Crawling Into a Writer’s Cave

Light at the Mouth of the Cave
Light At the End of My Tunnel

My phone rang for the fifth time in two hours. I looked at the caller ID and groaned. Not because of the person, I love her, but she represented one in a string of many interruptions.

“I heard you were home. Wanna go shopping?”

“Can’t. I’m writing today.”

“Oh. You want to grab a cup of coffee then?”

I swallowed down frustration. But then, I remembered a policy from my day job.

I said, “Would you mind if we scheduled? I haven’t really treated writing with the professionalism it deserves.”

At work, when I’m involved in a big project, I sometimes tell everyone not to disturb me unless it’s important enough to call me out of a meeting five hundred miles away. I haven’t given writing the same care. I think I’ll turn my home office into a Writer’s Cave. Once I crawl inside and shut the door, I’ll turn off my phone. If you see a post on my social media that says “I’m in the cave,” you’ll know what it means. At home, the closed door will signal my family. Does that make sense?”

My friend connected with the practicality of my situation, and we scheduled a later visit.

So I took the leap and crossed into other relationships.

I sat my family down and told them about the Writer’s Cave. “When I close the door, let me burrow in my work. If you’re tempted to disturb me, ask yourself these questions:

  1.    Can it wait?
  2.    Would I interrupt her if she were five hundred miles away?
  3.    Would I call her out of an important meeting to tell or ask her this?

They agreed, and in return, I promised regular hibernation breaks so we could have fun and catch up. My husband and I scheduled weekly dates.

Next, I told my co-workers. As a manager, employees often assume they can call any time, day or night, working or not. I don’t mind true emergencies, but often, my phone rings over petty questions. I asked everyone, including the president of our company, to respect The Cave as they would a project at the office.

I said, “If you’d call me out of a meeting five hundred miles away, then contact me; otherwise, please wait until my return.”

It worked.

Then, I spoke with my other friends, explained the Writer’s Cave philosophy, and found they supported the decision. Every single person respected my new resolve to schedule.

Since adopting this policy, my concentration improved, my word count increased, and I’ve completed more projects. I’m a better time manager. But more than anything, by proactively guarding my time and alerting the world in advance, I’ve prevented most unnecessary interruptions without offense.

Now, people ask, “Are you in The Cave tomorrow?”

Crawling into a Writer’s Cave helped me move past unproductive habits. By speaking up, I shed light on a dark problem.

How do you maintain focus? Or, what does your Writer’s Cave look like? What are three essential items that you must take with you into the Writer’s Cave? 

36 Replies to “Crawling Into a Writer’s Cave”

  1. The beauty of boundaries! And no more tyranny of the urgent! Not only does The Cave nourish your writing, but your time outside The Cave is better. Family, friends and colleagues get you when you are intentionally present in mind and body. Great post. 🙂

  2. I’ve had mixed results. My husband kept coming and “checking on me”. He said he wasn’t used to me being so quiet. Arghhhh! Now I leave the house. The best place I have found is going to a local state park and adopting a picnic area. It even has electricity! As long as the weather is nice, that is my best cave: right out in the open!

    1. Charise,

      My husband used to check on me too and in the beginning would open the door to “help” me by getting me a drink or whatever. My daughter was the same way but I love Anita’s three questions to place before our loved ones. I might make a decorative wall hanging of them, haha. I did try going to the park a couple times but I’m too social and felt obligated to say hello to everyone that walked by. I need to lock myself into my writer’s cottage or else I procrastinate. You’ve inspired me to try the park again this Spring though, maybe if I sit at a table. Thank you, Lisa M Buske

  3. recently I’ve taken out time before my day starts to write and meet my quota. that works and if sometimes sleep says stay in bed i make sure i write or edit before the sun goes down because darkness signifies my body that it’s time to rest. :0
    my room is already a cave and the door is always closed and therefore far too comfortable but i usually just silence my phone and everyone who knows me knows that i’ll get back to them eventually.
    i dont really much in my “cave” but I need music, an open window and snacks, preferably now n laters, or no mess candy.

  4. Good idea. I need to use this with my roommate. While our apartment is a decent size, it’s amazing how small it is when you want space of your own, and UNINTERRUPTED time.

  5. thanks for the helpful post. I’ve been challenged with maintaining focus for writing. I like the cave idea…I think I’ll talk to my 4 children and hubby about hibernating in a Cave…:-) I think that would really help…less interruptions! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I love all your ideas. This is exactly why sharing works. Pretty sure I’ll get my own decorative plaque made with the three questions on it. Maybe it should simply say, “When this door’s a lockin’ — don’t come a knockin’.” Okay, enough of the corny and back to the cave. Have a great day everyone and keep your comments coming, we appreciate them!

  7. Oh, I LOVE this. I can’t wait till my infant, almost-3, and 5 year old with special needs are old enough to process & respect it!

  8. Anita, even agents who work at home need this advice. I’m the personality type who needs quiet…no music, no TV, no barking dogs, or husband distractions. Mike has learned that when he comes in to use the other computer, he doesn’t say a word. When I’m on the phone, he’ll close the door for me. He’s unbelievably considerate. Focusing on my authors and their work is my #1 priority Monday through Friday. Thanks for this post! It makes me realize just how important that uninterrupted time can be…and I can toss my guilt out the window.

