by Dame Jenna
I love working from home. I love being able to make my own hours, sleep late when necessary, come to work in my PJ’s . . . But there are some challenges to being a full-time writer working from home that I didn’t anticipate when I first quit my day job about a year and a half ago.
I knew that self-discipline could potentially be an issue. I’d experienced that firsthand when I was in my early twenties and tried to devote myself to my writing. (The fact that I was so young and that I hadn’t yet sold anything were already two major strikes against me.) Back then, I found that when I had so much time on my hands, I lost all sense of urgency, and somehow I never quite seemed to get around to working on my writing.
These days, I don’t have that problem. I have deadlines, after all, so there’s plenty of urgency to go around. What I’ve found a lot trickier is figuring out how to balance my work life with . . . well, the rest of my life. Because I have no office job to go to, with regular hours, every hour of every day is potential work time for me. (This isn’t just me–those of you on Twitter, notice how many full-time authors tweet about the work they’re getting done on weekends and holidays.) Which means I’m constantly having to ask myself, “Should I be doing [whatever it is I’m doing now], or should I be working?” When I have a looming deadline, making that decision is relatively easy. I work until I can’t stand to work anymore, and then I do whatever else is on my agenda. It’s the between-times that give me ulcers.
I’m in one of those times right now. I’m in the early stages of writing my second young adult novel, and I’ve got plenty of time until my deadline. I will probably have to review proofs of The Devil’s Playground, and both copy edits and proofs of Glimmerglass (the first young adult novel) in that time, but I’m still very comfortable with the deadline that exists. Life permitting, I can make it without breaking a sweat. But see, there’s that “life permitting” proviso in there. It’s impossible to know if some life event will suddenly crop up and turn that very reasonable deadline into a deadline from hell, and therein lies my tug of war between work and the rest of my life.
Despite the comfortable deadline, there’s a part of me that says I should be working harder now, during this time when there’s nothing momentous that’s stopping me from writing. Just in case. So when the urge hits me to pick up a book and read for pleasure–possibly my favorite thing to do in the world–I always have this internal debate: should I, or shouldn’t I? Should I be watching this TV show, going shopping, just plain taking the day off, when I could be writing? Will Something Happen later that will make me regret taking it easy right now? (And then there’s the flip side of that, the little voice that tells me I’m being a ridiculous, obsessive workaholic for questioning every hour I spend on something other than writing.)
I generally go through this in the early stages of every book, unless the deadline is tight from the beginning. But right now, it’s worse. You see, right now my young adult contract is the only ongoing contract I’ve got. I’m hoping there will be more Morgan Kingsley books, and I’ve got another series (the Sekrit Project) that I’m hoping to sell, but neither one is a sure thing. So if I really push to get this YA done early, and somehow both other possibilities fall through, I might end up regretting the things I chose not to do because I felt the artificial urgency these potential projects created. However, if both projects sell, I will have an entirely different situation, and my deadlines for next year will go from being extremely comfortable, to manageably tight. And if I take advantage of my perceived extra time right now to do non-writing-related stuff, that’ll make the deadlines that much harder to hit.
It’s a delicate balance, and one I haven’t yet figured out how to handle. Mostly what I’ve ended up doing lately is push myself to get at least a little of the YA written every day, and then feel guilty when I do something else with the rest of my time. (This is not a method I recommend!) I suppose I could impose a regimented working schedule on myself, but I’m unwilling to do that. It would take away the freedom that is one of the best aspects of working from home (and for myself). Plus, I know the schedule won’t work in the long run, because the writing career doesn’t respond well to schedules. The workload fluctuates too much. I had enough having to be in the office despite fluctuating workloads in my technical writing days. (I really, really hated the slow times, when I had to find a way to keep myself busy when I had nothing useful to do.)
I’ve got eight books on the shelves, and two more completed and in the pipeline, and yet I still haven’t figured out how to balance my writing life with the rest of my life. This may be a hint that I never will, at least not fully. But you know what? This is still the best job in the world (for me), no matter how many times it frustrates, confuses, and confounds me.