10 Commandments for Writers Working From Home

By Laura Crisp Davis - April 2, 2020
10 Commandments for Writers Working From Home

If you’re new to working from home due to current events, don't worry. I’ve been working as a writer from home for the last seven years, and I’ve got a few tips to help you adjust and stay focused.

1. Thou Shalt Dress for Work

…at least from the waist up. It’s true. Pants are optional, but you might not be able to predict that your boss or a colleague will want a spontaneous video chat. Be sure when you sit down to write that you’re dressed appropriately yet comfortably. Nothing worse that running through the house for anything that isn’t pajamas because you “got in the zone” and didn’t realize there’s a virtual writers room meeting in five minutes. Keep sweater, a pair of comfy socks, and hair ties or a baseball cap nearby for adaptability to temperature and spontaneous video calls.
Bonus tip: eye brightener and a ring light. Trust me.

2. Thou Shalt Mute Thy Sound During Video Chats

If you’ve worked from home even a few days, you’ve probably already figured out that you get more writing done if you listen to music to drown out noisy roommates, pets, or family members. Beware the unplanned video chat or conference call where everyone can hear your spouse chopping dinner like a hibachi master, your kids playing video games, your microwave beeping, and your dog barking…in my case all of the above during a recent facebook live stream!

3. Thou Shalt Sit Near a Wall During Video Chats

This gets its own commandment because there’s nothing like talking to a screen full of coworkers when your unsuspecting spouse casually walks behind you, fresh out of the shower, wearing nothing but a towel, or nothing at all! Sit where family and roommates can’t accidentally make an appearance. PLEASE. Also, please, pretty please, center your head in the square. No aerial view of your head or up-the-nose-shots.

4. Thou Shalt Write Before Social Media & TV

You’ll feel better and get more accomplished if you prioritize your creative flow over your need to be in the know. Steer clear of upsetting news and the black hole of social media first thing in the morning. Get inspired–meditate, read something inspirational, run or do yoga–and then make your morning about creativity and momentum. Scroll your friends’ posts during lunchtime or at the end of the day.

TV can be the worst creativity and motivation sucking vampire of them all. If you want to be productive, there is NO TV beforehand. Yes, TV can inspire and it’s a wonderful escape. It can also drown out the characters’ voices in your head and make you forget what you woke up wanting to write. Definitely, absolutely, positively no upsetting news or political shows before writing (unless that’s what you’re writing). No TV during breaks either, because 10 minutes can easily turn into an hour or three.

On the flip side, if you need a day off to bingewatch and unplug from life, it’s okay. Just don’t mix TV and writing time.

5. Thou Shalt Not Answer Emails, Calls, or Texts

Otherwise known as BOUNDARIES. I knew someone who called several times a week and expected me to keep them company on their hour-long commute home because I work from home and in their mind I had nothing better to do than to hear their stream of consciousness brainstorming. I had to learn that "NO" is a complete sentence and not answering is okay.

During writing time, silence your phone. Even better, leave it across the room. If it’s really important, your family knows where you are and they’ll find you. Set a voicemail or text reply to let callers know that you’ll contact them later. If your phone has a “do not disturb” function, it should allow you to create exceptions so that if there is a true emergency your loved ones will still be able to reach you.

When the quarantine is over and we begin a new normal, it may entail many people working from home permanently, at least part-time, because of the time savings and potential positive impact on productivity, the climate, and family connections. If that happens, you’ll want to be well-practiced at clear, healthy boundaries for friends, coworkers, and family to respect your work hours.

6. Thou Shalt Keep a Clutter-Free Writing Cave

Keep your writing space feeling like a cozy office if possible. Keep beverages, tissue, paper and pens within reach. If you have to share with others, set clear rules about the space. Back up your work frequently so your mind is free from worry that all could be lost. No leaving empty coffee mugs around. Place a trash can nearby for tissues and candy wrappers. Make a daily or weekly habit to clear the sticky notes and empty the trash. Keeping the cave tidy helps empower and inspire your best writing.

7. Thou Shalt Take Breaks

It’s super easy to sit at the computer for hours until your bladder or your stomach signal it’s time to get up. Set a timer to be sure you get up and walk around at the end of each hour. When the timer goes off, stop typing, even if it’s mid-sentence, and take a walk around the block or the house. Hemmingway apparently used to stop mid-sentence so he’d know where to start the next time. Getting away from your writing gives your eyes a rest from the screen, let’s your mind mull ideas, and ensures you’re not harming your health with too much sitting.

There is a method called the Pomodoro Technique that is fantastic for helping you take breaks and tackle things one task at a time. It's a game changer!

8. Thou Shalt Not Allow Thyself to Get Hangry

Okay, hunger and thirst can’t be avoided. Keep water and a mug of coffee or tea nearby so you’re hydrated. It’s easy get so absorbed “in the zone” that you forget to eat until you’re starving and cranky and likely to eat something quick (aka crappy). To head off desperate, unhealthy food choices, use a slow cooker. Load it up first thing in the morning and you can write longer! Keep pre-washed veggies, salads, and healthy snacks you would choose while in your right mind ready for a 15 or 30-minute break.

9. Thou Art Not a 24-Hour Mart

THIS IS A BIG ONE. Don’t let your work take over your home life because relationships will suffer and so will your work. If you stay open for business all the time, you’ll end up resenting your work and feeling burned out. One of the benefits of working from home is the ability to prioritize days of no writing, blocks of quality family fun and one-on-one time in order to keep family relationships in balance. Pets also provide built-in breaks and bursts of outdoor activity. Leave work at the same time as if you’re not at home. Make a schedule and stick to it.

10. Honor Thy Sleep Schedule

It’s easy to get so into your writing that you start keeping really oddball hours. Be careful to get off of your screen a few hours before bedtime so that you don’t reset your body clock to another timezone. It’s a slippery slope. When you go to bed late, you end up waking up later or sleep deprived and then your creativity and productivity will decrease. Your creative mind and your eyeballs need time to recover. Your family and pets want to see you before bedtime. If you’re getting enough sleep, you’ll wake up eager to write, rather than feeling like you’ve got homework.

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Sometimes I'm serious, sometimes I'm silly. Any scripts referenced are for educational purposes only. (My lawyer made me say that part.)