  9. As writers, we need to remember that writing is work. It is our profession and we need to approach it as professionals. One of the most important things I learned about writing is to manage my time and part of that is managing interruptions and distractions. Like you, I applied many of the techniques I used when I worked outside the home: block out time, avoid the phone and email. At home, I have set up my writing cave. We call it the Writing Room. There I write for the set amount of time. Phones go to voice mail. Email gets checked at lunch and the end of the writing day. And my ever-supportive wife understands and helps me stay on track.
    Thanks for the great tips and advice.

  10. Great word, Anita! I’m so thankful for my writer’s cave! Recently, my problem has not been outside distractions, but rather the distractions within me. So, I’m still learning to turn them off by speaking to my own soul and choosing to “seek God first” (Matt. 6:33). And as I acknowledge that I can’t do this “writing thing” in my own strength, I’m experiencing His power to complete the work that He’s begun in me” (Phil. 1:6).

  11. Thank you for the suggestions! I love the question of “would I interrupt her if she were five hundred miles away”! I have six young children, so my cave can’t be quite that secluded unless Daddy is home to run interference. My three essentials: determination, daydreams, and a cup of chocolate cappuccino.

  12. Anita, I really relate with how you explained your Writer’s Cave to those around you. The analogy of “500 miles away” really gives people the perspective needed to prioritize their own needs. Great post!

  13. Sometimes I’ll post on Facebook, “I’m writing today. Hope my phone doesn’t ring.” My friends get the message. Research show so much productivity is lost due to interuptions. It takes a long time to refocus after an interuption such as a phone call.

    1. Great ideas, Lucille. I make it a point not to answer the phone unless it says “Greg” (which could be either the hubby or Greg Johnson) during the day. 🙂 Everyone else has to wait! 🙂

  14. Our computer room is in our walk out basement. As I sit at my computer, past the monitor are windows to our back yard and, beyond that, woods. Nearby is a sliding door to the lower deck. It’s actually kind of cheery, though we keep the blinds 3/4 closed on the windows. Some time ago I dubbed the computer room The Dungeon. The name has stuck. Occasionally I’l post on Facebook that I’m in The Dungeon. I don’t think all my friends know what I’m talking about.

  15. My editing cave is the office that my hubby made me, but I usually feel too stiff in there, so I eventually switch to the couch. If the hubby is home, then I will go work in there because I can shut the doors and concentrate.

    The editing cave must always have Pepsi. This is not a low-fat cave.

  16. I do all my writing while sitting on the couch in the living room. Because my family is grown they do a good job of leaving me alone. I have yet to train the pets, though.

    I love the advice about not picking up the phone. What a great idea!

  17. My writing room is much like a cave. It is in the basement, with nary a hint of a window. If I were to shut the door and turn off the lights, it would pitch black, just like a deep cave. That is were I do my best writing and without interruption. I am quite sure that if I tried to write any where else, I would accomplish little.

  18. good, clear, helpful advice! Over the years writing at home with 6 kids, before they were all in school (and now out!) I found it hard to create boundaries—until I started hiring babysitters for my writing hours. Now I’ve moved the other direction. I go out to coffeeshops where the buzz of conversation and even the friend sightings provide a more productive backdrop than home. But I do turn off my phone while there! Thanks for the encouraging post!

  19. My office is the “dining room” of the house — complete with open doorways. I bought tension rods and hung curtains. My kids know when the curtains are closed, they get one single chance to ask a question — after that, there had better be blood or broken bones to disturb me. 🙂

  20. It’s always a struggle getting across to others the fact that creative work is still work, and it needs time and that time needs to be respected. Good for you.

  21. Having recently become a new mother, I haven’t had much (any!) time for writing over the last couple of months. With my brother and sister-in-law needing a place to stay for a month before they went overseas we struck a deal – in exchange for our spare bedroom one of them looks after the baby for an afternoon a week.

    I shut myself in our bedroom for a few hours, turn my phone off and they only call on me if it’s an emergency. I’ve been amazed by how much I can churn out in those few hours and how quickly I was able to tune out the baby noises coming from the living room!

  22. Great post! It’s essential to coach our families on how to respect our writing boundaries.

    We live in a small house, so I needed to get creative with my writing cave. We have an oversized bathroom, so we hung up a curtain, moved the washer and drier downstairs to the basement, and stuck in a desk and treadmill instead!

  23. Thank you so much for your lovely post on protecting your writing space! Helps others respect that what you are doing is valuable, too. Absolutely great post!

  24. I can convince everyone to respect cave time except my cat. She has learned how to slam her body against the door, over and over and over…

    My three essential ingredients: a cup of coffee or tea, one square of dark chocolate, and my special computer glasses to replace those annoying trifocals.

  25. Great post! Getting our writing work done is a must so we can progress in our career. And it’s also important to schedule time with family so they don’t feel like we’re shutting them out completely!

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