Welcome to my blog!

I'm a divorced mom with a teenage daughter and two pre-teen sons. Writing is my first love. When I'm not writing or working or playing taxi to the kids, I also toy with photography and baking.

So, basically, my camera rarely sees the light of day and my mixer stands in the corner in permanent time-out.

To see some samples of my writing, you can check out my website: www.csrickard.com

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is the Day Job a Problem?

The other week I posted about finding inspiration for writing. This week, I stumbled across an article that touches on a similar theme. The Millions posted an article called Working the Double Shift.

Here are a few excerpts that I particularly liked in the article:

"[An] element to the way we all think about the conflict between a day job and writing full-time is that even us writers sometimes fall into the fallacy of thinking of writing as a romantic hobby. A hobby isn’t a job, it’s not work – it’s “recreation.” This is why when we say, “I’m going to quit my job and write full-time,” it sounds so romantic and idyllic. It carries images of getting out of bed late, drinking large mugs of tea or coffee, sitting at a desk in your pj’s, staring at the trees through the window, and playing with your muse… But if we match the language to the reality, the phrase would actually read this way:

“I’m going to quit working and work full-time.”

That doesn’t sound romantic at all does it? And, if you talk to full-time, un-famous writers they’ll confirm just how unromantic writing full-time is."

I completely understand this statement. However, I think the author misplaces this experience solely on writers. The fact is that this can be experienced by most people who work from home, regardless of their profession.

I've been telecommuting for over 13 years now. I stumbled into it before it was considered an option for employees. (One of the perks of having a unique set of skills that your employer really doesn't want to lose!) Every time I tell someone I telecommute one of two things happens. Either they look at me as if it isn't a real job and probably some kind of part-time hobby thing. Or their eyes glint with wistful affection at the possibility of it happening to them. In both cases they are mistaken. My job is work. My work-day runs from 8-5, longer if I have the rare project that requires over-time.

When I first started telecommuting, working very long hours was easy and seductive. We all know that there's always something else that needs to be done at the office. When your office is in your house, you can hear the silent whispers issuing from the darkened room at the end of the hallway. Pleas to finish a certain project. Cajoling about how much better you'll feel when it's done. After all, everything you need to complete it is right there. All you have to do is walk into the room.

Don't do it!

I learned a great deal about myself and self-discipline early on. I also discovered that many people do not have the self-discipline to work from home. You need to determine what hours you intend to work and commit to them. There is no slipping off to the couch to watch television or do something else. No sneaking back in the office after dinner to finish 'just one more thing.'

However, I will disagree with the earlier statements of the quote. I routinely start my day either in shorts and socks or sweats and slippers, depending upon the weather. I rarely wear shoes while working. I don't do anything except boot up my computer until I have a mug of hot tea in hand. I also tend to keep the hot tea flowing till about noon. (LOVE my hot tea!) And when thinking over a current problem with a project, I always stare out my office window until I figure it out. Once solved, I turn back to the computer and work away.

I find the process of writing very similar.

"At a dinner some months ago, I found myself discussing the problem of earning a living with a couple of other writers. One of them—a mystery writer who writes full time—said something that surprised me: when he wrote his fiction, he said, he felt that he was drawing on experiences that he’d had before he’d quit his day job thirty-five years earlier.

There was a note of wistfulness in his voice that struck me. My sense was that his life as a writer was somewhat isolated. It was interesting to think of work as something that might help one’s writing, rather than as an uncomfortable but unavoidable impediment to it. What secret purposes might our day jobs serve, aside from the obvious advantages of being able to put dinner on the table?"

Again, I can totally relate to this. Telecommuting worked well for me for several reasons. First, my husband at the time had just accepted a job offer in Florida, so remaining in DC wasn't an option for me. Second, I have three kids and wanted the flexibility of being at home for them after school. That was actually very important to me. When my kids were younger, I had no choice but to use day-care because I simply couldn't commit my full effort to either them or my job when I tried to keep them home with me. I decided that when they hit school age, they wouldn't be in day care any longer. And they weren't. It also allowed me some flexibility to help them with homework after school and make sure they didn't pig out on junk food before dinner.

This arrangement worked wonderfully for me as someone who had to work full-time but also wanted to be there for her kids as much as possible. However, as with everything in life, there are always down sides. In this case, the biggest draw-back was lack of socialization for me.

While I telecommuted from FL, my company had offices throughout the US: NY, DC, TX, CA, WA, and IL . I also had clients across the US and several countries, but rarely visited any of them. My work was all done remotely from my home office. My colleagues all worked either in company offices or at client sites as I was the only employee who telecommuted. And none of them worked nearby. So, what's the downside? I didn't experience the camaraderie of co-workers. There was no going out to lunch together or hitting happy hour after a long meeting. I also had little opportunity to meet people unless they were parents of my kids friends.

I had thrown myself full-time into work and my kids and didn't make any time for myself, not even to write. I can honestly say that even today, the only person I can think of to call up if I wanted to go do something would be my mom. Yes, I know, beyond pathetic. Yet it's true. I'm not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination. I've never needed a lot of friends. My best friend lives in CA. I have another college friend up in NY. I know several moms in the the area, but not to the point that I'd call them friends.

I think my particular situation isn't solely the result of telecommuting for so long, rather a combination of that and my own personality. The consequences are that my experiences from which I draw on for writing can seem distant and veiled because I don't experience them regularly. This brings me back to the relevance of my post two weeks ago on finding inspiration.

The Millions article raises several points that I think would interest people not accustomed to working in solitary situations. If you are considering writing full-time, I suggest you read the article and do some research on telecommuting. It is a very solitary career choice and one that you need to work at, literally.

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