Maybe it’s the fact that the flurry of Christmas activity is over, our homes are bare of tinsel and lights and we have to the face the reality of a new year with all its uncertainty, is the reason I feel maudlin.
I was talking to a former business colleague over the holiday who said he envied my life of home-based working. It was said in the context of the planned rail and Tube strikes and the forecast for Arctic weather.
‘I’d give anything to be able to get up at 8.30 and be at my desk for 9.00 with nobody nagging, haranguing or standing over me demanding things and to think I’ve got another 2o something years of this…. As he ran the panorama of his future life through his mind, I watched his eyes reflect the fear he was feeling.
‘Working from home is not all it’s cracked up to be,’ I told him, thinking I was being reassuring. ‘In fact, there are many days I feel very lonely with just my imaginary friends for company, my twitter colleagues for exchanges and the odd phone call from a friend or my daughters if they remember they have a mother. Even my husband is part-time. We live separate lives in the week.’
I went on to explain that many people felt the same way as I did after the novelty had worn off and that my decision to work in the local library two days a week reassures me that the world hasn’t combusted and I’m the only one left. I need to be in contact with people. Not all the time as I can only write in total silence, usually in the mornings but I do miss the camaraderie of the office even if I have to tolerate petty mindedness and ego swaggering.
Writing can be a very lonely business for many of us even if we don’t acknowledge it. For some who live alone during the week without even a cat to talk to it can lead to isolation and with that the danger of depression.
The opportunity to bounce ideas off other people isn’t there when you work alone unless you are part of a remote team when you can have meetings on Skype. This means you lack stimulation which is important to keep writing fresh. If you want to write about realistic characters you need to be amongst people even if it is sitting in a coffee shop making notes. Snippets of conversation between people can be integrated into your story which keeps dialogue real and dynamic.
I’ve struggled with the loneliness and isolation as I no longer live in a big city with buses and trains crossing the network every 15 minutes. There was no excuse to be alone in the day if I didn’t want to be.
I have a few tips that help me if you find yourself disappearing down a plug hole.:-
- Go for a walk every day. If you have a dog even better as the dog walking fraternity seem to be particularly friendly. Get out of the house even if it’s to walk round the shops.
- Work in your local library on a fixed day (days) of the week even if it is for a couple of hours. Have a coffee. Read the papers. Smile at people.
- Do a half day or so as a volunteer. I work in a local charity bookshop. Heaven!
- Plan things for the weekend. As I live in a semi- rural area, I go up to Birmingham or Cheltenham where my daughters live or sometimes Oxford to browse bookshops or whatever I fancy. The key is to get out of the house.
- Join a group/society. I sing with a local choir and help out the Salvation Army when I can.
- Develop a new skill. I’ve taken up Russian and am learning to paint in the style of the impressionists. I find I have a new interest in visiting art galleries to study the work of Monet and co. It’s something with a purpose.
I would like to see the network of work-hubs expand to include the smaller towns. I’d be happy to pay an annual fee to get out of the house and meet new people.