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Stop Calling Me!

stop calling meI’m a no-nonsense type of girl. Impatient, easily frustrated, extremely set in my ways. My husband tells me that I was a curmudgeon (can girls be curmudgeons?) by the time I exited the womb.

This is why I decided to become a writer. I’m happiest when locked in my office, typing away in my word-processing program with a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door. And when I say “do not disturb”, I mean “knock on that door and be prepared to lose your testicles and your first born.”

The thing is, though, even writers have to communicate with people—in person, on the telephone, via e-mail—and as much as I’d like to cut out this unfortunate consequence of employment, I can’t.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like my customers, editors, friends, family members—I do. They are the light of my life, true beacons of hope in this shadowy universe. The problem is that I believe in a time and place for illumination. In other words, I’ve gotta put “be friendly” in my day planner or you’re out of luck.

What I’ve noticed as a writer is that clients and associates always call at the most inopportune times. I’ll be knee-deep in a second draft that’s due in twelve hours, and all of a sudden a client wants to talk about the “direction” in which his project is heading. This translates into a four-hour telephone conversation, during which I’m slaughtering pencils with my bare hands and gouging holes in the top of my desk with a pair of razor-sharp scissors.

For a long time, I chalked this frustration up to my own anti-social personality, but after a few years in the writing business, I discovered I wasn’t alone. I’d be chatting with another freelancer about the weather or something, and all of a sudden he’d say, “Hey, do your clients ever call you fifty times a day to talk about their pet cats? Does it make you want to claw out your own eyes with a toothpick?”

And I’m all, “Dude, say no more.”

So it’s not just me. All you other writers out there are struggling with the same problem, and I’ve luckily got a few tips to help you out. Sort of.

Establish Business Hours

If you write for a living, then you’re in business. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, your business life is separate from your personal life. This means that you shouldn’t be getting calls from clients while you’re trying to enjoy a plate of meatloaf with your family.

This is an area where many freelance writers struggle because they think they need to be available. And this is true—to a point. You want to make yourself accessible to your clients, but at appropriate times.

Decide on your business hours and put them on your web site. And your business hours do not have to total 8 in a day or 40 in a week. In fact, I don’t recommend it. Set hours during which you’ll be available for phone calls and meetings, then leave the rest of your day for actual productivity.

Most important: Make sure your customers know when your business hours are! If they aren’t aware that you only take calls between 10 am and 2 pm, they’ll call at four and then again at four-fifteen and probably at four-thirty, cursing your name. And don’t forget to let them know what time zone you’re in so they can take that into consideration.

Rely on Voicemail

Modern technology exists for a reason. Some writers hate the idea of their clients reaching voicemail when they call, but I absolutely love it. The idea that my voice will tell clients I’m not available and will assure a return call as soon as possible gives me fuzzy feelings in the pit of my stomach. Why? Because it means I can deal with the situation at my convenience.

This doesn’t mean you should turn off the ringer on your phone and force your clients to leave messages every time—that makes no business sense. But if you’re deep in a project and hard at work and loathe to take a break, let voicemail pick up once in a while. You’ll be worshipping modern technology before the week is out. Guaranteed.

Set a Preferred Method of Communication

I prefer to communicate by e-mail. It’s fast, it’s easy, the telephone doesn’t come with a convenient DELETE key. So I tell my clients that I prefer to communicate via e-mail, that the telephone is there when they need it but to direct most of their correspondence to my inbox.

This is an area of communication where many writers get lost. Believe it or not, you get the best results by simply telling people what you want. Sound too simple? Just give it a shot.

Get an Assistant

This last tip is a joke—sort of. You can greatly decrease the volume of correspondence you have to deal with simply by having someone else do it. An assistant can ferret out the most important things and take care of the rest himself. Of course, you need to possess the resources to hire and manage employees.

I don’t have an assistant, but one day I will. You just wait.

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