People who don’t work at home have odd ideas about working at home, but since the COVID-19 outbreak a lot of people are suddenly getting first-hand experience. Or not. There still seems to be the idea floating around out there that if you’re home all day of course you’re going to be engaging in millions of fun things online that going to work in the outside world prevents you from doing. Um, no. That’s why it’s called “working from home” rather than “party time”. I work from home and have for years. I’m a writer. Working from home is what I do. If you’re a writer who works from a coffeeshop, well, yes, it’s nice to get out of the house for a while, but that’s what taking breaks are for. Coffeeshops are terrible work environments especially compared to a home (bad enough that why writing in a coffeeshop is bad really needs its own full blog post) unless your home environment is Hell, in which case you really should work on that. Because home should be great place, to live, to work, or just to be.
But back to gaming, movies, and the myriad distractions of working from home...for the record I do not spend my day making memes, binging TV series, and listlessly browsing the internet. I do a bit of binging and browsing, but that’s after writing hours are over. I have writing hours, every weekday from 9 to noon. Sometimes I start earlier, sometimes later. Sometimes I work through lunch and occasionally even all the way through supper. Sometimes there are doctors appointments or vet appointments, or repairmen, or unexpected disasters, but I work around it all as best I can. I don’t keep a log of the hours I work or time my breaks. I don’t need to: I’m a professional, not to mention a functioning adult. If you’re easily distracted or have more trouble with procrastination than I do (and I do have problems with that sometimes), or need something to firm-up your self-discipline, then set concrete goals, boundaries, restrictions, and times. After a year or so of good working habits you may find you don’t need them to be as productive.
A lot of people are flummoxed by the whole working from home thing. Partly it’s the logistics of transitioning from how things are done in an office environment to how things can possibly done with a laptop at home, but there’s also just the oddness of working in a new place, alone---or not so alone. Kids need more attention and caring for than pets typically do, though I’ve had way too many mornings when No Work got done because dogs were vomiting frequently, having anxiety attacks, barking hysterically at squirrels dancing right on the other side of the window pane, or having a seizure (or having to be closely monitored for pre-seizure signs). I’ve also lost days/weeks to friends or family who were critically or fatally ill. These things may stop me from writing temporarily, but they don’t stop me from being a writer and didn’t affect my ability to go back to writing weekdays 9-noon, at home, eventually. Even my own hospitalization didn’t slow me down for too long. It hit me hard: I slept a lot, was exhausted, and my main routine for several weeks revolved around meds and regaining my strength. But then I was back to writing 9-noon weekdays at home with my dogs, after my husband went back to the office.
He’s home now, by the way, telecommuting while the COVID-19 pandemic runs its course. He’s in his room, aka “The Cave” because it’s so claustrophobically packed with books (and a desk) that it feels like you’re ducking into some kind of underground lair when you go in there (assuming that there’s a clear space to enter, which at the moment there is). He likes it and that’s what’s important. You need to like whatever environment you work in. I probably would be less comfortable working in such an environment: I like to be able to look up and out, across the living room, into the backyard which is green and shady, bustling with birds and squirrels (not to mention lizards, toads, two feral s/n cats which fight, and at night a huge possum which we’ve named Megaera, so named because Magaera walked by night in the Cushing-Lee movie, “The Gorgon”.) Here, at home, writing (or editing) every morning I also have a view of the aquarium (which needs cleaning this afternoon), and depending on where I’m sitting, the big dining room window which has a wide long windowseat spilling over with plants, and the dining room table with the big pot of tea I refill my mug from.
Writing is necessarily a lonely job. Everything must come out of my own brain. But I do not feel isolated. I turn Do Not Disturb on my phone when I’m writing, with my husband being the only exception so he can contact me if he needs to. I take breaks. If I’m writing and just need to step away and think I may mess around with plants, indoors or out, or knit a bit, or take a walk. If I’m editing and rewriting (which is mostly what I’m doing these days) I may pop into social media, scroll through beautiful pictures on Instagram, or chat with writing friends. I have a group of online writer friends which are scattered around the world. We check in with each other and just doing so acts as a sort of support network. We’re all working alone in different places at different times, but because we’re all writers we understand the unique problems we encounter crafting fiction. Alone, but not isolated.
I think possibly part of the freak-out people are having about this new coronavirus is due to the term “self-isolation”. People are talking about it like they’re about to be lowered into a deep dark cave and trapped there, or like they’re about to go off alone into a jungle hundreds of miles from any human life and have to survive by their wits. Really. You’re just staying home. You can walk the dog, water the plants, plan and plant your spring garden, mow the lawn (in areas like mine where spring has already arrived), bake bread (you’ll be home long enough for yeast breads to rise), hang a bird feeder and watch the birds come and go as you work. It beats the heck out of watching your co-workers walk back and forth past your cubicle. You have the opportunity to work someplace pleasant, an environment you have control over, so make the most of it, enjoy it. You have presumably stocked up and you can order whatever you forgot. (Current thought is that coronavirus doesn’t survive more than a few days on surfaces, so by the time a package arrives ---assuming you don’t have one-day delivery--- it should be relatively safe and you can always wipe it down.)
If you’re bored working from home it probably has more to do with the work you’re doing or your own mindset about being in your own home than it does with “self-isolation”. The implication I’ve seen in a number of articles that the only way you can survive in your own home without going mad is by engaging in an unending series of digital distractions is….just a teeny bit self-serving, don’t you think? After all, the site feeding you a stream of links for digital distractions while you’re “stuck” working from home is benefiting from the idea they’re promoting that you need those digital distractions. Yeah, we all need to take a break, digital or otherwise, but no more so than prior to COVID-19. The idea that hanging out in your own home is ---somehow---just as apocalyptic as a virulent virus is an attempt to convince people that there’s no way they can possibly be happy or just content in their own home---or to some extent, in their own lives. That’s some koolaid that I’m not drinking. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a chapter to rewrite. But first, another mug of tea while I watch the dogs race around our small backyard, ensuring that the seedlings I’ve set outside will be safe from marauding squirrels. Perhaps I’ll post a random pic to Instagram. Then I’ll nudge my laptop awake (do laptops dream of electric sheep?) and go back to working on the book.