If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy. ―Dorothy Parker
For anyone who has a full-time career that takes them out of the house, the prospect of sitting at home without bosses, coworkers, meetings, and other distractions sounds like heaven. After all, how glorious to evade troublesome officemates, constant disruptions, corporate politics, and starched shirts. For those who long to write full-time, being able to write from home (WFH) every day appears as the greatest kind of luxury imaginable.
But like anything in this weird and wonderful writing life, there are prices to pay and pitfalls to avoid.
First things first: Make sure you like being alone.
Almost everyone loves alone time. The people who love it the most generally tend to be introverts, followed by people who are so ridiculously busy at all times that the prospect of some peace and quiet seems like their only source of sanity.
The truth is that not everyone is designed to WFH and enjoy it long-term. It’s not just extroverts who crave social interaction. Human beings are, for the most part, a social species, and extended periods of time spent in isolation at regular intervals can wreak havoc on those who are particularly prone to depression and anxiety. When you are alone with your brain all day, every day—well, you can’t escape it. So while it can be a refreshing change, the long-term effects of lack of social interaction do tend to depress many.
The lack of feedback and positive reenforcement can also be problematic for many writers. It’s easy to stop recognizing your professional strengths when no one acknowledges them; they simply become part of who you are. If you rely on the feedback of others as a measure of your value or progress, working from home on a long-term basis could impact your self-esteem.
Create a working space you love.
No matter how small your home, make as much space as you can for your work area. A dedicated room is ideal (and aboveground, as working alone in a basement room can take a psychological toll after a year or so), but at least try to create a corner for a good-size desk, a bookcase or mounted shelves, and a chair. Working in a cramped corner will hamper your creativity and discourage you from sitting down to write. Make sure you feel comfortable and happy in your well-lit space, and don’t be afraid to personalize it. (Remember that home office purchases are tax write-offs, so you can splurge a little on a chair, desk, lamp, etc.)
A poor-quality chair will do damage over time (case in point: my cute red desk chair that resulted in a pinched sciatic nerve). You will be spending a lot of time in that chair. Make sure it is comfy, with proper support. (Budget tip: for a chance to get good quality chairs at a reduced price, look for offices that are selling their used furniture.)
Start every day like you are going to an office.
When I first began freelancing from home full-time, this was the best advice I received. Set your alarm, shower, dress (in something other than your pajamas), eat breakfast, and make sure you are at your desk at roughly the same time. Do this every day, unless you are taking a sick day or a vacation, or it’s the weekend. A good routine will help you maintain the discipline that’s needed to successfully work from home.
Schedule regular breaks and fresh air.
Allowing yourself time to get up and move around, take a coffee break, grab lunch, or even go for a walk ensures you aren’t spending too much time wedged in your chair. While most workplaces have meetings and reasons to get up and move around, it’s much easier at home to get lost in your work for hours. Make sure you enjoy some fresh air and stand up to stretch your back and legs. While physically, this has huge benefits, it can also increase your productivity and improve your mental health. Remember that most people who work from an office are not productive for 100 percent of their day, every day.
Set clear boundaries between “home” time and “work” time.
One of the biggest dangers of working from home is that it’s much easier to blur the lines between your work life and your personal life, especially if you are immersed in a project or have deadlines. Try to create clear and consistent “end of the day” signals (such as minimizing work-related windows on your computer, preparing dinner, or running errands) to remind both you and your family that your workday has ended. Once you have ended your workday, try to resist returning to your desk or laptop for the rest of the evening or, in the event of needing to work late, treat it as “overtime.”
Most important, make sure you protect your weekends and evenings and take vacation time. You may love your job, but that won’t stop you from suffering from burnout. Protect your “time off” fiercely.
Create a family plan for managing kids at home.
Some companies that have a work-from-home policy mandate that their employees sign contracts confirming that the employee will not be involved with any childcare during work hours. Kids can be an enormous distraction for work-at-home parents, and writers are no exception. If you have kids of any age, there will be times when there are emergencies, illnesses, or school holidays that can significantly throw your schedule off course and jeopardize your ability to meet deadlines. That's just part of life—but you still need to prepare for them. If you have a partner, create contingency plans that can include hiring outside help, enlisting the support of extended family or other parents, and creating clear signals to your children about when you can and can’t be disturbed. Communication and planning are paramount to successfully navigating being a parent and working from home, and your entire family needs to understand what is expected of them.
Accept that some people (including friends and family) will assume you don’t have real job.
Some people are jerks. Remind yourself that they probably hate their jobs, and let it go. In all seriousness, you may need to leave your phone on silent mode and log out of your personal email during your work hours, especially if you’re facing a deadline, so you don’t waste precious time and energy having to explain why you can’t drop everything to go out for lunch, meet for a playdate, help your mother hang new curtains, or drive your second cousin to the airport.
Say no to (most of) your vices.
Do you find you enjoy a nightcap while writing your book in the evenings? That might be all right while working on personal projects, but it’s not such a great career move when you’re doing client work. Set clear boundaries that prevent you from any kind of destructive, habit-forming, or potentially sabotaging behaviors that could damage you professionally and personally. Obvious ones would of course include things like “no daytime drinking or drug use” or “no online gambling.” Also consider severely restricting things like naps, video games, TV and movies (outside of lunch breaks), leisure reading, online shopping, and so on. While not necessarily bad per se, these are all activities that can easily morph from a short twenty-minute break into daily behaviors that eat up large chunks of your time, which would seriously impact your productivity and routine.
Remember that your cat wants you to fail. (It’s not personal.)
If you have a cat, it will sit wherever your work is. Or ensure that your only focus is scratching behind its ears. Your cat’s main goal is for you not to work but to do its bidding. You must resist.
Enjoy your perks.
It’s no surprise that the secret of WFH success is discipline. For some, working from home sometimes means working twice as hard as they might in an office, in an effort to prove to others that they are working hard. However, if your deadlines and work schedule allow, leave room to enjoy the perks of WFH. For example:
- Find the most ridiculously comfy clothes imaginable. (If you live in colder climates, I can’t say enough about the joys of working in polar fleece long underwear.)
- Enjoy making whatever you want for lunch, and if occasionally lunch means “ice cream bars,” no one is there to judge you.
- Swear at your computer or play whatever music you like without fear of retribution from coworkers or managers.
- Occasionally take an afternoon off to enjoy a beautiful day or hit the beach, think about extending a weekend by an extra day or two, or go out for breakfast with a friend—all of these are perks of flexibility, and you should take them. More important, you should enjoy them.
WFH isn’t always easy. But if you make the effort to avoid the cruddy pitfalls and create a personalized home environment, you’ll find that Monday mornings become pretty friendly. After all, when you enjoy working from home, there is always the magic of the week ahead to look forward to.