By Jennie Jarvis
When I lived in Los Angeles, I had the best writing companion. Each afternoon, I would turn to my sweet dog Arnold and say “It’s time to go to work!” He wound bound up the stairs, leading me to the top floor office where I would install myself behind my writing desk and he would jump up in his Ikea poang chair and promptly fall asleep.
It was fantastic. I would listen to my writing music, and any time I wanted to know where my fur baby was, all I needed to do was look up and watch him kicking slightly as he dreamed. For all dog lovers out there, you already know that there is nothing more relaxing than the sight of a dog you love snoring.
I often look back on those days as the ideal state that any writer would want to work in: no rush to go off to a day job, all the time I wanted to write, a gorgeous desk in an office with a view of the Los Angeles skyline and the Hollywood sign, and a dog who let me work.
Yeah, that dream ended years ago.
Currently, I’m living far away from that dream writing space. I have a day job that sometimes leaves me tired and drained. I have a writing desk, but I’m barely able to use it. Since getting pregnant, I’m lucky if I have the brain-power to write anything, let alone anything meaningful. And I have a new fur baby with more personality than snores.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my dog Tucker. He keeps my husband and I laughing on a regular basis, and he’s a wonderful snuggler. But unlike my late dog Arnold, he’s not the type of dog who is willing to let me sit back and work. He’s very much like a small child – always wanting…. Scratch that… Demanding attention. Even if my husband and I are just watching TV on the couch, he feels like he needs to be the center of our focus, walking over us with his favorite purple toy in his mouth and begging us to play with him.
Dogs are fantastic creatures that provide so much love and joy in our lives. But as writers, sometimes that love and joy can be the worst thing for our writing. Just like partners, children or other human relations, dogs can become another excuse to not get work done. I’ve even had times where I didn’t write because I wanted to make sure to be home to walk Tucker.
I find it hard to overcome this kind of procrastination – not getting work done because I’m worried about the dog – more than any other kind because of one single, contributing factor: guilt. I know that my baby Tucker can’t feed himself, can’t walk himself, can’t do anything without my help. So to do something as selfish as run off and write feels like I’m being a bad person.
But I think that’s why setting boundaries with this kind of distraction is so important.
While I could easily write with Arnold in the room, I’ve learned that I can’t do that with Tucker – and I can’t fight that or be frustrated by that. Each dog is different, and if the one I have and love now won’t let me write, I can’t let either my writing or the dog suffer because of this.
So, when I want to write, I make sure to set very strict boundaries. I plan my writing time – from 3-6pm on Tuesday and Thursdays, I will write. No questions asked. And I know I can’t work at home, so I find an alternate place. For me, it’s usually my local Starbucks. I pack up my laptop, kiss Tucker good-bye and head out the door. Starbucks becomes my office for those few hours twice a week.
These are the same kinds of boundaries that I’ve had to set with the people in my life as well. When my husband began working from home, I needed that time at Starbucks all the more – not because I didn’t want to be around my husband, but because I needed to keep my brain focused on getting through my writing and not on spending time with him. Once he started asking if he could come with me to Starbucks (he got stir crazy from being home all day), I agreed but I told him he had to sit at a different table so I could focus. When my human baby is born in November, I’ll also need to find a new way to balance writing time with being a mommy time.
Setting boundaries is so important to us writers because it’s the only way we can get those stories out of our heads and onto the page. But we also have to be willing to adapt those boundaries since they will all be different depending on the parties in question. With Arnold, my boundary was simple: just tell him that we need to work, and he went to sleep. With Tucker, I have to physically remove myself from being around him. We need to make sure the boundaries we set help our writing but aren’t so rigid as to shut off the people and fur babies in our lives completely.
What boundaries do you set with the pets or people in your lives?