I love getting emails from fans that seem to imply that I live in a rarified atmosphere, touched only by genius and inspiration. You know, I’ll get an email that says something like “Pardon me for disturbing you in what I’m sure is the contemplation of your next novel, but I wondered if you’d possibly consider telling me which cons you’re attending this year, so that I might come and bask in your glory.” (Okay, I made up the basking in glory thing. A girl can dream.)
It’s not that I don’t understand how they feel. Reading William Patterson’s biography of Heinlein is interesting — among other things — because of realizing how the writing happened AROUND the man’s life. This is definitely not how I imagined someone like Heinlein writing which is stupid because of course he was just a writer, like the rest of us.
In the same way, my writing happens not only around life challenges – illnesses, extended family issues, house moves, trading of cars – but against the tow of a shallow but strong current: cat boxes, kids’ school projects, cat illnesses, kitchen cleaning, grocery shopping, etc.
In fact, whoever is writing my story has such a perverse sense of humor that the type of letter I quote is bound to happen the day the cat boxes (litter robot, ask for them by name) broke down; D’Artagnan cat informed me of this by peeing on my pillow, so I’ve spent most of the morning cleaning and resetting the boxes, and I’ll come down to find this in my inbox.
But while these are normal challenges in life that anyone can expect – I’m sure those of you who have honest jobs also have to work around life-challenges and cleaning – there are other challenges which exist only for the benefit of people who work at home, and PARTICULARLY writers who are, by and large, people who work at home doing work other people don’t understand or don’t view as work and whose monetary rewards are – for the normal writer – vastly overblown in popular imagination.
It might interest you to know, for instance, that in my rarified, not to mention amazing state, I have cut the acquaintance of several old friends because “I’m too good for them.” Or perhaps even better “I’m too rich to associate with them.” What? You missed the private jet and the bodyguards at the last con? (No, no, the two tall guys in black and sunglasses are my sons. They only guard me because I cook their food.)
Yes, people absolutely believe this. One of them it might possibly be because she’s insane, since for several years we couldn’t get in touch with her due to the fact she’d neglected to give us her new phone number. But in the meantime, before we managed to trace her down again, she saw my book in the store, and therefore she KNOWS this is why we stopped talking to her. Because I’m famous and she’s not. (Actually, given her job, probably more people know her by name and face than know me or most writers. But never mind.)
Another few friends have dropped our acquaintance and one complained to my son (!) because I clearly didn’t want to talk to her and she was beneath me. What brought this about? Well… You see, these people know I work at home, and therefore call whenever the fancy hits them. The calls asking me to go to lunch or something like that are one thing (though less disruptive via email, which, btw, is what other writers use for this type of invite.) HOWEVER the “favorite” calls are the ones where people “just want to talk” or even – and I love this concern, truly – they’re “worried about” my “health” and think I need a break. Because calling me when I’m on the final stretch of a novel and holding all the little pieces in my head that need to be slotted in at JUST the right time is a great way to help me relax and feel better. If I then don’t answer or cut the conversation short a few times, they decide I hate them and don’t want to be friends.
I don’t know if this happens to everyone. I know my male friends seem to be under the impression I can just say “I’m working” and people will cower away into respectful silence. Perhaps it’s a male-female thing. Or perhaps I’m just a wuss.
However, for your edification, this is how my day normally goes. Get up at around six and do email and blog (unless interruptions delay that.) Shower and make sure the guys eat before going to classes and that sort of thing, the later usually while reading the news (You wouldn’t BELIEVE what the world gets up to while I sleep) and pushing enough caffeine to get the brain functional.
Answer email from my friends and get on AIM with my assistant, to see if there are any fires (either personal or professional) that need putting out RIGHT then. (Emailing me late night so I get it in morning, or late afternoon so I get it in evening are best, btw.)
By this time I’m usually awake enough to give a bleary eye to my calendar and make a face. Then I sit at keyboard again, update my status on facebook, start reading the latest work, at least one chapter back to figure out the subtle cues in the text that are never even in the most elaborately written plot outline. At this moment someone comes in or calls. Either my husband forgot something that needs to be dealt with right then, my younger son has late-start and is roaming the upper floor looking for something, or my older son has an important test and – understandably – would like to talk before it. Or vice versa on the sons.
Depending on the interruption – some of these will last till lunch – I then try to resume work. Even if the interruption took only five minutes, it completely popped me out of what I was doing. So I have to return to the beginning.
At this point something random and odd happens. I can’t really tell you every one of them, because they’re usually stupid. Take yesterday’s – PLEASE – when I started getting calls every five minutes. If you’re saying “Don’t answer” well… I didn’t for a while. But it was annoying listening to the phone ring, so I looked at the number and noticed they were all different. Was I being prank-called by the world’s most annoying telemarketers? The next call I grabbed and the person on the other side kept cutting out. It was something like this. “Hello… ick… ock…dook, information…ick…kik…te…pop.” I yelled into phone that he was cutting out and his response was more indignant kik kik kik. Okay… so… I hung up. A few minutes later, phone rings, same phone number, different voice. (Because, yeah, it’s my problem with his VOICE.) “We want some information about the house you have for rent.” “WHAT?” “We want to know about the house you’ve advertised for rent.” “I don’t have a house for rent!” “But there’s a sign in front of it, and your number on Craigslist.” (Yes, I checked the front of the house. It’s been weeks since I looked there. I use the back door and I’m trying to avoid the lawn.) “No, you have the wrong number. I never advertised any house for rent.” Pause and a deeply suspicious “Oh!” Hangup.
