Sunday, 9 June 2013

Home-Based Working by Janet Bingham (Guest Blog)


I’m something of a split personality: Janet Bingham, author, of picture books; and Janet Bingham, editor, of a more prosaic and grown-up abstracting service. 

Editor-me has been working for 28 years on basically the same product, always in a spacious office surrounded by friendly workmates. Author-me is a more novice, solitary creature, and messy. She wanders around the house muttering to herself, trailing books and scribbled scraps of paper, occasionally settling in the study and clearing the keyboard of piles of magazine cuttings in order to tap in a few words.

The territories of author-me and editor-me were safely separated, until now, by a four-mile road trip. But suddenly (admittedly with lots of warning) my day job has become home-based. I am officially a home-worker.



The household study, previously all mine apart from occasional incursions by other family members, is now home to two jostling computers wearing different hats. My own computer is no longer king of its domain, but dominated by the infiltrator on which the daily bread is earned. My swivel chair swivels between them with a confused look on its face.

Working from home has its pros (the quiet, the vicinity of the fridge), and its cons (ditto). But the loss of the car trip is definitely the biggest pro-con.

The slow, petrol-guzzling drive to work in the rush-hour, and back again, was my essential thinking time. Aside from the middle of the night, it was my main chance to work out potential story lines. It was a good time for rolling sentences around in my head. I could even recite the words out loud while risking nothing more than a few odd looks from passers-by.

The passers-by themselves could be inspiring and so could the weather and the passing seasons: the wide East Anglian skies gave me the basic idea for Daddy's Little Star, and it was watching small children walking to school under leaf-shedding trees that gave me the character who became Little Fox in the story.

So the daily drive gave me food for creative thought. And the outward journey had the added advantage of telling me to get ready to sit down to the serious stuff of the working day ahead. The drive home did the opposite – it was time to switch off and look forward to an evening with my husband, and any grown up children who happened to be home.

So it’s the morning drive that I miss when I settle down to work in my slippers, with shiny new gizmos connecting me to the outside world, and a weekly team-meeting in the pub to look forward to. In other respects working from the comfort of home is suiting me quite nicely. But I’m struggling to do without the car-shaped pivot in my work-life balance. Even the car looks melancholy and forsaken.

I’m almost tempted to drive anywhere and back again in the rush hour every morning after breakfast. How else can I replace that special quality creative-thinking, countdown-to-work time?

Any suggestions gratefully received!


Janet Bingham
Photography by Kim Ayres (
kimayres.co.uk) as part of a series
 of images for  
Wigtown Book Festival 2012
Our Guest Blogger, Janet Bingham, is the author of six picture books, including Daddy’s Little Star, published by Scholastic and illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw.
 
Other recent moments of identity-confusion include a brief appearance as Billie Jean Fleetwood-Mack, from Roddy Doyle’s The Giggler Treatment, seen here earnestly mountaineering on the stairs!

20 comments:

  1. I can sympathise. Although I've only ever worked from home, being a full-time writer, in the days when I had to deliver children to school that was a useful marker-journey. The journey varied (by foot, by bike, by car) with school and child, but it served the same purpose. Actually, I would work for a couple of hours before they got up, then do the morning routine, then take them to school and return to work, so there were two work stages. The best work was done in pyjamas in the quiet but not empty house.

    Can you add another routine, preferably one that doesn't waste petrol? Maybe a walk to buy some milk, look at the world go by, get a coffee in a cafe? Or do some exercises? Or even just make coffee or tea in a particular cup and take it into your office and close the door?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You’re evidently a master of the marker-journey routine; having two work-stages either side sounds wonderfully organised! It’s interesting that you found the journey just as effective whether or not it was by car. Exercise has slipped too low on my agenda lately, so something like taking a walk is a really good idea. Maybe I could get a new transition/thinking routine and get fitter at the same time!

      Delete
  2. I recognise that need for a transition time when the brain can wander, but I get that courtesy of a dog who needs a morning walk. So I 'walk to work', even though work is at home. Time to go and find a nice puppy, Janet!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Getting a puppy sounds very tempting, Pippa. A beautiful black lab perhaps... But in fact I think a dog would be too distracting for me at the moment. I’m definitely coming round to the idea of taking just myself for a morning walk.

      Delete
  3. Interesting, Janet. I suspect anything that includes both physical and mental action is good for the meandering genesis of stories. I too have a dog, but in wet weather it's not the same as a dry car (the problem is the muddy dog!). Even without a dog, I agree that the ritual of a daily morning exercise walk can help (coffee shop, bakery, or perhaps the local supermarket - you could buy your food daily). Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Paeony. We do have shops nearby, so getting into the routine of a walk to buy daily necessities would be feasible and sensible. And the lovely local bakery has some very tempting non-necessities too!

      Delete
  4. I go further by renting a small office space away from my home, and walk to it. I do this because at home the work just keeps on calling me, day and night, and I find it hard to relax. If you have a garden, how about a 'thinking chair'- or a shed hideaway? Go to it each morning, with a cuppa and spend time there thinking, before you go to work in your study. Hope it works!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have a lovely little garden, full of birdsong. I’d never thought of sitting out there early in the morning, because I’d have to tear myself away to go to work. But now that work is just inside the door, perhaps I should think again. Thanks, Moira!

      Delete
  5. I find being around people really stimulating, and ideas often come to me on a train or in a cafe. I love my work commute on the tube - I am at the end of a line so I always get a seat and I just put my head down and scribble until my time to get off. I would really miss it if my work ended. Like you, I think I'd have to find a way to manufacture that down time :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like you’ve got a perfect system going, Abie!

      Delete
  6. I do sympathize, I remember going through something similar when I first started working full time from home. I've never had a car but I did miss my train journeys. I agree that walking - with or without a dog - is great thinking time.
    I also find social media is a good way to get into the day or to give myself a boost when I'm flagging. Obviously you need to be disciplined about it but short bursts can be beneficial in many ways and makes you feel that you are still in touch with the outside world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It’s so important to know there’s someone out there, isn’t it?! I’m very lucky that I’m still working in a team – even if the team members are now somewhat scattered!

      Delete
  7. I was interested to hear that children walking to school was the inspiration for Little Fox. A New Home For Little Fox is well read in our house.

    I hope that you find a way to adapt to your new situation. My thinking often takes place in a long, hot bath, somehow that's where I have my best ideas!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Catherine. It’s great to hear that your family is fond of Little Fox.

      Delete
  8. Do you have a side entrance into your garden? You could go for a short walk and then walk into your garden and sit on a nice chair for a specified time (five minutes?) and then come in and work. Like Anne (Stroppy Author) I used to write before the children woke up, then take them to school and then come back and start on something else. The walk to and from school provided an excellent break. Good luck! Clare.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My plan is coming together – the walk to the bakery, the garden, the chair, the doughnut… And some work either side of course!

      Delete
  9. Interesting post,Janet, I enjoyed reading it, and other people's comments. Like Pippa and Paeony, my creative dividing line/thinking time is the twice daily dog walk 8am and 4pm - Bramble has a very accurate internal clock.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Jane. My daughters have been reading these comments, and they’ve decided that I really need a dog to walk. They’ve almost got me convinced… :)

      Delete
  10. I'm a dog walker too, Janet. Nothing better for clearing the head. Ours live outside, anyway, so they don't technically need walks. But I do!

    ReplyDelete