13 Tips for the Work-at-Home Author

by | Mar 11, 2019

Let’s face it: writing is mostly a solitary business. The picture we have of the writer alone in her room, deep in the writing process, is pretty accurate. Writing takes dedicated hours over a long period of time.

This means that many people who write for a living work at home. I’ve been self-employed for quite a long time, and sometimes I had a space to work that I rented, but mostly I’ve been lucky enough to have room in my home to set up an office.

This scheme is not without risks, however.

Early in my working at home days, it seemed almost impossible to get anything done. Eventually I gave up and took an office in the city.

But when I began book publishing in earnest in the 1990s, I took an extra bedroom in your home and converted into an office.

Over the years since I’ve worked from home both as a contract worker doing book design and production, as well as an entrepreneur, starting businesses and gathering a team online.

In the course of the thirty-plus years I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned lots of lessons about navigating work at home successfully.

Here are my top tips for authors and publishers who work at home:

13 Tips for the Work-at-Home Author

  1. Get dressed for work—It may seem like fun to spend the day in your pajamas, you’ll be much more productive by dressing for work to trigger yourself to take your home work seriously.
  2. Establish a routine—Routine is part of life when you work in any context, and routines can be used as powerful reinforcements in building successful habits.
  3. Treat your business like a business—Your mindset will communicate itself to others whether you intend it to or not. Act like you’re transacting serious business and people will take you at your word.
  4. Choose a dedicated work space—An absolute necessity for home workers. Having a space that’s optimized for your type of work, where everything you need is readily accessible will help make you so much more productive. Put some time (and some resources) into making your home office an inviting and efficient place to work.
    • Declutter—Keeping order, not surprisingly, helps with focus and concentration
    • Create a pleasing ambiance—Having your own space gives you an opportunity to create an environment that you’ll be happy to work in.
    • Less noise, more light—If you can find a spot that has either quiet or great natural light, take it. If it has both, guard your space jealously.
    • Get a good chair—When you consider your desk chair is your most-used piece of equipment, you’ll realize why it’s a good idea to invest in one that gives you great support. During the dot-com bust, we picked up several pricey Aeron chairs, and they really make a difference especially on those late night launches.

  5. Try to leave the house each day—Getting some air and a chance to walk around for a few minutes will keep your energy up for the long haul.
  6. Restrict your social media use—If this is a problem for you, try logging out of all your accounts during your work day, and/or turning off notifications on all your devices. On iOS devices, the “Do Not Disturb” setting is quite handy.
  7. Work at your most productive time of day—I’ve divided my day in half. Until noon, I work on creative projects and my own writing. After lunch, it’s promotions, product development, book design and all the rest of my work.
  8. Have a plan—Using a “to-do” app or a rolling list on a memo pad will help keep you on track with your own priorities which are all too easy to forget during the day.
  9. Stay connected—We’re lucky to have great collaboration tools like Zoom and Skype to maintain contact with colleagues, readers, marketing partners, and vendors.
  10. Take clear breaks—My day seems to work best when I break for lunch around 1:00, and look for a pick-me-up around 4:00. These become predictable parts of my day, and these routines make the rest of my day very productive.
  11. Make your phone into a voicemail system—Some time-management experts consider the telephone the number one distraction for people trying to do business. I give out a phone number that’s strictly a voicemail server, and restrict business to outgoing calls only. This allows me to schedule and predict calls, making the telephone much less disruptive.
  12. Hire an assistant—I know you’re not going to do this, yet I also know from long experience there’s nothing you can do that will multiply your own efforts as much as working with a daily assistant.
  13. Don’t let friends stop by—Establish business hours, and do your best to keep them. On the other hand, this is your business so if you feel like taking your honey out for a hike in the afternoon please do it!

These are just tips, of course. Since you’re the boss, you get to write your own rules for working at home. And since you’re the boss, you can declare a “day off” whenever you like.

I bet a lot of readers work at home. Do you have any tips for the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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13 Comments

  1. Crugs

    Nice article. I also like writing and listening music at https://soundcloud.com/, it is very inspirational I have to say.

    Reply
  2. Marko Henry

    Effective Advice! Definitely you shared some of the useful tips to working at home for writers. I totally agree with all these points also I do believe that it not only useful to writers but also all the freelance professionals who are working at home office. Actually, I am working as a professional freelance writer at a famous educational agency https://edubirdie.com/ who are especially working for students academic writing solution. I have good knowledge and experience in this writing industry. My passion is writing, blogging, and traveling around the world that’s why I have chosen my career as a freelance writer. So these tips will help me to more productive in my writing profession. I really appreciate the author for sharing this effective tips with us.

    Reply
  3. Daniel Wright

    My sister writes books on various themes for the living and she does everything at home. Apart from writing, there are many other household chores which she has to do, hence I believe this article will help her in the writing profession.