Rinse and repeat with the next three callers, at which point someone must have got hold of the guy who put up the add and who clearly transposed digits or whatever. Calls stop. Bliss is relative.
At this point it’s eleven and my assistant – who knows my rhythms – pings me on AIM about an upcoming project, and btw, do I remember I have a short story overdue? No, of course I don’t. I DO remember I have two novels and an article overdue, though.
Get notepad and research books and go downstairs to eat something while trying to get short story which is only vague in my head, to gel. While I’m down there, clean kitchen and try to figure out why we’re plagued with ants and what I can do about them without killing the cats. Put two loads of wash in.
Come back up and write beginning of short. Then write it again because it doesn’t work. Husband gets home, having – somehow – failed to find our son in the usual spot for pickup from school. Two minutes later, kid calls wondering why he’s been standing around for forty minutes and no one has picked him up. (Was he there? Eh. He’s a teen. Who knows.) Get in car and drive out to get him, because my husband is back at work and kid needs to study. Come back home through a starting storm. Make coffee. Talk to older son, who just came in, about the plotting for the vampire story. Remember I haven’t exercised yet (and I have to, every day, or my knee starts hurting.) Go for walk which older son joins in. Under the rain. Fun talk. Get back home and it’s … five pm? How did that happen? Set table, warm leftovers, get everyone to eat. Start dishwasher. Go back up to computer and find I can’t concentrate. Answer emails. Talk with a couple of friends. Update facebook status. Take short story to bed with me and do a very little work on, still not getting it to gel.
Now, yesterday was an unusually bad day. Usually there in the middle, I do get two to three hours uninterrupted writing time. If you’re saying in answer to this that I need an office, you’re absolutely right. However as of now, I don’t make enough for an office. Also frankly what has compensated for the low er… compensation of the work is the fact I can set my own hours – in theory. I hate routine and going to an office nine to five would be interesting for about a week and then drive me murderous.
Again, remember that yesterday was unusually bad, but still, working from home shouldn’t be this difficult. The kids should stay out of the way more. (And an office wouldn’t solve this. They’d just call me on the cell.) But you have to understand that for most of their formative years I was writing but not getting paid. This meant that if they came in I dropped everything to see what they wanted – because of course the kids were more important than a job that didn’t pay and might never do so. This formed some bad habits that I suspect will only fade when they move out and maybe not then.
However, the kids and Dan are in a way entitled to cut up my day. Heck, I’ve been known to call Dan at work because I can’t find something that he should know where it is. It’s the claims of family.
It’s just that normally I get the added joy of friends, distant relatives and total strangers – my favorite was the neighbor who couldn’t believe I didn’t know what car she drove (and therefore just tell her she’d been blocking my driveway for two days instead of calling the police so I could move my car to go grocery shopping) because “you work from home. You see me all the time. You could have knocked at my door” (My office is at the other end of the house, and the times I might have nodded at her on the way to-from her car, while I was taking trash out or feeding the outdoor cat, I was probably deep in plot.) – thinking “well, you’re home, you have time.” Or even “You’re home and you need me to give you a break from your boring, boring job.”
If this sounds like a long, extended griping session, it is that. Yesterday truly was a very frustrating day. But it is also a plea for understanding. If you’re a friend or even a friendly fan, and it seems like I’m ignoring you, chances are I’m just so far behind on work as not to know which end is up anymore. If I promised to read something for you – a very rare occurrence, btw – and keep forgetting it, don’t hesitate to remind me about once a week. You’re not getting to be a bother, it’s just keeping you and your concern from sinking away out of sight.
Understand that the parts of the schedule I try to keep on top of are my writing first (because it has deadlines) and then my family. The rest gets shoved around wherever it fits, and if I keep putting of something or not answering a question, it’s probably gotten lost in the debris between litter box cleaning. I do try to make notes to myself, but nine times out of ten I lose them.
And if you’re an old friend, the chances of my having dropped you because you don’t fit my new, glamorous lifestyle are exactly zero. If I’ve sounded evasive last three times you called, chances are that I was either very late or you coincidentally always call at a bad time. (I used to joke with my friend Rebecca Lickiss about this. Back in the day when we were neither of us paid for writing and both of us had toddlers, we used to call each other and plot over the phone [mostly books. Occasionally, world domination.] She had the ODDEST timing. It never failed, the phone would ring the moment I lifted my toilet lid and was about to sit down. I accused her of having wired her phone into my toilet lid.)
I very much doubt – though who knows – that even if I hit J K Rowling levels of success I’d be cutting out friendships as not “worthy” of me. Writing is something I do, and hopefully something I do well. It’s not something I am. The all too solid flesh must carry on and live in the world in between books. For one, what else would I mine for the absurd events in the refinishing mysteries?
And now excuse me, Euclid cat just threw up next to my desk. I’d best clean it before it dries.