Fourteen days ago I was packing up my laptop, articles and library books ready to make the journey home after five days of writing. Well, I had lunch with a mate and went to the cinema to see Life of Pi with my brother-in-law (who had kindly put me up), but other than that – no excuses. No housework, only myself to cook for and a dining table in a quiet house on the edge of Horsham in Sussex to spread out on. I wrote loads, collected my thoughts and did some planning. Shell Shocked Britain, the book I am writing for Pen and Sword Social History benefited hugely from that concentrated attention. Like a toddler, it felt it had me all to itself and with me, it settled into a healthier pattern.
The week that has just evaporated – a vapour trail behind me as I have rushed from one task to another, has been doubly frustrating knowing as I do now how much I can get done away from my home environment. I sit down to undertake some research on the ‘first blitz’ on Britain in WW1, or how the conflict between ‘manliness’ and ‘masculinity’ impacted on the view of those men who broke down in the face of war trauma and the dog will need to go out. My daughter will ring with earache, my son with news from London – I am glad they still turn to me of course, but another 30 minutes will be gone. I start typing away, marveling at the word count as it increases by the minute, and an email will pop up about another job that needs doing NOW. In all likelihood it could wait, but of course it has broken my concentration and suddenly becomes more important than anything else to hand. Sometimes it is very hard to take a deep breath and resist the temptation to email them back and say ‘you aren’t the only person I work for you know!!’ or ‘get to the back of the queue…’, but that is not the way to run a successful writing life and when the spell is broken I find it best to get the ‘emergency’ off my mind. The average word count falls again.
I know quite a few of my readers are also writers, authors, journalists, poets. Wordsmiths all, generally working from home. Many of them find that an opportunity to procrastinate lurks in every corner of their own household. Children are, of course, bound to take your mind off the moment – however creative it might be. ‘Mummy I need a wee’ followed by ‘hang on a minute dear’ can only result in disaster. Even those with older or no children find the phrase ‘I’ll just do…’ or ‘maybe a cup of coffee before I get started’, come all too readily to their lips. Even the hoovering can sometimes seem more appealing than staring at a blank page. Social media can take over your life, masquerading as it does as ‘raising your profile’, or keeping up to date with your mates. The lowest of the low is, of course, resorting to Bejeweled Blitz or similar online, mindless game. It does reduce stress, honestly. But it also reduces the amount of potentially productive time in the day. I have written before of my mild addiction, and the realization that the score board shows I am up against many of my online writing friends.
Sarah Cruickshank, a writer friend who is also terrific on the administrative and time management side of working from home, gave me some great advice about prioritising my workload and is one person I know who can block out tranches of time in the diary and stick to the plan. I try to follow her example, but have found that the only way to run a diary is to fill it all in with pencil and get used to rubbing stuff out and moving it on to the next day…
I love writing. This blog post for example is really getting the grey cells fired up for more serious work later on this afternoon. Research is part of my way of life, even if it doesn’t relate to work. But I live with my family of non-writer types – a husband and daughter who are athletes, interested in sports and who consider reading as a pastime for those who have nothing better to do. I find myself excluded by virtue of my sedentary job and the need to write when they are chilling, just because I haven’t managed to get myself motivated earlier in the day.
So what stops you from getting creative? How do you divert yourself away from actually getting the work done? Short of leaving home, what do you think is the solution to the writing conundrum? How do you ensure that your time is well spent? Do you get up early or stay up late? Listen to the radio, music or simply sit in silence? Have you found that holy grail of the freelancer – a 36 hour day?
Let me know your views – I would love to write another post in a few days full of your issues, or tips to keep you on track.
As long as they aren’t ‘don’t write blog posts’……………….