Telephone Rules for Writers

What’s worse than sitting down at the typewriter and not being able to think of anything to write? Sitting down to write, finding your words flowing easily and well, then being interrupted by a phone call that completely derails your train of thought.

One of the best things I ever did for my writing career was to create a telephone policy. By setting a few simple boundaries, I eliminated an enormous potential source of distraction and frustration, and noticeably increased my daily word count. My rules are tailored for my life and preferences– yours may be different. Whatever boundaries you choose, I recommend setting at least a few. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can get done!

My Telephone Policy

  • Answer no calls during writing time–I have voice mail for a reason.
  • Make all outgoing phone calls at one time during the marketing/administration part of the day.
  • Encourage week-day business and social contact via e-mail rather than by phone (easier and more convenient).
  • Return inquiry calls with an e-mail when possible. It’s much faster, and you have a record of your response.
  • Any call to my personal number that is from an unknown source goes to voicemail (where is usually discovered to be a telemarketer if anyone ever checks the messages).

In what may seem the most curmudgeonly rule of all, I advocate turning off cell phone ringers when you’re out on an artist date (as Julia Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way), when you’re doing errands, eating out, or any other time you don’t need to be talking. As a writer, it’s important to be present in the moment, seeing, hearing, and feeling all that is going on, and that’s impossible to achieve with a remote person talking at you. And few things are more rude than ignoring the people you’re with in order to talk on the phone.

If you have children or are a caregiver, you’ll have to be somewhat accessible, but other than those needs, try not to let yourself to be controlled by the phone. It’s a major time-waster, and can ruin a perfectly good writing session in no time. If you’re firm, friends and family will grow accustomed to your eccentricity (and if they don’t, you’ll develop a remarkable tolerance for ringing;-)). Business calls can be returned or answered with an e-mail each afternoon, which is usually soon enough. Very few calls are urgent or time-sensitive, so an occasional phone check should be all you need.

Becoming a writer means writing, and one of the things that makes it possible is setting boundaries around your writing time. The phone is often the last intruder to be banished, but when it is, I believe you’ll find yourself more creative and productive. Enjoy!