Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And then there's the book

The other day I met a woman at a party and she asked me what I do for a living, and I told her I don't have a "real" job -- I'm writing a book.

(Tangent: Everyone pretty much thinks you're full of shit when you say something like this. They are pretty sure you are sleeping in 'til noon and watching Oprah.)

And she asked me how I am able to work from home, and I told her it was a cinch. I said I get up in the morning and I have a routine I follow pretty well and I don't really have a problem with sticking to the program.

Which I think I believed when the words were coming out of my mouth, but what I have come to realize is it was a humongous lie.

I can't begin to tell you how difficult it is to write from home. There are always -- always -- things that need to get done around the house, and in the back of my mind I'm plotting dinner recipes and trips to the grocery store and the post office and the phone is ringing and someone is knocking on the door in the middle of a brilliant thought -- probably the only brilliant thought I will have all month -- and then it's gone because someone wanted to convert me to the Church of Latter Day Saints. 

If I were organized, there would be better established routines, days and hours when I would do certain things so my mind wouldn't be worrying over the pile of laundry in the dryer or the empty fridge. But I am not organized and my home is not organized and lately I've been daydreaming about sitting in an empty room on a hill, with only a computer and a view of the ocean, stretching as far as I can see.

This is almost certainly why employers do not want to allow their employees to work from home.

I tell myself that as soon as I finish selling things on eBay (more time consuming than you'd imagine) or organizing stuff for a garage sale or cleaning the bathrooms, I won't feel so distracted and I can write. But this is another lie.

I believe that because I don't have a "real" job, there are so many other things I should be getting done every day, and people have said this to me, too -- that I should be doing so much more with my time -- but this is somewhat wrongheaded thinking. If anything, I should be hunkering down and working harder than ever on the book, never mind the mold in the shower and unmade bed and the 50 unread e-mails and the blog -- good grief, the blog.

You must pardon this entry, because it's really just me psyching myself up for what's to come. I have only this one life, and only this one section of time in my life to do this, and what I know is that if I spend it worrying about the dishes or what's for dinner instead of what I set out to do -- write a book, goddammit -- I will regret that more than if I'd never quit my job to try writing.

This book, unfinished, would be more heartbreaking than if it had never been started.


  1. Working from home is overrated ... you almost NEVER get anything other than personal business done.

    The flexibilit every now and then is nice, but without a real desk in an real office, it's tough.

  2. Honey bunny... It can be hard, but strangely enough when I work from home I get MORE done because there are less distractions. When those annoying assholes knock on the door you need to ignore it. There is not any rule that says you must answer it for anyone. They will go away. It works! When I used to live in that apartment that faced the street we would hardly ever answer the door for anyone. They just ended up going away.

  3. Ben: word.

    Babe: Yes, but you are not haunted by household chores. You are able to blithely go about your business and pay them no regard. Which I need to start doing. Also: I have started ignoring solicitors.

  4. I actually love working from home. Its part of my schedule each week. It means I get to sleep in a little bit and have more time with my son. (It also means I have one day a week to schedule doctor's appt., etc.)

    I also find that I'm just as productive at home as I am at the office. But I have a rule for myself. The only rule, in fact. Chores can be done at three times ONLY: Before working hours, during my 1-hour lunch break, and after working hours.

    Its different for you, of course, but access when you're most productive book-wise this week. Are you more focused in the morning or afternoon? Then set some rules for yourself.

    Such as:
    1. You work EXCLUSIVELY on the book from 9 a.m. to noon. (for example)
    2. When you are working, you don't answer the door.
    3. If you're on a roll, you can work longer.
    4. If you're really struggling, you can flip hours for that day, doing chores in the morning then working in the afternoon.
    5. Give yourself at least 2 hours a day to do chores, so they don't drive you bananas.
    6. Maybe a change of scenery would help -- so you take a laptop to Starbucks for a couple hours in the late morning and work before running a few errands before you go home. That sort of thing.

    Or, if you're goal-oriented: Write 250 words a day. If you're on a roll, go longer, but this is the minimum. On a good day, you'll be able to get it out -- and more -- in no time. If you're struggling, its not impossible.

    Hope those ideas help!

  5. Working from home is very challenging, more so than most people assume. It took me about six months to really find a routine, which involves going straight to my desk with breakfast, so as to avoid the time suck that is the couch/tv. There are still days in which I will literally get up in the middle (the middle!) of grading a paper because something else has come to mind that must (must!!) be done right at that very moment, like rearranging the furniture or putting out the garbage cans. Those are the days that very little actual work gets done, but luckily, those days are fewer than the ones during which I accomplish a surprising amount of work before dinner time. I also have the man-like ability to generally overlook things like dirty laundry or dishes, so they don't usually tend to be distractions. I also plan all my errands on one day per week, as time allows, or in the evening, after the day's work is done. I think, though, that because I do have strict deadlines, it is often easier to be productive (either that, or I end up cramming a lot of work into those final hours). Finding a routine and ignoring those chores will make it easier. Consider also all of us, eager to read that book. : )

  6. Shell - here's another problem I have: I detest structure. :-) Somehow this shizzle is gonna get wrizzle, and I imagine it's just going to mean the dirty dishes are going to sit in the sink for a little longer.

    Melissa - I was hoping you'd chime in, as a bona fide work-at-homer! You are so right that sometimes distractions will win. I will next hone my ability to allow chores to pile up.

  7. Writing a book is absolutely your job. Forget the dishes and laundry. Let BK help you with them (sorry BK!)

    Or, as Bryan told me, "Some days, you just need a bottle of wine and a cat pillow. Other days, you need to write for five hours straight. Do what you want."

  8. Erin, just do the best you can. I have another suggestion: fire the committee in your head that is telling you everything you're not doing. You can do it!

  9. I'm usually more productive when I work from home. There are a couple tricks to it. One is your routine like you mentioned. Great that you can keep that up. Another big one is having specific goals. I find that weekly goals are a little less restrictive than daily goals. But having goals and achieving them helps you to know when you can take time out to go to the grocery store and when you need to shut out the world and put your head down. Next, you need accountability, because goals down mean anything if there isn't anyone holding your feet to the fire. I suggest you pick someone (not BK, unless you want a divorce) to be your "boss" and periodically you have to show this person your progress. Once you are successful, your editor will serve this purpose. Lastly, a good thing to do is break up the tasks you have. You don't have to spend your entire workday writing. Writing isn't a central part of my job, but I do it enough to know how exhausting it can be. You can spend a few hours here and there doing research on the book, outlining timelines, putting together character profiles, or working on getting an agent or getting connected to publishers. You can even spend time sketching out ideas for your NEXT book.

    It's a tricky business, but you'll get it worked out eventually. At that point, your challenge will be avoiding working 14 hours a day because you are always in your workplace.

    I'm really happy you're writing a book. A friend of mine passed away recently from cancer at the age of 27 and she was an aspiring writer. She pushed hard and got her novel written and off for self-publishing just a couple days before she died. I admired how devoted she was to her dream even when her time was running out.