Sunday, 11 January 2009

Staying Motivated, Staying Sane


When I tell people I work from home and then – reluctantly, because I know what’s coming next, add that actually I’m a writer - the response is always the same. How do you get motivated when you haven’t got anyone standing over you and telling you what to do?

(By the way, what’s coming next is inevitably a) Are you famous? b) How much money do you make? and c) I’ve often thought about writing a novel myself, you know. To which the only reply is one as pithy as Beryl Bainbridge’s to the brain surgeon who remarked on his own literary ambitions once he’d laid down his scalpel for the last time. Really? she said. Actually, I’m thinking of becoming a brain surgeon when I retire. )

Will my interrogators really only do their jobs if someone’s standing over them? Hard to imagine. Unless they’re employed to hew coal for twelve hours a day by an unscrupulous flint-face miser whose only concern is the comfort and prosperity of himself and his horse-faced wife and daughters. Or forced to dig up turnips, gut fish or wash scummy dishes in a restaurant till well into the night.

No, I don’t think they will, since those thus employed are generally migrant workers and rarely in a position to ask personal questions at dinner parties over the Chablis and smoked salmon blinis.
Instead, they’ll work in warm centrally heated offices. There’ll be people there they can chat to. There’ll be coffee breaks, lunch breaks, toilet breaks and water coolers where they can stand around and gossip about their line managers. They may even be line managers.

Occasionally they’ll remember a deadline and scurry off to meet it – taking a detour via Facebook, browsing Principles’ latest additions on their website and dashing off a text home to say it’s his turn to pick the kids up tonight.
There’ll be meetings too. Whole swathes of time spent happily staring out of the window, or doodling in your notebook while wondering whatever happened to The Mindbenders. Then there are holidays – often paid! – where you don’t have to give work a second thought for two whole weeks at a time. How cool must that be!

When first I traded work outside the home for work inside I told myself –because it seemed to be the accepted wisdom - that I had to get into a routine. A routine would ground me, give shape to my day. Make me sit down at my laptop and knock out one thousand words before lunch.

It didn’t work. Not for me. For months I felt restless. Lonely. Trapped at the mercy of my muse, which stubbornly refused to show its face. Lynda la Plante wakes at six and writes till twelve in her jim-jams, I wailed. Martin Amis goes to his office at nine and stays there all morning, before dashing off to play tennis in the afternoon. Joanna Trollope talks about taming the domestic beast before putting in several hours till teatime. If they can all do it, I cried, then, why oh why can’t I? (As Judy Garland put it)

It took me months of muddling through this period of anxiety-filled adaptation from one way of life to another, before I realised the answer. They are all lying through their (in Martin Amis’s case, expensively capped) teeth!
Writers are just the same as other employees. They procrastinate as much as anyone else. But whereas they may not have water coolers to stand around or anyone to gossip with, they have kettles, and Phil and Fern and Loose Women. They have blog stats to check, WriteWords posts to read and reply to and goodness knows how many other sites they need to pop along to just in case they’ve missed something.

Maybe they check their email more than most. But that’s business isn’t it, since editors don’t use phones these days and you’ll never know if you’ve sold a story unless you take a little peek at your inbox every once in a while (for which phrase substitute every three minutes.)

Since I made this discovery – that writers dissemble about their output just as much as everyone else does - I’ve really settled into my way of life. I write when I choose. Because, you see, I choose to write. Eventually. It may not be between nine and midday on a weekday. Some days I don’t write at all. I clean the house, do the ironing, cycle into town and have lunch with a friend.

But the bottom line is this. I want to write. I long to write. I have to write. Because a writer is always a writer, even when s/he isn’t writing. Forget the nine till five. Some of my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night, when I can lie awake for hours, plotting, mulling through the alternatives to the what-if questions posed by my characters, scripting (hopefully) witty dialogue in my head.

I’ve learned to be less anxious that I’ve only written two hundred words today. The words will come. But they cannot be forced. Wait a bit and tomorrow they’ll be better words. Hopefully more of them too.

I’ve said enough. I should get on with it – I have a serial to write. But first, let me just check if the price of that black shoulder bag from Jigsaw has come down.

28 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Geri, what a brilliant post, it did make me laugh!

And what you say is so true. It is definitely a challenge, working at home, whatever you do - it requires a certain degree of discipline. But i agree, routine is not necessarily the answer.

Well done!

x

Nik's Blog said...

Great post, Geri. I enjoyed that, and empathised...!

Nik

Nik's Blog said...

Great post, Geri. I enjoyed that, and empathised...!

Nik

Nik's Blog said...

Oops.

