How Writers Write: The Perils of Working from Home
I wrote my first novel during slow times at a deathly boring office job. It was awful - the novel, that is. I never published it or even showed it to anyone. Actually, the job was pretty awful, too, but that's beside the point.
Here's the thing: It was easy to write that novel because I was already in Work Mode, stuck at a desk, with no Internet connection and nothing else to do. When I shifted to working from home, writing wasn't so easy any more.
Now, some of the difficulties and distractions came from being a stay-at-home mom. There's only so much writing you can do when there's a toddler clinging to your legs. But I did learn to focus and write in 15 to 20 minute chunks of time in between my motherly and household duties (ah, dirty laundry and sticky floors, how inspiring you are!). I managed to complete two non-fiction books before my daughter started kindergarten, though I can't say for sure whether my sanity was intact by the end of that process. But hey, writers aren't known for staying within the bounds of sanity anyway...
Then I started working on fiction again.
I've been writing non-fiction since my school years: do the research, sort the facts, put them together in a pleasing and organized fashion along with, perhaps, some of my own opinion. It's hard work but I could manage it, even with all sorts of daily distractions. Fiction is another ballgame altogether, and I'm not very good at ballgames.
Fiction requires building a world - even if it's a part of the real world - and populating it with believable characters. It doesn't matter whether those characters are human or alien or dinosaurs or whatever. The reader has to believe in them. For me, creating this world and these characters means submerging myself in the creative process so I'm living in that world along with my protagonist, antagonist, their friends and enemies, and so on. That's very different from doing research, and it's hella harder, at least for me.
It took me about five years to write my first published novel, Jaguar Sky (remember, I spared you the awful one I wrote at the office). Now I'm working on my second novel, and it's even trickier because half of the characters aren't human, and some of them are demons. Though I will admit, I'm getting a lot of inspiration from the news since this is an election year. Heh.
What's so hard about writing a novel, besides the writing process itself? And of course, the self-discipline necessary to sit down and do it? If you've ever worked from home, you'll be familiar with this part: lack of boundaries. It's hard to convince people to take my work seriously since I don't drive across town to someone else's office to do it. As much as I would love to go shopping or out to lunch every day with the friends who call, text, and message me, I really do have work to do. I also can't talk on the phone all day or spend half the day on social networking. Sure, I occasionally take an hour or two off to do something fun with a friend (or my daughter!) but that's not an everyday occurrence. Working from home must, by definition, include work.
If you work a regular job and then write in your off time, it's just as hard. I did that for a couple of years, after the deathly boring office job and the first awful novel. It's difficult to tell people, "No, I really do want to spend my spare time writing and not doing other things." It's hard to create safe space in which to work without being interrupted, because you're not at work any more, right?
I've taken to saying, "I'm sorry, I can't - I'm at the office." I've probably hurt people's feelings, because they think I ought to be available since I don't have a set schedule or a boss who requires me to show up during certain hours. That's hard. I don't like to hurt people's feelings. But I also don't like to be non-productive. I can't sell a book I haven't written.