(This is a sample from my writing craft series; you can read more on Patreon. Please note that these first posts are about things that aren’t strictly about the craft of writing, but the craft of surviving as a writer, if you will, because I want to get them out of the way first.)
Boundaries are tricky. A lot of advice involves setting boundaries, but seems to assume that everyone knows what boundaries are and how to set them.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are limits that define what is your problem, and what is not. They vary from person to person, because defining what is or is not your problem depends on individual tastes, risk-taking, and goals, but the principle of “my problem vs. your problem” remains.
Here are some example boundaries that I recommend, though:
- Your clients’, editors’, and publishers’ problems are not your problem; performing as agreed is your problem. Any changes to an agreement require negotiation—and compromise or reimbursement.
- When it’s agreed that things aren’t your responsibility, then you are not responsible. As in, “You don’t get to sabotage my writing time whenever the kids want something.”
- Other people don’t get to decide how you write or how you run your writing business; you don’t get to make decisions for anyone else. Beware the “shoulds.”
- You don’t owe anyone else any personal or business information, even if it might be helpful. And they don’t owe you.
- Other people’s goals do not get to replace your own; if you’re consistently doing other people’s tasks before your own, then that’s what you’re doing.
While each of these boundaries apply in difficult situations, that last one seems to be the worst: if you’re not absolutely clear about what your goals are, then it’s easy to confuse “this is important for someone else” with “I’m doing this to help my career.”
One of the things that happens as soon as you acquire any skill or success at writing is that you become inundated with opportunities, both from people who don’t have good intentions, and from people who do.
People with good intentions will destroy your career. They won’t know they’re doing it, and will feel terrible if the realities of what happens when you are pulled in twenty different directions are pointed out to them.
When something is your problem, handle it. When it is not your problem, think of it as a hobby (at most). You need feel no shame at withdrawing from other people’s problems.
Think of it as a negotiation situation: if they want your help, they can ask. If they really want your help, they can make it worth your while.
How can you handle actually setting boundaries?
(Click here for more information on setting boundaries, and another section on levels of success…)