One of the inherent problems of being a writer is that you work for yourself and I find that brings with it all the usual issues faced by the self-employed, nicely laced with an additional dose of paranoia and a tendency to the over-dramatic. I’ve built up my working hours year on year as my children have got older and I’m lucky enough to largely treasure that time but I also know how important it is to make the most of it.
I have to confess to being a very strict boss who keeps my own nose to the proverbial grindstone during working hours. Those start at 8.15 once my kids get the bus to school and scream to a grinding halt when they return at 4.15 so time is tight. I am, therefore, resentful of any interruptions including (except on rare occasions like, perhaps, my birthday) any sort of coffee/shopping trips/ chatty phone calls with friends.
I’ve always been the same. I did a lot of rowing at a younger, fitter point in my life and was fierce with my training regime, never skipping a session or ducking out early and always pushing to be the best in every tiny training exercise. I was far from the most skilled person in our 4-woman crew, but I slaved to earn my place and was lovingly known as ‘the donkey’ for my workload. I guess I just like to throw myself into things. When I bought myself a single skulling boat I christened it Obsession (until my dear friends doctored my lovingly named vessel by adding a rogue ‘N’ onto the start!) and these days I’m the same with my writing. I suspect this makes me a bit tedious, not to mention exhausting, to live with but it’s just how I am.
My pet hate is people who ask if I’m about in the day, or suggest that I might be able to help move house/do teas at a fete/look after a child because I’m ‘just at home writing’. My poor friends and family have long since learned that such a suggestion is likely to earn them a sharpened pen in the jugular and they stick firmly to out-of-office hours to call on my time. As far as I’m concerned, during the working day I am at my office as surely as if it was on the other side of town with a locked door, a ‘do not disturb sign’ and a fire-breathing guard watching my every move.
The only thing I really stop for is to walk our dog. It’s a task I do sometimes resent if (a) it’s raining or (b) I’m in full writing flow. Generally, though, I welcome it as a chance to organise my thoughts, refresh my plots, talk to my characters and generally get myself ready to write again.
That said, one of the joys of my job as a writer/tutor is the flexibility it offers us as a family and I am sometimes prepared to put down my pen to transport my children to school and sporting occasions, or to help out with village events or (very occasionally) do something with/for my husband. This always, however, has to be scheduled in by me. I’m a planner, some (my husband for one) might even say a control freak. I’m a lover of lists and timetables and calendars. I hate being late and I love a deadline.
Fortunately, when it comes to working from home, I’m not as anal about tidiness as I am about timeliness. Indeed, it’s safe to say that housework flounders somewhere in the murky depths of my list of priorities. I’m not a complete slut, honest, but my approach tends to be to ignore the mess/dirt/dog hair/piled-up letters until it reaches epic proportions and then attack it in a crazed frenzy that leaves both me and everyone around me knackered. In between these nasty episodes, however, I am more than happy to step over clothes and round footballs and past dust to get to my office – an untidy house has never stopped me writing.
This probably makes me sound really boring. Probably I am really boring but you don’t get anywhere working for yourself and from home if you aren’t a bit of a time-Nazi! I promise, once I stop, I’m more fun. Outside of work I’m more than happy to chat for hours and to drink sociable coffee, not to mention wine, beer and – at the slightest flimsy excuse – bubbly. It’s just that when I’m writing, I’m writing so do not disturb!