Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The invisible business: how do you work hard when your work is at home?

I haven't blogged in a little while (and right now I'm squinting at the screen because Blogger has a new layout) but I've been hard at work writing and editing. I've been working on two novels simultaneously.

Now that I have actual writing income coming in every month, even if it is a small amount, I have to start re-evaluating things. It's more important than ever to keep my finances in order, to track my expenses come tax time. And I have to budget my working hours around a family.

"Are you working today?" people might ask, meaning, am I supposed to be at my regular job? At my regular job, it's absolutely essential that I be there for my shifts. But my writing-business time is more flexible. I could write from 9 am to 5 pm, with a lunch break. (That doesn't happen.) I could write in the evenings in between making dinner and taking various kids to and from sports and theater practice. (That happens.)

But it's hard to keep to a writing schedule when my job is not a physical thing--it's just me typing away at a laptop. Sure, I can go to a cafe, but even then people I know will stop me and want to chat. And at home, it's even worse. There seems to be 24/7 construction going on in my neighborhood except in the winter. The doorbell rings, the phone rings. Family members expect me to drop what I'm doing to run errands or watch one of their kids. If I decline, citing my writing, people start prodding me. "So?" they say. "You aren't really working."

Yes, my hours are flexible, but it's still a business I run and I still need to tend to it. Short of renting an office, though, I'm going to have to deal with distractions. So I have (mostly) solved this with the following measures:

  • Set up days in advance when you tell people you'll be unavailable. You're busy, end of story.
  • Shut off your cell phone when you're working, let the answering machine pick up landline calls, and don't check your e-mail or Facebook.
  • Set up 3-4 hour "bursts" when you can be productive, scheduled around dinner--or, on weekends, lunch. For me at least, after about 4 straight hours of writing, I need to take a break anyway, and that's a good time to eat.
  • If you have younger kids this won't work, but for older kids, set them up with activities they can do on their own. For me this usually means handing them a bucket of chalk and saying "It's a nice day! Go play outside!"
  • Accept imperfection. Maybe a daily word count goal is unrealistic, but you can set a weekly goal--say, a short story completed every week (that means about 1,000 words on average written for five days, which is doable), or a certain amount of pages edited. 

  • How do you balance work, a family, and writing?

    1 comment:

    David R. Matteri said...

    I'm still a college student, so most of my time is dedicated to school work. Fortunately, part of that school work involves writing stories for a fiction workshop. Scheduling is hard for me, so I just write in short bursts whenever I can at home or at the school's library. I plan to create a more solid writing schedule after I graduate this June while I look for part-time work. As long as I write a little something everyday, I will be happy.