home officeKnow Thyself

by Ann Harth


You're going to work from home. It's not a decision to be taken lightly, but you've made it. This first giant leap in your journey toward a home business fills you with a sense of freedom, excitement and a touch of fear.

At this stage, the most important thing I can say is to you is know yourself. Know your goals, your priorities, your strengths and weaknesses. Your home business should reflect your individuality. What works for me may not work for you but by sifting through my experiences, you may avoid some of my mistakes.

There are many levels of home business in the field of writing.

Some people work for a pay cheque part-time while others quit their day jobs and dive in headfirst. This will depend on your personal situation. Finances, family and social commitments must be a deciding factor.

When you do jump in whether you're in up to your neck, or only to your ankles, there are many ways to make the transition smoother.

1. Write a synopsis

I know, I know. I cringe too. But this is a synopsis that will clarify your intentions. It may be the most important one you ever write. Try to condense your goals for your business into one or two realistic sentences. The more general the goals, the more chances of success.

My goal was 'to become financially viable from home by working with words.' With this in mind, I have been able to write in any genre, as well as take on editing and proofreading clients.

Define your goals.

2. List your skills

What are your strengths? How can they help you to reach your long term goals? Are you good with people? Enjoy public speaking? Hire yourself out to local schools and tell them what you know. Run workshops or lead a critique group.

Maybe you're pedantic, a real stickler who finds every typo in the morning paper. You'd be a perfect proofreader.

Name your strengths and use them.

3. List your preferences

Here we're talking about a perfect world. Let's pretend.

In a perfect world, how would you like to make your business work? Writing picture books? Chick-lit? Copywriting? Keep this preference in mind as you look for working opportunities.

What if….

You stumble upon a travel magazine looking for an article on Madrid. You're not really interested in writing for a travel magazine; your dream is to write romance novels. BUT you've just returned from a visit with your great uncle in Madrid.

So go for it!

Sell an article on Madrid to the travel magazine (or even give it to them for the credit). Then write a romance novel set in Madrid. When you send off your manuscript, include your published magazine credit and travel experience. You suddenly become extremely qualified to write a romance novel set in Madrid.
By seizing every opportunity that drifts past, you will increase your credits, your experience and your marketability.

If it's a step in the right direction, even a tiny one, take it.

4. Display

You've written down your goal, your strengths and your preferences. Print them out. Hang them on your computer, enlarge them to poster-size, or tattoo them onto the backs of your hands. Display them so that you see them every day.

Use them. They will help you answer the difficult questions like,

"Want to have lunch on Tuesday?"

What will it take? 2-3 hours from your working day?

Think about it.

If the person who asked you is an acquaintance, and you had dinner with her last night, ask yourself, is this going to get me any closer to my goal or could it push me further away?

Then again, if the person just happens to be the editor of a magazine where you submitted a story last month…

Think about it.

Keep your goals in mind. These are the driving forces behind your business.

5. Create your work space

Your workspace is going to be as individual as your goals. The important thing is to set boundaries. If you have your own office with a large padlock on the door, you're lucky. Enjoy it and spare an occasional thought for those of us who share.

Unless you live alone, family members or roommates will wander into your working area. Sometimes they need to use the computer, stapler, sticky tape, paper, printer, etc. This can be a difficult issue when working from home. School projects and maths assignments become lost under stacks of manuscripts and pungent sports shoes are left under your chair. Just yesterday, my son and I spent twenty minutes ransacking my 'office' to find his baby quail. (We found it.)

This stuff happens, it's OK and makes for a great children's story later on, but set limits. Physical limits.

If you are sharing, make sure that you have your own area. Buy a filing cabinet or some large plastic boxes. You may not be entitled to the whole room, but claim a part of it. Buy the others their own sticky tape and paper clips. Keep your workspace and your tools for work.

When sharing a computer, give the others their own user names. This way they log onto their individual accounts and your work is never accessed. Accidents happen, though, so backing up your work every day is crucial when sharing a computer with primary schoolers. This takes very little time and may save tears and accusations later on.

Your workspace is yours. You must not be the only one who understands this.

6. Plan a routine: make it work for you

When deciding on your work schedule, it's important to be as realistic as possible. When I jumped into home-work I decided that I would work all day while my children were at school, then after dinner, I would go back to work until at least 11:00. I was starry-eyed, afflicted with a temporary short-term memory loss. I seemed to have forgotten that sleep was a necessity and that I was brain dead by 8:00 pm the night before, and the night before that, and…

Some people find the best time to concentrate is in the evenings and well into the night. (I can do it in a pinch, but the next day, I often find that my work resembles that of a seven-year-old.) Others work well in the wee hours of the morning and there are still others who keep strict office hours.

Then there is another interesting group. I call them snatch and grabbers. They work a couple of hours here, a couple there. For these people, working hours aren't carefully carved into the fabric of the week. They're integrated into daily life. 'After hours' is a meaningless phrase. These people may go water skiing on a Wednesday morning and work a twelve-hour stint on Sunday. This works for them.

Decide what works for you and put a plan in motion.

It may help to make a weekly calendar. Break the days into hourly chunks. Fill in your non-negotiable time-fillers like picking up children, yard work, car maintenance, grocery shopping, preparing meals (We'll go into delegation next time). Don't forget to leave some time for family, friends and yourself.

Those chunks of empty spaces that are left? Fill them with your work.

When I made my first calendar, I was shocked by the number of hours I had left over. I could work 60 hours a week if I'd wanted! Of course my schedule didn't include drop-in chats, grooming horses, phone calls, volunteering on committees, cleaning my keyboard with a cotton bud, straightening the bottom drawer in the kitchen, painting the trim around the back door - but we'll talk about procrastination next month.

I'll also give you some tips on time management and address delegation, multi-tasking, and the delicate art of saying 'no'.

You've started. You've defined your long-term goal, you recognise your strengths and are aiming for your preferences.

Homework's not a dirty word.

© copyright Ann Harth. Comments and suggestions for specific topics pertaining to writing, editing or working from home are welcome. Please contact me at annharth@writing4success.com

Ann Harth is a freelance manuscript assessor, copyeditor, proofreader and ghostwriter as well as a published author. She writes in all genres of children's fiction from picture books to young adult novels as well as adult fiction and non-fiction. She has successfully completed several text-editing projects for university students and authors, and is the assistant fiction editor of www.moondance.com, a  literary on-line magazine. She is also on the creative writing staff of www.storydog.com, a website for children.

More information on the freelance services that Ann Harth offers can be found on her website at www.annharth.com.


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