My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Monday, April 27, 2020

A Writer's Guide to Working At Home (Part 3 of 3)

We're jumping in straight from 
Part 2

So pop back there if you want the middle section.

OR....head all the way back to 
Part 1 if you missed the introduction and the first few suggestions.

And apologies for the long break between parts. I managed to GET Covid 19 (at least I'm 95% sure of it) and recovery took a while.

6- Keep the Peeps Away a Piece (or "Not now, sweetie. Mommy has to write the great American novel.")

If there's one thing writers know––at least the ones who have figured out how to cobble together some kind of "success" (for whatever value of that they're using)––it is that absolutely every last human on earth that isn't them is a creativity-sucking time vampire who only wants to slurp the productive––

Okay, you know what..... I promised I would chill out about this and I'm pretty sure I'm being watched. So let's just say that with the possible exception of the loving spouse who pops their head in to say "You seem like you're on a roll so I did your chores for you, sweetie*.  Write on, you magnificent creative creature, and later we shall....."   Um....yeah....so with that exception, almost everyone wants to TAKE that writer's time and they have to set up twin, motion-sensor, auto-fire, machine-gun cannons from the director's cut of Aliens at the edge of their private space if they want to get any writing done.

[*Best not to let this happen either. If it's anything other than a fantastic one-off, so rare that it makes blue moons look pedestrian, and/or isn't reciprocated in kind (with a little extra something something because that was so fucking sweet), you're probably taking advantage of them. Goes doubly for dudes.]

I shan't play the slippery eel here. After I slam out an eight-hour day, I wouldn't really mind being "distracted from my writing" by a knock at the door by a special someone in stockings and garters who's holding a pizza. They can distract away. I am only truly annoyed by such a thing, which is totally real and not made up and has absolutely actually happened, if it occurs as I'm sitting down first thing at the beginning of a session.

Or if the pizza has jalapeños. (I mean jesus, I'm already going to need a double hit of Zantac––what the hell are you trying to do to me?)

But this dry, coarse (totally non-slippery) eel knows what's up. Those people out there may love you. They may support you. They may want to lift up your writing career, they may have the very best of intentions, but they will "just one thing" and "one quick question" and "since you can set your own schedule, would it be possible...." all the way to your inevitable "Where the fuck did my day go?"

It's a no-brainer when the friend who never shuts up calls during writing time. That's an hour of hearing about Gallup polls and local Covid statistics you are NEVER getting back, and once you've hit the button, you'll have an easier chance getting Eric Idle to shut up about package tours. Gotta let it slide to voicemail and call them back. But if it's someone in your house asking if you can spare a minute to do this or that, it's easier to make one exception, then another, then another. Suddenly, through no one's fault (except maybe yours for not saying no), you've lost a couple of hours in ten- and fifteen-minute chunks to several different folks.

And worse still, every time you don't say no, they're that much more confident about interrupting you the next time. (One day you turn around and it's, "Oh, honey, I figured you could spare a half an hour to help me pick out which cute hat to wear for my Zoom Teatime with the guys......")

I don't know where you work when the world isn't being ravaged by a global pandemic like it's the first victim in a slasher flick, but you probably either can't take calls or they have to be pretty quick. And if you are talking to someone for more than a couple of minutes, you're probably on sort of some kind of break. Your boss is only going to check in on you so many times to find you picking out cute hats for your partner's Zoom teatime before you get a call to come to their office.

You have to have that same mentality when you work from home. Whatever space you've made into YOUR space, you have to patrol that border. And not like a Canadian mounty who's coasting to retirement. More like....well, all the really poignant examples I can think of are unbelievably racist, so just be vigilant. If you've got a room with a door, go you. If not, you may have to gently but firmly remind people that you're "at work."

And you might have to do it a lot.

7- You Deserve a Break Today (or "I'd love to, Boss, but I got a bad cough *hack hack.* Don't want to get anyone sick.")

We writers have to face facts that we'll lose our edge if we don't "work out" every day by doing at least some writing. (And before someone drags me down the rabbit hole of trying to defend the semantic phrasing here, this blog is full of exceptions, caveats, and addenda. Do four days a week and make two of them arguing on Facebook for all I care! Let me know how that turns out.)  Most of us love writing in ways that would be codependent if writing were another person. We want to stay sharp. We don't want to get out of practice.

But your job probably isn't like that. You probably just want to get the work done (especially now) and don't worry too much about "improving your craft." (And, if you're keeping score, most writers who work every day have some kind of day off or half-day-weekends or something.)

So allow me to explain a pitfall that is all too easy to fall into––even for entirely hypothetical veteran working writers trying to punch out some articles for their blog instead of convalescing properly after having Covid-19, the disease that is causing a global pandemic.


Yes, as I mentioned above, you want to be done when the "bell rings." Yell, "Yabba Dabba Doo" and slide down the brontosaurus into your car. But you also want to take your days off. Don't slip into the office "just for a couple of hours" on the weekend. Don't work if you're sick just because you don't have coworkers you could be infecting and you are not running a fever high enough to fry your upper brain functions. Don't look up at the calendar and not even remember the last damn time you took a day off.

Chances are you ALREADY aren't getting enough time off to hit that sweet spot between rest and productivity. If you're in the U.S. and maybe, maybe, MAYBE get 30 days of paid time off (all added up between vacations, sick leave, floating holidays, and personals), that is certainly true. Even still, plenty of wage earners just have to find someone to cover their shift and not get paid. So they either make less or don't get ANY days off.

