Where to Write?

Working from home has presented its own benefits and problems.

Benefit – my commute is from my bedroom to the study.

Problem – My study is now my work area.

Back in the day, before the wu-flu, Work was Work and Home was Home. Sure, I’d be on call some weeks, but there was still a geographical distinction between the two. On the bike, ride on the road for an hour, get to the big, grey building, do the thing, talk to the people, eat the lunch, do more of the thing, ride on the road again. Home, sweet home, was waiting for me.

Now, not so much. Something has changed.

When I was first working as a freelancer, I found out that sectioning off a room by closing a door was beneficial, though inadequate. A door makes a difference, to be sure, but that was before children, and children, like pets, have a knack for opening the damn things and busting the whole illusion wide open. Next thing you know, the one bleeds into the other and your Work is your Home and your Home is your Work.

Hork. Wome. <Shudder>

What to do? What to do? I’ve got a massive novel coming up, and I need to concentrate. I need to rid myself of the distractions, the ringing phone, the annoying refrigerator noises, the cat, the ‘oh, can you just-‘…

What to do, indeed. So there’s a table out the front, on the patio, tucked around the side:

My sanctuary

It catches the afternoon sun. The plants attract all manner of insects. The birds come and have a drink from the water barrel a little over the way. Cars race past, kids ride on bikes, nannas walk the streets. And you know what? It’s awesome!

Sure, I have to vacuum up the cat hair before I sit down. Sure, I have to clean the dust off the surface, otherwise the laptop is crunchy underneath. Sure, I have to slap on Aeroguard and light citronella candles to prevent the mozzies from chewing my legs to a pulp, but damn, it’s a really good place to write.

Dead set, I reckon since I’ve started out there, I’m getting 2000 words in a session, easy. The other, other day it was 5k. Totally chuffed. I reckon I’ll get this Darkness from Below finished in no time.

Let that be a lesson to you. If you can’t close a door, open one, and go outside.

Self-Imposed Deadlines

The deadline to get Portsmouth Avenue Ghost up on pre-release was the 21st of November. I hit that deadline. Great. Yay me. Well, I didn’t hit it as much as I flopped messily against it, exhausted, frustrated and strung-out. With everything else that’s going on, the point of hitting the ‘upload’ button on Smashwords felt like an afterthought.

Who made that deadline, anyway? What’s the point of it? Why bother putting myself through the wringer just to hit some arbitrary date scrawled on a whiteboard? Doesn’t that turn writing into a chore?

Let me answer those one by one: I made the deadline. I made a date for the first draft. Then, when I reached that, I made a date for the second, then the third and also for the cover.  Finally I made the deadline for the pre-release.

The point is that by making dates and tracking my progress, I force my focus onto getting that task done. I then prioritise writing over, say, playing video games or watching television. The priority game also comes into play when I’ve got other creative tasks on the menu, like making You Tube videos or drawing or painting or crafting.

Sounds good, right? Keeping myself on track, avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination and distraction. It’s more than that, though. There’s this thing called Reality.

Most decisions are beyond me. It’s often not a matter of ‘I can do this, or I can do that’, rather it’s ‘I must do this and must do that’. See the difference?

The real question is why do I threaten my health and sanity just to reach some uninteresting date imposed by no one other than myself? It’s quite simple, really. I have commitments. I have to work, no questions. I have to take care of my family, no questions. I have to deal with emergencies and chores and errands and last-minute things. There’s no choice about that.

If I want anything of my own to be accomplished, then I have to afford it a status of ‘has to be done’, otherwise it can’t compete against the rest.

And, yes, it does turn writing into a chore. If I was writing for myself or for a friend, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m writing for a bunch of people I’ve never even met. I’m putting my name to a book that can be read by some guy on the other side of the world and he expects that what he gets passes a basic standard, and, more than that, expects it to be entertaining or informative. He won’t be as forgiving as a friend or relative. My credibility is directly linked to his enjoyment of it.

You’re damn right it’s a chore. It’s bloody hard work!

Imagine you’re making a batch of home-brew beer. There’s the cleaning and the sterilising, and the washing and the cooking, checking up on it, then the bottling and capping and storing it all under the house and checking again at intervals. It’s hard work, for sure, and one could easily pop down to the store and buy a slab, but that’s not the point, is it?

Deep down we want to create something. We want to put ourselves into what we do, express ourselves creatively, make something from nothing. That’s being human. Not all creative endeavours benefit others, of course, but those that do must be taken seriously.

A sketch on a napkin or a ditty in one’s head remain just as they are until they get turned into something ‘real’, in that they get taken seriously. The ditty gets engineered into a song. The sketch gets worked into a painting. Time and effort, lots of both, must be spent making something from nothing, creating things that never existed before we applied what God gifted us. Otherwise those little bursts of creativity stay on that scrunched up napkin and eventually get forgotten about.

Believe me, it’s all too easy to pretend that it doesn’t matter. You can think, “Ah, I’ll miss it by a day. Big deal.” It is a big deal. I’ve missed many deadlines and, each time, I kidded myself that there was nothing more that could have been done.

Bollocks.

Each time there was something I could have done. Without exception, every time I looked back, with honest eyes, and understood that I had left things too late, wasted time at the beginning of my project, spent too much effort doing trivial tasks. I could have done more and I could have done it better. Criticising myself retrospectively (another useful tool) means that, now, I reach my deadlines.

Deadlines are a front-line weapon against Entropy. They are an essential tool to make stuff real. Use them honestly and they’ll keep you honest.