Rosy Thornton said...

All so true, Geri - and very funny!

CarolineG said...

Oh I hear you on all of that, Geri. I've worked at home for years now and have had so many of those comments coming my way!

Thanks for a great post.

womagwriter said...

Great post, Geri! I've been a homeworker in my day job for ten years now. I do tend to do regular 9-5 hours with that (though my contract says as long as I do 35 in a week I can work when I like) but that's because I need to work when the rest of the team are in the office, and when the kids are in school.

I've always said, the key to homeworking of any kind is, you need to be able to leave the dishes in the sink. If you are someone who can't work until the housework is done and the bills are paid, you need to work outside the home- office or for writers, coffee shop or library perhaps.

Emily Gale said...

Enjoyed that, Geri! Must say that I particularly hate the "are you famous?" question that comes when (certain quite stupid) people find out you're a writer...I tend to ask them how many "famous writers" they can name, and when they reply "JK Rowling, um...Charles Dickens?" I assure them that I'm neither of those.

OSLO said...

Love the 'are you famous' question :-) Of course I am in certain circles, one could say. Great post Geri

Gillian McDade said...

A very interesting and funny post Geri! I've never had the opportunity to work from home, apart from days off. I think discipline is definitely the key word here.

Samantha Tonge said...

Womagwriter, that is so true - you've got to learn to prioritise your writing and work out how much dust can be left before mushrooms grow:)

ireneintheworld said...

i knew that was you. the great thing about these posts is trying to guess who is writing - so far i got you, sam and caro correct. wonderful post. x

Mummy said...

What a perfect time for me to find your blog (via Womagwriter). I'm not the only one who feels like this! hurray!

bookchildworld said...

Nice post! You're right - we do get round to writing eventually... and so true about leaving the pots in the sink.

Kate said...

Oh yes, VERY familiar indeed. Great post, and spot on regarding the fact that procrastination is in some ways part of the process...

Geraldine Ryan said...

Thanks for reading, everyone. I really appreciate your comments!

Debs said...

I fit writing around the day job, and find that when I actually have an entire day to write, I end up doing less than in the few hours after work.

BeckyC said...

I really enjoyed this too! I work part-time and on my days "off" (i.e. writing days), I find my motivation is great in the morning, and terrible in the afternoon. I just try to get as much done before midday as I can and then float around for the rest of the day!

Susie said...

Great post, Geri. I have to say that I do miss the structure of a conventional working day - even though I gave up all that ten years ago. I've tried numerous ways to trick myself into thinking I have a schedule...
Susiex

Sue Houghton said...

I'm going to memorise this word for word and heaven help the next person who makes a scathing remark (and I've heard them all!) when I tell them what I do for a living!

Geraldine Ryan said...

It would be great to be able to think of a come back as witty as Beryl's wouldn't it? The French talk about l'esprit de l'escalier, those moments literally on the stairs when you come up with the witty come back you should have delivered but now the moment has passed!

Thanks for reading, ladies!

emmadarwin said...

Great post, Geri, as well as very funny. I've learnt to forgive myself for days when the writing doesn't happen, even if it is for a non-virtuous reason, as long as I'm honest about it, realise it's not going to, and go and do something else.

What I find hard to forgive is the day when actually I get no writing done, but don't do anything else worth doing either. That ought to be just as forgiveable, but the Protestant work ethic is a dreadful, lethal beast.

I think your point about trusting that, because you want to write, the writing will happen when it's good and ready is really true too. Things go wrong when there are issues undermining that 'want' - Anne Lamott's little white mice chattering away, or what I used to call the anti-writing demon.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Emma, I shouldn't have been so smug when I wrote this post! I'm having one of those days today when I can't really write because yesterday I did nothing but for about 7 hours because I wanted to get something off to a mag ed. But, unfortunately, I don't really want to do anything else, either - which, like someone else clobbered with the PWE is proving impossible to forgive myself for.

The Write Woman said...

Hi! Have just come to your blog via Womag's, and have really enjoyed reading this post. I totally agree with it all - having given up the day job almost a year ago myself to concentrate on my writing. I love every minute of it - the only drawback being the serious reduction in income! I'm planning to write on my own blog in the next couple of days about the way I work (i.e., not in an organised way!!), and will link to yours.

The Write Woman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geraldine Ryan said...

Thanks Write Woman! I will check out your blog when I next stop pretending I'm writing. Actually I've 1000 words today AND edited.

Ali said...

Just caught up on your post, Geri.

Good to know we're all the same at heart, even if it doesn't make the 'procrastination' guilt any less!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Thanks, Ali!