That thirty days? That should be a minimum.

That's how much they give you so that burnout or illness doesn't have you dragging one leg behind you in a shamble and calling out for brains by the end of six months. It's what some study said was the absolute least amount they could give you before your work output would actually suffer MORE than the time you spent on vacation. It might not be true (though it probably actually is), but unless you're in a ridiculously well compensated field, are upper management, or have, like, 20 years of seniority, you should just assume that if they could take a single day of your PTO away and put you back to work without losing more than they gained, they would do it in a cliché heartbeat. Hell, they would do it so fast, they would break the cliché and do it before the diastole.

Don't add to the maddening grind of capitalist culture's "PRODUCTIVITY" worship by working on your days off. Those are YOUR days off. They are hard-earned. You paid for that shit by participating in the world's biggest,-but-least-acceptable-to-point-out pyramid scheme. So take all your days off (weekends especially). Rest when you're sick. Take a vacation day if you've been working months without one. Take an afternoon off if you used to go home early once every few weeks. Chillax.

You'll be better for it when you're back on.


8- Commute

This might seem weird, but I'll swear by it.

Pinkie swear. With rainbow sprinkles so you know it's super cereal.

You probably had a commute before all this *gestures vaguely at everything*.  And whether it was hours stuck in traffic that you had to try to make bearable with a plucky serial killer podcast, a 45-minute stint on public transit where you hate-read romance novels and listened to Skinny Puppy, or a brisk walk down the road while singing show tunes, you probably had a routine.

Do that.

Do that thing.

Whatever it is, do it. Don't deny yourself that transition time because your "commute" is now ten seconds of walking down the hall.

Listen to NPR for a half hour. Fire up your iPod with Hamilton. Read for the thirty minutes. Walk through the neighborhood (with all appropriate PPE and personal distancing, of course). But whatever you did, keep doing it. You've probably created a sort of "ritual" for yourself that helps you mentally shift gears into work mode.

And it'll probably still work.

I call sitting down to my computer and just immediately working a "cold start." I can do it when I wake up bursting with ideas, but usually I have about as much trouble getting started as the name implies. It's like trying to get an old car started when it's below freezing. But even just ten minutes guilt-free in front of Facebook to drop a funny meme and a couple of absolutely hilarious (yet charming and ever-tasteful) comments, and I often feel ready to whip out my anvil and hammer and smith me some words.

Want to know the trick though (for me)? It HAS to be on my phone. It doesn't work if it's on a proper computer with a full-sized keyboard. That gives me too much ease of typing and too much creative open range. If I want to leave a comment, it's got to be short and sweet. I have to have that sense of "forget it––not worth it" on ideas that would take a full keyboard to type out. (Or, if that long comment is REALLY important, the "cost" of trying to type it out with my big thumbs on the phone's little tiny keyboard will be that it may take some ten minutes or more and half a dozen typos.) It's because I used to put my book away about ten minutes before my stop on BART or the bus (or else I would get distracted and miss my stop) and pull out my phone instead. So I strongly associate those last few fleeting moments of checking social media (and email), bite sized bits of data, and the subsequent need to pare down my thoughts with shifting into a work mode.

Whatever your ritual was, it was YOURS and, between myelin sheaths and routine, it probably worked somewhere in the liminal space between habit and almost like a.....meditation when it comes to bringing you into a productive headspace. (I'm not the biggest fan of the idea behind the phrase "self hacks," but this is about as close as something gets.)

Give yourself a "commute" and I bet you'll find your ENTIRE transition easier.

I hope you're sensing the theme here. You have to keep work space, work time, work mentality in its own container. Sequester yourself as much as you can, physically and mentally. Keep those worlds as separate as possible. The more you dribble that shit in with your life, the worse off you're going to be. (It's like the green and the brown on your color palette mixing––DOES NOT WANT!)

And also trust me that I don't give this advice because I'm so damned good at following it either. I give it because when my days go absolutely fucking pear shaped (as many of them do), it's always for pretty much the same reason: I let shit that wasn't writing dribble in.

Covid-19 should be changing everything, and I hope that you are being as absolutely kind to yourself as you can be, given that we're all undergoing a cultural trauma in real time and some of us are lonely AF and horny as a twenty-year old during Beltane.

But....um.....that's a lot of my shit I just laid out, and mostly let's focus on that cultural trauma thing.

There is a time to face the mirror and admit that if you have hopes and dreams about being a working writer, you're going to have to have a tough conversation about productivity and working hard, but the midst of a global pandemic and total uncertainty probably isn't it.

It's really really really okay if you just GET THROUGH this.

But if you don't have a choice about working from home (or if you're hoping to get a LITTLE something accomplished beyond seeing the "Are you still watching" message from Netflix more times than you masturbate each day), I hope these simple ideas that writers have been employing forever will help you out.

Source: Blcksmth (personal blog)


  1. I usually wouldn't dare to correct your spelling, but as a proud Canadian, I feel a compulsion I cannot ignore - I simply MUST let you know that when converting Canadian Mounties to singular, one would use this spelling: Mountie. Other than that, excellent as always; on Sunday, I was discussing this very issue with a girlfriend who was physical distance gardening and ranting with me, I have now forwarded this article to her because you nailed it.

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