Today as part of her WOW! Women on Writing blog tour, we have a guest post on being a stay-at-home-writer by Danette Haworth, author of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning. You can learn more by visiting Danette’s website or her blog, Summer Friend.
This is not only great advice for writers, but for bloggers or stay-at-home-workers of any sort.
Wash My Laundry or Write My Book: How does a stay-at-home writer do it?
Many writers dream of working from home, but when that dream becomes a reality, they often find themselves floundering. As the author passes her kitchen, dirty dishes accuse her. Pieces of fuzz in the carpet on her way to the computer taunt her, You’re not going to get us! You’re not going to get us! Valiantly, she strides past her mockers and almost makes it to her desk when suddenly the phone rings. It’s her mother! Stupid caller ID. Now she has to answer. A whole morning goes by and the writer has not a single word to show for it.
For the stay-at-home-writer, the challenge is not just the writing, and it’s not just the staying at home; the challenge is in juggling two very different careers in the same building. Working from the same place you live offers nonstop diversions and perceived obligations. How you define and organize yourself is the key to being successful in both areas.
Here’s what works for me:
I define myself as a professional writer. My writing isn’t a hobby or a way to pass time. Writing is something I’m compelled to do; I’m passionate about it. I want to write, and I want people to read what I write. For that to happen, I must respect myself as a writer. It starts with me. If I respect my writing career, those around me will respect it as well.
I define myself as a wife and mother who is there for my family. My kids will pass through childhood only once, and I’m not going to miss any of it. Not the big things, like birthdays, holidays, and vacations, and even more importantly, not the small things, like Who’d you sit with at lunch today? and Let me get a Band-Aid for you. Suppers are important, too; it’s the only time we’re all at the same place, same time.
I organize my day around these two careers and I stick to my schedule. I write while everyone’s at school. Between the different drop-off and pick-up times, I have about four hours. I protect that time fiercely. During those hours, I make no appointments, take no outings, avoid relentless email checking/Internet surfing, and I answer only emergency phone calls (thanks, caller ID!). In short, I conduct myself the same way I would if I were working outside the home.
My work hours are over when I pick everyone up from school. Then the Little Debbies come out and I have a cappuccino while my sons rate their positions as fast runners: I’m third fastest on the blacktop, but first on mulch! and one of them tells me about this kid who has a unique style for picking his nose. My daughter and I talk, and she laughs when I don’t remember how to do some math thing she is now proficient in. Homework, outside time, supper, chores, and bedtime follow. I don’t write during this time. But I am thinking. The writer in me is always thinking, which pays off when I sit down again tomorrow morning.
I establish priorities. Food, love, shelter, and writing! Here’s how my priorities shape my activities:
- Get dressed. Many people laud the idea of working in their pajamas, but I find getting dressed puts me in an active, productive frame of mind. I’m not in my relaxing clothes anymore—I’m ready for my day.
- Straighten up the house. Unloading the dishwasher, opening up the blinds, and putting things away—doing this in a fifteen minute blast will set you up for the day. You’re ready and so is the house! Make your bed, too, or it will call to you from your bedroom.
- Check all messages. This means email, voice mail, your blog, favorite writing sites, etc. Check them all before you begin working so that you when you start writing, your mind is clear. If anything requires an immediate response, now is the time to do it.
- Start work at an established time. I report to my computer room at the same time every day. If you know you’ll be at your keyboard at a certain time, you’ll be thinking about what you want to write even before you sit down. Ideas and sentences flit past as you do your chores at night. The story incubates in your mind while you sleep. When you finally approach that computer in the morning, you are primed. What started out as a discipline now becomes a pleasure, a need. Protect this gift; be stingy with this time. No chores, no phone calls, no emails, no quarter!
- Check all your messages again and have a cappuccino. Your second shift is about to begin!
- Pick up kids.
- Listen to their stories, play with them outside, be awed by how cute and smart they are, because they really are!
- Forget the white glove. Pay attention to the chores that really need to be done: pull a menu list together and do one big grocery shop a week. Laundry—I hate it, but you need clean undies! Twice a week and fold it too; don’t just leave it in a huge, wrinkly pile on the green chair in the living room. Take shortcuts where you can; small children can push a stick vacuum and mine think it’s fun to use a feather duster. Also, there’s no shame in pizza night.
Some people stiffen their backs when they hear words such as discipline and organization. For them, these words translate to taskmaster, nose-to-the-grind, and All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but discipline and organization provide a structure in which you will be free to accomplish what’s important to you. You’ll not be limited by this structure—you’ll be supported by it!