If you’re a writer or an author who does all, or almost all your work at home, having a professional office is much more critical to your work-life than you think.
Watching a piece on a Sunday news program about prolific author James Patterson, I was taken with the neatness and open and airy look of the room where he writes his best-sellers. The colors were bright and welcoming. Besides having a definite professional look, it was a friendly, very pleasant writing environment. It was an office.
The next day, back in my own writing area, a former bedroom with overflowing closets and clutter, I felt dismayed. The only good thing about the room was my writing desk, complete with PC and printer, but even that desk had way too much clutter. I needed to create a space that was pleasant as well as professional. Within a few months of master clean-outs to unclutter the room, painting, some redecorating in my own style, and new honest-to-goodness furniture, I had created my author’s office and made it a place that was modern, uncluttered, and writing-friendly.
Speaking of new furniture, all writers know that sitting at a computer for long periods of time can become uncomfortable. A chair that has good lumbar support is essential. You also need to make sure your chair and monitor are the right height and in a comfortable ergonomic position, that is there only for your use. This is your office, you’re the CEO, get the best that you can afford and make the work experience pleasant.
Making that bedroom into a professional environment was just my first step in letting family, and even myself, understand that this room is just as much an office as any other office in a separate building. It’s not a place that’s just another room in the house. It’s a professional environment.
There are rules to be followed here in your office, one of which is that, unless it is an emergency, you are not to be disturbed during office hours. This can vary, the writing muse can plant an idea in your brain at any time, day or night. My writing time is usually from 8:00 to 3:00, but there are other times when I pop into my office at night and write down some essential character or plot for a story. It happens and it’s okay.
Phone calls from anyone but professional colleagues, my agent, and publisher, go to voice-mail to be answered after 3:00. The same goes for emails; professional answered between 8:00 and 9:00, all others later.
And speaking of voice mail, your outgoing message should be professional. You never know when, or if, someone you don’t know just might call you concerning a paying writing assignment or speaking engagement. Recently, in checking my voice mail, I heard a message from a university professor I had not met. He had read my work and was interested in hiring me to head a panel on writing strong female characters in novels.
The second rule is strictly for you to follow. Absolutely no online activity unless it is to research something for a book or article you are writing. There are too many sites that help authors procrastinate. I’m all for cute animal videos, checking social media, or, heaven help me, shoes sales, but I am firm in sticking to rule number two. The stress that comes with the knowledge that I am behind on a deadline, simply because I chose to shop or go on social media, isn’t worth it for me.
The third rule is that the computer is to be solely for your own use. Do not back down from this. Whether it is an inexpensive laptop or a top-of-the-line PC, it is there for your work alone. Think of office protocol. No one would dare to use the boss’s computer and no one should use yours.
Now, just as with any job, you do have to have periodic breaks away from your desk. I will drive to my local Starbucks to get a coffee, just to get out of the office. Sure I could go to my kitchen downstairs, but, let’s face it, it’s not the same as getting out of the office.
There are days, once a week or so, when I will meet a colleague or a friend for lunch. Writing, as much as I love it, is a solitary profession and getting out and seeing other people makes me feel refreshed and not so alone. These are all activities that most of the workforce do and writers should be no different.
Truthfully, I find that I look forward to ‘going to work’ in the morning. I dress casually, but I dress. Sitting in PJs all day is not for me, it defeats the idea of being professional. If your aim is to be a professional, you need to treat yourself like one.
© 2017 copyright Kristen Houghton all rights reserved.
Kristen Houghton’s new novel, Unrepentant: Pray for Us Sinners, book 3 in her best-selling series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation has been voted one of the top five novels by International Mystery Writers. Houghton is the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, and a children’s novella. A former political contributor, she now writes breaking news articles and The Savvy Author tips for writers, for The Huffington Post.