Most creative writers have their own idiosyncratic set of rituals and routines. Academic writers do too. But at least some of these practices may have had to change during WFH – working from home – during the various lockdowns. While I’ve been acutely aware of changes that lockdown has brought to PhDers I hadn’t thought a lot about what it meant for me. I’ve been aware of fluctuating motivation of course, something a lot of people experience at the best of times – but more so now. But that’s not all that’s been going on for me. As I realised a couple of weeks ago.
I was doing an online shopping order, as we privileged people are able to do. The supermarket site offered me the option of starting with my “regular items”. This seemed to be a sensible suggestion so I went ahead and pre-packed my basket. When I went to edit the contents, I was a little surprised to see pears. So many pears. Now, I don’t think of myself as a fan of pears. It’s not that I actively dislike them, I just don’t think of them as being something that I would choose over other fruits. But apparently I do.
The reason I now buy so many pears every week is down to working from home. I often have online meeting after meeting, jampacked together. As I am sure at least some of you do too. And rather than load up my desk with unhealthy things to snack on, I now seem to always have pears next to my keyboard.
Why pears? My favorite fruit is actually mango – but a mango is entirely unsuitable for desk duty on just about all counts. The pear wins hands down. Why? The pear has attributes. You don’t have to peel pears like oranges or clementines. Pears don’t go brown like apples when you take a quick bite out of them between calls or writing bursts and then put them down for a bit. Nor do they crunch like a good apple, so you can take a surreptitious bite of a pear when everyone in the meeting is focussed on the speaker. Pears don’t create a lot of mess in general, so you can nibble and not end up with a sticky-fingered keyboard. And pears don’t create a lot of waste to deal with afterwards, like bananas. Pears are size-limited so you can’t just keep eating and eating them, like grapes. What’s more, the pear does have a bit of juice, so they are good for those times when you need a bit of liquid, have run out of water, and don’t have a moment to sprint to the tap. Hooray for pears.
As I thought about pears, I realised that other things about my writing routine have changed too. I no longer have writing clothes which I change out of when I go into work. No, I now have something in between writing and work clothes. Respectable on top, but out of sight it’s comfort all the rest of the way down, and like this all day. I only take off the Uggs or Birkies when I actually leave the house. I am, so to speak, dressed for writing at any time.
But this wearing the one thing all day does make for a lack of demarcation between writing times and other forms of work.
My previous routine was always to write first thing in the morning – that has largely still held true. But working from home means I can add in smaller writing grabs – I now do tiny tasks and meet tiny targets. If I’m sitting at my desk with fifteen minutes “to spare”, I now often fill in with a little bit of something writing related that needs doing. This new writing routine has meant that I tend to plan even more than usual about how to get a piece of writing underway and completed.
Of course, the lack of demarcation between writing at home and work at the office also means that writing has now blurred into other forms of work – emails, feedback, reviewing, analysing, meetings. And this may not be a completely bad thing. It did always seem before as if the office was the “real work” and the writing was something of an add-on. Now the writing is much more integrated into my calendar.
But the danger with WFH is that I just work more without stopping for a break. That’s a problem. While I don’t have to worry about concentration fatigue, as do many people, I do have to manage a chronic back problem. I think I’ve said before that I have an exercise bike in my office. Since lockdown I have taken to reading – or rather being read to – while I cycle. I’m very appreciative of the reading function of ipads which are small enough to prop up in front of me while I pedal away. I don’t really need to see pixelated hills – I’d much rather be following along with Karen. Yes, really, the English (Australian) voice is called Karen. And yippee! I can, it seems, get through a book in about a week of cycling. And the combo of reading and being read to allows me to plod systematically through some rather dense and challenging material. So I’m actually reading more and more serious books. Fuelling my writing and thinking.
I’m also aware of things I haven’t changed. For instance, as I don’t much go for social writing experiences – I prefer a rather solitary and silent location for writing – I haven’t taken advantage of any of the online writing rooms. I still use my desk top layout to signal writing work that is ongoing and the writing which is most urgent. I still keep notebooks in most parts of the house to jot down any brilliant insights I have while away from my desk – well usually more like, Oh no, I’ve forgotten about x. Better make sure to put x in tomorrow.
But how about you?
People who used to like to write in cafes – what do you now do?
Do the Shut up and Write online sessions work as well for you as the face to face or do you find them better?
If you used to write in your work office how has it been shifting to writing at home?
Is your desk organised differently now that you do everything from it?
Have you managed to find a new routine if you have parenting or caring responsibilities and can’t shut out interruptions and more pressing demands?
Have you developed any new habits, like buying pears and/or being read to while you exercise?
What’s changed for you in your writing routines and rituals? Do you think these changes will stay? What do you think you might keep when/if we go back to more familiar work routines?