that instead of working in an office, you're a novelist and you're working at home. Let's pretend your boss is far away — at a publishing house in New York. You still have deadlines. You're still very busy with a book that's due soon. And you have filing, research, and promotional work to do, as well. Let's say you have a day job and so the only time you can do this work is on the weekend.
Then someone calls. It's Saturday. You answer the phone because your conscience insists that you not ignore your mom/friend/dear old auntie. They want to talk about their week, your week, next week, and Britney Spears. Would you feel guilty saying, "I'm sorry, I really can't talk now. Can I get back to you?"
I'm betting you would sit and talk and feel more stressed by the minute, knowing your time to work is passing by. And if you did tell them you couldn't talk and let them go, you'd probably feel guilty.
And my question is why? Why do I feel guilty setting limits on the weekends when it's my only time to do my author work? Is the act of writing books not worthy of the same respect as the work I do at the newspaper? Is the income I earn not just valuable to my life and those of my kids?
And then there are all of the requests: family get-togethers, friends' birthdays, fund-raisers, endless events people want me to attend as editor-in-chief of the paper, my kids' special projects. I've gotten better at putting limits on these, prioritizing the needs of my kids and letting the rest fall away. It doesn't make me popular, but it's a survival technique. Believe me, I could be busy every second of every day and night just doing editor stuff — fund-raisers, ribbon-cuttings, endless receptions and so on. In and of themselves, each request is reasonable. And yet, each is like a grain of sand. Alone they are tiny. But taken together, they make a sand dune that could suffocate me if I don't watch out.
It's a real dilemma and one that I have resolved altogether well. And yet, how many women are E-in-C's of newspapers, single moms and novelists trying to produce two books a year?
Am I whining? I sure don't mean to.
I'm betting most writers have some version of this lament. I'd love to know how they deal with it.
I have fantasies about being by myself in a cabin in the mountains with a nice fire, a shot gun, good food, good coffee and my computer. No Internet. No telephone. No TV. (I don't have television at home as it is. Got rid of it years ago.) Just being alone over Christmas break made a huge difference in how much I was able to concentrate on my story.
Until then, I'll sit here by my fire, with my cup of coffee, within sight of my phone, and do my best to keep words flowing onto the page.