Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tips for Writing at Home--by Elizabeth S. Craig

We're focusing on day jobs this month at the blog. Day jobs can frequently be a hurdle to us in getting writing done.

But what if you stay at home and write?  What if your day job is parenting and running a household? It seems like it should be a lot easier to get writing done...but instead, the at-home writing can be a pretty big challenge all its own.

The biggest challenge of writing at home is the interruptions.  These interruptions can be as major as rearranging a day around a sick child's doctor's appointment or as minor as the continual demand of dishwashers and dryers ending their cycles.

This is what I've found helpful:

A routine:  At least a skeleton of one. It's good to have at least a *plan* for working at home. We all know what can *happen* to plans, of course.  But it's good to have a routine in place so writing fits in naturally.

Flexibility:  This is key. When your routine is completely shot, you need to have some flexibility to write on the go. Make sure you have pencils and index cards or a small notebook in your car so that you can write when you have a second. Sometimes I even have official plan bs and cs for days that go seriously awry.

Quick recognition of a problem: If you realize you're not getting anything done at home, assess what's going on. Do you have too many windows open on your computer? Are you getting constant interruptions from the children or the phone?  Can you leave and write at the library or a coffee shop for a while?

Lists: I live by lists, and not just grocery ones.  I make lists of what I want to accomplish with my book for the day. And, on days where I'm under a serious time crunch, I'll make lists instead of writing--lists about my characters (traits, their likes and dislikes, etc. ) ways to forward my plot, 5 different ways to end or begin my book, etc.)

Timers:  I also live by timers. If I didn't use a timer (and there are some helpful free ones online), then I could easily lose an hour just replying to emails.

Wheel and deal with kids:  Got children at home? I've had success in the past by making deals with mine--I'll play a game with them if they give me twenty uninterrupted minutes (fewer when they were very young). Then I gave *them* a timer.

Do something you didn't want to do first-thing: This is a great way to start off the day with a win. Even if the rest of your day is less-productive, you still feel that sense of accomplishment.

Make time to put the writing away:  When my family is talking to me, I make a point to put the computer away and focus on them. That's another danger of writing at home--the novel is always around! Set a time to go off the clock.

Try not to multi-task: I'm a multi-tasker with *some* things (brainless activities like vaccumming or cleaning the kitchen combined with brainstorming, etc.) But if I try to update Facebook, check emails, and talk on the phone--I start feeling stressed. And I've found that I'm actually *less* productive.

Got any tips for working at home?  How flexible are you with your writing routine?
Elizabeth’s latest book Hickory Smoked Homicide released Tuesday, November 1.  Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010 and 2011.
Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers
Twitter: @elizabethscraig

14 comments:

Clarissa Draper said...

Those are some awesome suggestions. I write at home, and my husband works at home. I actually find him more distracting. He doesn't feel he needs to wait for a timer to talk to me so I sometimes have constant interruptions. But, I'm learning to write with the distractions.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I like the idea of the timer and "dealing" with the kids. Mine's three so he doesn't really understand time, but maybe he'll get the idea behind the egg-timer.

Margot Kinberg said...

Elizabeth - Those are terrific suggestions! I do a lot of writing at home, too, and I've found that it's essential for me to start with what I don't want to do. When it's done, I can plunge in to what's more enjoyable and do a better job of it. If I start the other way, the "Do I have to's" don't get done well.

Cathy said...

I think the biggest breakthrough for me has been making myself understand that I have to rate my writing as important and not ditch it when I'm asked out by other mothers to fun social things. If it's not important to me, it definitely won't happen.

CharmedLassie said...

Something I'm struggling with in particular (having a limited social life) is getting out of the house and getting away from the writing. It's all very well to put it away but I swear it's still whispering at me when I close the document and try to watch a film!

GigglesandGuns said...

I am the only one in my house and I find I still need routine or nothing gets written.
Since the kids and grandkids don't live here I drop everything when they want my attention. I'm all about making memories and don't want the memory to be I didn't have time to be with them.
I had no idea there were online timers. My own makes so much noise and if I'm having a bad day I can't seem to block it out.

Lots of great help as always, Elizabeth.

Author T.L. Gray said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. I'm a full time writer at home, as well as a full time mom and a full time wife. Time is the most precious and vexing commodity.

Great article.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I should print and laminate these..

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Clarissa--My husband can be the same way. :) I try to get all my writing done before he gets home for the day!

Maurice--The timer works pretty well because they understand the buzzer. And I'd always do a short card game or something afterwards. I had to explain to my children that they *could* interrupt me with an emergency...but I had to really spell out what an emergency was. The more detail the better!

Margot--I think it's called swallowing a frog first? Something like that. But when we cross off the task we're procrastinating, it just makes everything easier.

Cathy--I've tried to approach it as a job. If I do that and try to respect my writing time, my friends do, too.

Charmed Lassie--I think most writers are awful to go to the movies with! We're comparing the plots to our own books, finding faults with the storylines or character betrayal. :) It's hard to relax!

GigglesandGuns--The online timer that I like is http://www.online-stopwatch.com/countdown-timer/ . It's free and easy to use...I use their countdown timer.

T.L.--The frustrating thing is that everyone thinks we have so much time because we're home! I find the opposite is usually true. :)

Paul--I'm glad I'm not the only one facing these issues!

Hazel Anaka said...

It does get easier and every effort you make now to establish a routine will pay dividends when you're in the the 'empty nest' stage of your life.

For heaven's sake, don't do what I did: wait for perfect conditions to even BEGIN. They don't exist. Now I feel the urgency of trying to make up for lost time.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Hazel--It's so true--there's no perfect time to write a book. Wish there were! Life always gets in the way, so we have to work around it.

The Daring Novelist said...

Instead of a timer I use a stop watch. I give myself for minutes with nose-in-book. (I use minutes rather than words for writing dares and challenges now.)

One thing I find is that getting out of the house can be fruitful. I head over to a fast food restaurant or the library when I have a free afternoon.

The third thing I do (although I haven't done it lately) is have some space near my desk where I can dance/exercise to music. (You don't need much space to do the twist.) Then I start a writing session with physical activity. And when I find myself spinning my wheels during a writing session, I get up and move.

Physical activity help concentration.

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