Thursday, 22 January 2009

Whose Time is it Anyway? - John Dougherty

One of the joys of being an author is having the complete freedom to choose how you spend your time.

One of the biggest drawbacks of being an author, on the other hand, is having the complete freedom to choose how you spend your time.

I don’t just mean your working time because, of course, when you’re not “going out to work” then your working time, leisure time and other blocks of time tend to bleed together. There are no clear boundaries. Time you intended to spend on writing becomes time spent on household chores, or family issues. People think that because you’re at home they can call for a chat or to ask a “quick question”, not realising that by doing so they’re interrupting your work - not just for the few minutes they actually take up, but also for the time afterwards that it takes you to get back to the mental space you were in beforehand.

Conversely, time ostensibly dedicated to other activities can end up as part of your working life.

Take running, for example. I often go for a run first thing in the morning, after the kids have headed off to school. This is time that I “should” be dedicating to writing. But then, I do some of my best work when I’m running. Very often I’ll go out for a six- or eight-miler and come back with a plot point more clearly defined, or a knotty problem untangled. I surprised myself by doing some valuable work on the early stages of Bansi O’Hara and the Edges of Hallowe’en (still in progress, but nearly there now) during last year’s London Marathon. I can guarantee it wasn’t during the final 6 miles because for most of them I wasn’t thinking much more than “ouch”, but as far as I remember I got quite a bit done up till mile 20.

Generally, though, the bleed goes on - and in my experience, running aside, it’s often to the detriment rather than the benefit of my writing. That’s why my New Year’s resolution was to define more clearly the boundaries between the different areas of my life. I’ve had a certain amount of success in keeping that one, but not total success by any means. This morning, for instance, instead of going off down to my writing room I’m trying to get the kitchen ready for the builder who starts in there on Monday. If I had a regular 9 to 5 then I’d have to go to the office and do my work, and the kitchen stuff would have to wait; since I work at home it’s somehow ended up taking priority.

But then, if it hadn’t, it would end up eating into my family time instead, and I’d be seeing less of my children. I’d hate that. And after all, when it comes down to it, it’s my time.


Meg Harper said...

Oh, John - I just so empathise with this! I took the decision to refuse all school visits for Dec/Jan so I could write my current novel. Dec got eaten away by all the Xmas stuff that a mother seems to get to do so have been far more ruthless in Jan. Mon/Tues are my writing days and I have let a lot of other things go hang - I feel guilty but you just have to! Loading the washing machine I can do with a tired, half-functioning brain! Writing fiction, I cannot!

Pamposh Dhar said...

That's one I can relate to as well. I was a freelance journalist for several years and often had 3 or 4 deadlines to juggle for different publications in the same week. A brief chat or a quick question I could handle - but what about the long conversations with people who absolutely cannot grasp that you might have a deadline even though your office in your home. Sigh.
But, all in all, working from home does offer many advantages. Boundaries are, indeed, key. Now that I'm older and more ruthless at imposing those, I enjoy my office-in-the-home a lot more than I used to.