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Home, But Not Alone: Tips for Writers Working at Home
by Beth Fowler

When you sit down to write, does it seem as if family members conspire to prevent you from writing, and as if domestic duties scream for attention? Well, if you cave in and put writing aside, you won't make money from what you didn't write. Right? Here are sure-fire techniques you can use to find writing time in your busy days.

1. Build respect. One writer bribed her kids with ice cream bought with money she hoped to earn from articles. Not good. Healthy relationships are built on respect, not on bribes. Writers can say, "Writing is important to me. It would help if you didn't disturb me for the next three hours. Can you do that?" Then stick to the agreement.

2. Share enthusiasm. Encourage your family to write a neighborhood newsletter, a cookbook, a letter to an editor, a journal. Once they've seen their work in print, they'll understand why you like to write. It's rewarding.

3. Compromise. Jolyn's mother interrupted his writing by asking for rides to town. Jolyn chauffeured his mother for a ten-minute errand, which expanded to one hour. Jolyn and Mom could compromise: "Mom, I'll take you to town at three o'clock. Until then I need time to write." Mom agrees. But at noon she asks: "Can we go to town now?" Jolyn used to give in. Now he says, "You've interrupted me, even though we agreed I'll take you to town at three o'clock. I'll take you at three o'clock." After all, compromise literally means vow together.

4. Educate non-writers. When I told ten-year-old Christopher, a friend's son, that I write at home, he said, "Oh, you don't work." Because I don't pack a briefcase and commute daily to an office, I didn't fit his idea of a legitimate worker. Had I explained that his favorite author J.K. Rowling began like I did-getting rejections, honing skills in relative anonymity, writing and rewriting (and re-rewriting) Christopher might have agreed that what I do is work, even if I'm not famous. Like all artists, writers serve apprenticeships too.

5. Nurture important relationships. Screenwriter Tim Burton ("Beetlejuice" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas") said that his "interiorizing" separated him from people. He added, "It makes you think you're crazy." Before everybody goes crazy, set aside time to nurture friendships and family ties.

6. Empathize with non-writers. We writers are consumed with twisting our tales or creating zippy dialogue. How do others perceive us? Dusty Wesker is married to Arnold Wesker, author of 30 plus plays. She said, "Living with a writer and a writer's ego is incredibly difficult. We've had a wonderful life together, but there have been ups and downs, but I'm resilient." Resilience on everybody's part is vital for every relationship's longevity.

7. Create a workspace. You'll be taken more seriously if you create a permanent writing center. You'll take yourself more seriously, too. Organize your filing system, install a shelf for reference and resource books, use good equipment, maintain a supply of paper, envelopes and stamps.

8. Write in a healthy environment. The work center shouldn't be tucked into a murky corner. Select a place that inspires productivity. Scientists believe that plants in an office improve productivity, lower energy consumption, reduce noise levels and are, of course, aesthetically pleasing. Choose a place with good circulation. Built up dust, pet hairs, traces of cleaners, mold and carbon dioxide can cause headaches and allergic reactions.

9. Write to write. Beginning writers spend more money than they earn from writing. This economic fact can be a source of guilt. Comments like, "You spent how much for 'Writer's Marketplace'?" weigh heavily. Invite your family to discuss their feelings. Does your writing really strain the budget, or is something else bugging your family? Meanwhile, keep writing.

10. Write about it. Writers experience heavy demands on their time and emotions from family members. In an ideal world you might be spared this, but if you were, would you have as much to write about? Every experience is an idea for writing.

11. Be honest. Some writers use outside circumstances as excuses not to write. This is dishonest. Putting the burden on others with comments like, "You trim the hedge so I can write," is unfair. Hedges need trimmed, regardless. Say, "It's your turn to trim the hedge," and then go write. (You did trim the hedge last time, didn't you?)

12. Streamline and economize. Writing takes time and money, so I've streamlined and economized. I moved to a smaller house near two libraries, serve stir-fried rice instead of complicated meals, gave the cats away (boo hoo) and quit Christmas. I swap magazines with writers' circle members and buy used books.

13. Search for nuggets. Angela Raeburn, a beginning freelancer, has two sons, a part-time job and a home to run. "I search for nuggets of time for my writing in between the school run, play group duty, taking the dog to the vet and delivering hubby's suits to the cleaners," Angela said. She added that she doesn't feel guilty when ironing piles up because "I get paid for writing, I don't get paid for housework."

14. Manage time. Susan Wilson, another freelancer, shared her time management technique. "Time mismanagement can be turned into positive control by actively noting daily what you do, when you do it and how long it takes over a period, say two weeks. Draw up a chart showing the chunks of time and concentrate the activity into that time." Susan is partially paralyzed, but her determination takes her from England to Asia gathering ideas and material for writing.

15. Divide and write. Horror writer Mark Morris shares domestic chores with his wife Nel, an artist who also works from home. "I work in the mornings and look after our one-year-old son in the afternoons, and Nel does it the other way around." While one parent bathes and beds their son, the other cooks supper. Evenings and weekends are free for relaxing and socializing.

Making adjustments and finding solutions to meet each other's needs-that's what living and working together is all about.

"They lived happily ever after" is not a trite story ending. It's the beginning of your story.

© Copyright 2001, Beth Fowler

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