Most jobs have defined parameters: go to work, perform specific tasks at work, go home. Even jobs performed from home or that require overtime still fall into similar routines. There can be a start and stop time—an on/off switch, if you will—work defined by tasks or time, and there is always an end.
With writing? Not so much.
Writing has a habit of encroaching on everything. You’re in the shower, lathering in shampoo and—BAM—you have the solution to a plot hole. You’re making dinner, sautéing veggies and—WHAM—you finally have inspiration for your title. You’re trying to fall asleep, letting all your thoughts empty out of your head and—POP—the perfect line of dialogue appears. No matter what you’re doing, writing is happening in some corner of your brain and it’s going to jump up and demand attention when you’re least prepared.
But the opposite is true, too, isn’t it? When we sit down to write, our real life comes in to distract us. That could be in the form of remembering unfinished tasks on our to-do lists and things we need to do or buy or clean, or in the form of our loved ones poking their heads into our writing time with well-meaning interruptions that still derail our train of thought.
Writing doesn’t come with an on/off switch, and it can be difficult to switch in and out of writing mode to maintain a healthy work/life balance. (I doubt I’m the only freelancer who experiences this problem related to other work as well since sometimes those shower thoughts are about the manuscript I’m editing or the email I need to send or how to revamp my Patreon.)
Working from home doesn’t help this situation either because there is literally no separation between my workspace and my home space. They’re the same space!
I was at the end of my rope about this problem, so this month I tried to create some separation by utilizing a vacation home I occasionally have access to. I got to have a routine, a short commute, and a quiet, uncluttered workspace that has nothing to do with my home life! And when I went home at the end of my workday, I didn’t feel nearly as much pressure to keep working. I also felt less anxiety related to “you didn’t do enough” because I’d had more success getting things done during regular work hours.
Since the on/off switch for writers is mostly broken, writers have to try harder to create boundaries around work life and home life. A room of one’s own is a great way to do that, but not everyone has access to a vacation home (and I don’t even have access to it all the time). There are other boundaries that can be set—a schedule, a special place to write (even if that’s just moving from one side of the desk to the other), and other routines (a special snack, a lit candle, noise-cancelling headphones).
I’m trying to keep all those tricks in mind as I transition back to mostly working from home. I feel like this month has been a good reminder of the importance of separating work from home, and I’ll be looking for more opportunities to get out of the house and actually separate work from home.
Speaking of, anyone want to join me at a coffee shop to write?
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