Your social bubble and writing productivity
What’s this episode about?
Welcome to the first season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to episode 3 in full above and/or scan the show notes below for the main takeaways.
Following the previous two topics, it is only fair that we look at what outside factors can affect how you build your writing routine. Like it or not, you and I are part of society and if we want said society to engage with our writing, we have to keep within its bounds. That includes accepting that writing might never be straightforward and that there will always be interruptions from within our social bubble.
When my dad wants some alone time, he always says he wants to move to live on the Moon. And some days, when I just want to sit down and write, I share this desire. As I’m torn between friends asking me to go out, my family ringing me and social media pinging on my phone like there’s no tomorrow, I dream of a quiet desk set up on the warmer side of the Moon.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family, I love my co-workers from my day job and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. As a note, I have a love-hate relationship with social media so I’m leaving it out of this trade agreement.
Anyway, I’m pretty disciplined and good at keeping up my writing routine, yet I still get distracted from time to time. And this is normal. It would be good if writers could travel to another planet when they needed to hermit and do some writing, but the truth it, as everything in life, this a balancing job.
I bet you’ve heard about work-life balance but I’m going to extend the term and say writers need a good work-hobby-life balance, because for some of us writing is a hobby, and for others it’s their job. In any case, there’s also other job aspects to think about, as well as life things like family matters and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Work-life balance is on you
People in contemporary societies are constantly faced with challenges associated with conflicts between work and life roles. Studies found that work–life issues impact everyone regardless of individual demographics, social economic status, or family structure. Not only that, but also stress from work–life imbalance affects general well-being and leads to poorer performance in all areas.
This might come as no surprise but whether you are employed in a job unrelated to writing, one that relies on writing or are self-employed, work-life balance falls on you as an individual. It is the same for balancing writing and your surroundings. No one will help you not because they don’t want to but because it is only you that really know what a successful balance would look like. And this is the part where I urge you to think about what challenges you face in your daily writing practice and whether or not you have found a productive way of dealing with them.
For example, one of the unsuccessful routines I was building involved me sitting down to write in the evenings, after work. It also said that if you’re committed to your craft, you would be able to confidently decline outings with friends and family. This didn’t work partly because of my personality and partly because it did not fit my surroundings.
For one, as a hardcore introvert, telling my friends I wouldn’t see them and estranging my family would have led to me being completely isolated – and while writing is great and is the passion of my life, what is the point if I have no one to share it with or if loneliness is bringing about writer’s block?
And second, my day job requires a lot of focus and talking to people. I like it and I’m not complaining but at the end of the work day my brain is more often than not melted and not fit for any creative work. So what did I do? I stopped forcing myself to follow this rigorous routine of night-time writing. I would write nights if inspiration struck, but usually it was non-working days and weekends when I did the bulk of my writing.
I’m sure if you think back, you could find such examples in your own writing practice. Maybe you even have some now, active and waiting to be changed. Take some quiet time one day to think about where writing fits in with your social bubble and you may be surprised by the ideas of improvement that flow after.
Social media as a distraction
Let’s talk about social media. For many social media is just part of the package – you need to connect with your audience or maybe you even do your writing FOR social media. So I know, here’s no escaping it and there’s no ignoring it – but that doesn’t mean it has to be something that distracts you so much you can’t sit down properly to write.
If this is you, don’t worry, you’re not alone. If like most of us you use a computer, it’s really easy to get side-tracked by notification pop-ups and noises and to get constantly pulled away from your focused writing time to check Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.
This aspect of your social bubble is the easiest to control – while you can’t put a pause on a family member or a colleague, you can definitely plug off from social media. This doesn’t have to be drastic, it can involve putting your phone on silent and blocking notifications for a while or can go all the way to suspending your social media accounts while you do what you need to do writing-wise.
British author Zadie Smith has dedicated space in her Acknowledgments to thank apps which disconnect her computer from the internet in more than one book. One of her golden rules of writing is “Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet” precisely because distractions of all kinds are just a click away. Our PCs are amazing in their multipurpose but are also overloaded with information. Just something to think about.
Writing as self-care
In episode 1 of this season, we talked about self-care for writers and how it starts with knowing yourself. But what is the use of knowing what you want and need if you don’t get the chance to do it? What if there are obstacles that prevent you to practice good self-care?
A writer doesn’t write in a vacuum and in the current digital landscape, there is constant need to juggle distractions online and offline. For that reason, it is important how you present your writing to yourself and the people around you. No matter if it’s a hobby, your professional job, or you have to do it as part of your work, it’s an activity that requires sustained focus for long periods of time and for it to work without stressing you out, other people should respect its place in your life. This is especially true now in the reality of lockdown and working from home, where the lines between home and hobby and work are so blurred they’re basically non-existent.
One way you could tackle this with friends and family is to tell them that writing is part of your self-care; a time when you get to do what you love and recharge, helping you be a better partner, parent or friend. In a work environment, if colleagues or writer friends are too demanding, let them know that writing is a priority and you need some focused time to work on it. Hopefully you have surrounded yourself with people who will understand but if not, let their interruptions wash over you – or find a different space where you can actually escape for an hour or two.
sO, TO SUMMARIZE…
Many of us would like, just like my father to take a quick trip for some alone writing time on the moon whenever we feel the itch to write. But we can’t, and that’s ok. There is some work involved into thinking about your personal situation and accepting it might never be exactly as you want it to be but overall, the people close to you are your favorite people so it’s worth making the effort for your wellbeing and for theirs too. Further in time, I’ll dedicate a whole season to the different aspects of your social bubble and how you can tailor your routine to satisfy everyone while still finding time and energy to write.
What are some things in your social bubble that distract you from writing the most? What are your struggles when it comes to navigating writing and your family and friends? Let me know, I would love to start a conversation around this.
Next week, I’m diving straight into season two – Your personality, where I will dig deep into what are the best approaches to a writing routine for the different MBTI types. Come join me by subscribing to the show on your favorite podcasting platform.
If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter. I promise no spam, only cups of writing joy.
If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.
- Work–Life Interventions: Differences Between Work–Life Balance and Work–Life Harmony and Its Impact on Creativity at Work (journal article)
- Zadie Smith’s rules for writers (resource)