February 20, 2022

It’s the goal of almost every freelance writer to, someday, be able to work from home. The appeals are obvious: no more commuting, being able to work in comfortable, familiar surroundings and the luxury to write at any time. And that’s all true, even if it’s not quite that straightforward. It requires very specific conditions – physical and mental – to successfully work from home with freelance writing.

After working as a freelance writer for more than 30 years, part-time at first and now full-time, I’m fortunate enough to have what I consider to be the perfect set-up – for me. It took a lot of time, experience and experimentation before I got to the point where I could design a home office that allows me to be productive, efficient and still live a normal life (again, “normal” as defined by me). Let me describe where and how I work from home and then explain how it works for me. Perhaps you might find it useful to apply some these elements for yourself.

My Office

As it happens, I live on a fairly large piece of property in a rural, wooded area. When I could finally afford to do so, I had a 12-foot by 12-foot office built in the back corner of a barn-like building that sits about 25 yards from the house. It’s a finished room with good lighting (recessed incandescent lights and two windows for natural light), a ceiling fan and baseboard heating. For furniture, there’s a good-sized desk, tons of bookcases, two small file cabinets, a large table in the middle where I can lay out notes and stack books and room for my pipes and tobacco (yeah, I know, sort of a cliché, there). Other equipment: A computer, hard-wired by cable to the router in the house, a radio a-a-a-and… that’s it. No cable television, no bathroom (that’s important; I’ll explain later), no game console for the computer, no hot plate or coffeemaker or little fridge, not even much of a distracting view from the windows. Perhaps the most important piece of equipment, however, is a wall clock.

Sounds pretty cool, eh? It is, thank you very much. I worked and planned for a long time to get this office – and it is an office, a place to write and not much more than that. And that is the first key to being able to work from home with freelance writing.

Write Where You Work, Work When You Write

Having a dedicated physical place to write is central to the process. It doesn’t matter if it’s a spare bedroom or a small table tucked in a corner of the living room: After you claim a particular spot as your place of writing, once you get used to the idea that that is “the place where I write,” then the mind can switch on and begin to work. Using a corner of the dining room table and then having to clear it off when it’s time for dinner is less ideal, but even that can work if you can get that primitive territorial part of your brain to claim it for your spot to work.

The opposite is also true: If you’re not writing, you shouldn’t be there. The writing spot is not for playing video games, balancing the checkbook, eating meals or catching up on episodes from previous seasons of The Vikings. Sure, writers are “writing” all the time: We mull over ideas for books or articles, try to organize outlines or develop characters at all sorts of odd moments. We’re doing that while we drive to the grocery store, taking a walk, fixing dinner, in the doctor’s waiting room and, in my case, while practicing knife-throwing. Whatever works. When it’s time to actually write – put it down on paper or on the screen – then that’s a job to be done in the writing place.

Isolation Is Good, But Only to a Degree

If you write, part-time or full, you know that when you’re in the middle of a project an interruption can be a disaster. Sometimes, if the flow is broken, it can take hours to get back into the same spot and pick up where you left off. It’s unavoidable at times – family demands, appointments to be kept, the police showing up at your door because the neighbors are complaining about your loud screaming and cursing fits (again) – but if you can create your writing space, it helps you to also carve out some degree of mental isolation so writing gets done.

The trap of having a writing space, however, is that when you get stuck and the process grinds to a slow crawl or even a complete halt, you can become trapped mentally and physically. That’s also why it’s important to have a clock – if you’re watching the clock while you write, then you’re in the wrong business, but it’s an invaluable instrument to gauge if you’re just spinning your wheels. The worst thing to do, in that case, is to remain in that writing space. Now it’s time to get up and go someplace else, even if it’s for a few minutes. Go get a cup of coffee or a ginger ale, use the bathroom (see, I told you it was important), throw a knife or two, grab a snack and then get back to work.

You Find a Place of Pride

It’s my belief that people, with rare exceptions, have a remarkable sense of territoriality. Claiming a place for yourself is so important that most people who are even just renting a crappy little apartment for a few months will take the trouble to put up a picture or a poster as soon as they can; homeowners of the smallest house will jealously mark off their property (pro tip: practicing knife-throwing in the back yard really impresses the neighbors). That’s why I believe, if you want to work from home with freelance writing, that having a writing place is so important. It’s where we work, it’s where the (for lack of a better word) magic gets done. Famous or unknown, struggling or successful, part-time or full, that little bit of geography, no matter how small or unimpressive to others, is where we write.

About The Author

Bryan R. Johnson is a freelance writer who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He has a website, sadly only sporadically updated, at https://www.slothmorse.com

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