    Reply
  4. Darcy McCarron studydriver

    And this is still relevant and will remain now, thanks, it is a pity that I did not immediately find such advice, but quickly concentrated and started working. It was not difficult for me as a copywriter. I recommend that you go to my profile and read my review of The Lottery in Essays, it’s really interesting, especially if not familiar with it, although in the essay I presented various problems that were discussed from different angles, because I think it will be interesting come on, you won’t regret it!

    Reply
  5. GhostwritingLLC

    This implies numerous individuals who compose professionally work at home. I’ve been independently employed for a significant long time, and now and then I had a space to work that I leased, yet for the most part I’ve been sufficiently fortunate to have space in my home to set up an office.

    Reply
  6. michael n, marcus

    I don’t need a dedicated work space for working on my books. I have a big house (too big, actually) with five desks and networked PCs. I can work on my books at any of them, but most book work is done at two.

    As for dressing for work, I can be productive and creative in my underwear.

    Reply
    • vip-writers

      I do not agree with your statement. Elon Musk’s advices for starting productive day – cold shower and dressing perfectly for work. I think that’s the lesson in productivity from showering: your brain has been working all night for you, trying to come up with solutions in the background. It takes a few minutes to turn “on” and that can happen during the shower, helping you see challenges with more clarity.

      Reply
      • Joel Friedlander

        An excellent suggestion, too. Just remember that each person will find what works for them.

        Reply
  7. Michael W. Perry

    Ernie Z. is right. Some of my most disciplined writing in done at a nearby public library. I carry my iPad with a keyboard there and write in Scrivener. It’s far less distracting that my home office.

    Otherwise, the advice is good, although the discipline to follow it isn’t easily acquired. Reading Andrew Roberts’s Churchill: Walking with Destiny, I’ve realized just how disciplined he was as a writer. He even dictated books when in laid bricks at Chartwell, his home.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Good point, Michael. Discipline comes from a combination of motivation and repetition, in my experience. But especially at the beginning, it can seem very elusive.

      Reply
  8. Ernie Zelinski

    As for me, I violate almost all your “tips.” Yes, I have a home office. In fact, I have two. One upstairs in a bedroom and one downstairs. I spend very little time in either. I am a “digital nomad.” My office is where my laptop and I happen to be. This is normally in a Starbucks in my hometown of Edmonton, in London, England, in the Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu, in one near Times Square in New York, and one last week in downtown Phoenix. I also like the Blenz Coffee shop on Denman in Vancouver, B.C. and the Second Cup just off Young Street in Toronto.

    Fact is, I hate working in a home office — or a traditional workplace office even more! I get stir crazy. I work much better when I am a in a place where there are a lot of people around. Yes, I like the distractions. These make me a lot more creative and productive. It was the same when I was in University. I could not study in a quiet library carousel. I had to be in a room with a lot of people and I would take a half-hour coffee break every 15 minutes. My professors would always see me having coffee and ask me if I ever studied. Nevertheless, I often had the highest marks in class. In fact, in my second year of Engineering I missed 85 percent of my classes and wound up with the 7th highest average out of 250 Engineering students. After that, I joked that if I had missed the other 15 percent of my classes, I would have had the highest average.

    One of the times when I am most creative and productive as a writer and self-publisher is when I am flying Business Class late at night into the early morning. It starts with the Flight Director asking, “Mr Zelinski, would you like a drink tonight?” I reply, “Yes, of course. You have heard of the American writer Ernest Hemingway, haven’t you?” The Flight Director replies, “Yes, I have.” I then say, “Well, Ernest Hemingway advised, ‘Write drunk, edit sober.’ I am a writer too and tonight I intend to do some writing. So I would like a glass of red wine to start with.” After that, the Flight Director brings me way too much wine. This happened on a recent over-night flight from Honolulu to Vancouver. I ended up having my last glass of wine with the breakfast they served just before we landed in Vancouver. No problem, however, I did a bit of great writing and also created several new unique marketing strategies for my new book “The Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why Retirement Rocks — and Work Sucks!”

    In short, a lot of people will say I am “crazy” but I am the writer and self-publisher who gets better results than 97 percent of writers and self-publishers. In September my books (mainly self-published) reached the milestone of having sold over 1,000,000 copies worldwide. I am now working leisurely in coffee shops toward reaching the 2,000,000 copies sold milestone.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Ernie,

      I certainly don’t do enough flying to use airplanes as a regular workspace, but my history of free-writing has taught me to write almost anywhere, and I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that I do most of my “creative” writing at coffee shops or, in the past, often parked in my car.

      The office at home is entirely given over to the rest of my work. I’ve never tried to design a book cover or lay out a long book on a laptop in a coffee shop, and I’m not anxious to try. And for doing mailings, promotions, and other kinds of works I love my big desktop computers with their big bright screens.

      But the low level of distraction available in public spaces can be a powerful impetus to focus on your work, and that’s one of the reasons I love writing in coffee shops.

      Reply

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