I want to write about vampires. We are surrounded by them. They are everywhere, draining our energy, demanding our time. I’m not thinking about the gorgeous undead like the Vampire Lestat. I’m thinking about the vampires that think we have time enough on our hands to drop everything and do what they want.
Take retirement. When I retired four years ago from my first career, the next day I began a career I’d been preparing for for over a decade. I went from having a paycheck to being a writer. Within a year, I became an author when my first book came out in print and as an ebook. Working in my previous career was a piece of pizza next to being a writer. I knew I’d be putting in 50-60 hours each week, for which I was rewarded with a very nice paycheck. Very nice. That all ended with retirement. For the first year, my husband and I were on a ramen diet, as in one ramen dinner a week. Nothing else, just that single dinner. Of course, I’m kidding.
What made this worthwhile was knowing I was learning how to write, how to craft a plot, how to get out of my characters’ way. I also set daily goals. I would write every morning for about four hours before I peaked into social media. I would build my platform, contact libraries I wanted to support my publishing efforts with speaking engagements, engage with potential readers on Facebook and Twitter. Afternoons I would spend editing what I’d already written. Late in the afternoon would come a bit more social media time before quitting twelve hours later. That’s right. My writing days generally are twelve hour days. And I don’t take any screens with me when I shut down, other than my cell phone because I like to text with the family.
Things went along fine until I started getting calls from friends who wanted just a little bit of my time, help for a small project for a non-profit, volunteering for a board position (“It doesn’t take much time. Maybe five hours a week.”). Five hours? In five hours I can write approximately 3500 words or edit more than 15 pages.
When I would turn my friends down, they acted like it was a personal affront. “You’re retired. What else are you doing?” Well, let me refer you to paragraph three above.
What is it with people who know you are a writer and think you have all the time in the world to talk on the phone, join organizations, give up time you can’t get back for something you don’t give a darn about? I’m sorry, but your favorite project of counting crows soaring over a meadow isn’t my idea of fun. I’m not a birder. Besides, I’d probably wind up counting buzzards instead of crows.
You can see where I’m going with this. When I was still employed, even though I worked from home, I enforced my working hours. Since I retired, people get upset when I tell them I can’t talk when they call because it breaks my train of thought. So what do I do? I turn off Facebook. I mean, I log out. Messages can pile up, but I don’t see them until I’m ready. I do the same with email. I can easily get 200+ emails a day (confession time: I have FB and Twitter dump messages that refer to me into my email, so that I can screen for those I need to answer immediately.) I look at email early in the morning, delete everything I don’t need to handle, and I save those that need response until I need a break. I do not answer my phone, texts or Messenger until I come to a break.
Does that mean I’m self-centered? You’re damned right I am. If I don’t guard my time, the vampires will suck it dry. I don’t want to be rude, so I don’t engage until I’m ready. Then, and only then, you’ll have my total attention. I won’t be looking at cute cat photos, reading political memes, writing. Nothing says you don’t matter more than the sound of keystrokes in the background.
So to protect myself from well-meaning vampires, I took the advice my husband gave me when he retired. The word “no” is your new best friend. He’s right. Again.
Betsy Ashton is the author of Mad Max, Unintended Consequences, and Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery, now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’m really excited that the trade paper edition of Uncharted Territory was released this week. Please follow me on my website, on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.