How Do You Do It?
My joke answer is “carefully, and with a lot of caffeine.” And the joke is that it’s utterly true. But, on a more serious note…
Once upon a time, I was a book editor, running an imprint that published 50+ books a year. I loved my job –the chance to work on so many different projects, each with their own voice and personality, was what got me out of bed and into the office every day. But, eventually, the stress of the job, plus the growing number of hours I spent nights and weekends with my own writing, required a change. I couldn’t keep giving 100% to both careers, not without something taking the hit (and that thing would probably have been me).
So in 2003 I bid farewell to the 8-6 routine of the office, and went boldly into the 8-6 routine of…well, the office. Because, the truth is, the change in my work habits has mainly been that my commute is shorter, and I don’t have to close the door when I take that 15 minute power nap. But from the very beginning I knew that the only way this career would work, for me, was to treat it with the same mindset: this is my job, and it has structure.
Yes, I can work anywhere, and do. But the structure comes with me. There is coffee in the morning, to jumpstart my brain. There are the stretches, so I don’t cramp up from sitting too long. There’s the usual procrastination of internet-browsing and email checking, and the quick conversations with my fellow freelancers on Skype replacing the traditional water cooler. I get dressed – not as formally as officewear, but I don’t work in my pjs, either.
And then I chose a project to work on. Usually, it’s on the basis of What’s Due First, but if I’ve had a sudden thought about a project, then I’ll get to that first. If a deadline is looming, I may spend all day on it; if there are a bunch of things I need to get to, then I spend time with each. Prioritize, schedule, and begin. It’s all pretty basic… or so I thought.
“But how do you switch between them?” people ask, certain that they would not be able to stop working in one world/project and move to another. The only way I can answer that is to ask in return – how did you switch between classes, in school? How do you stop working on one project when a more urgent one hits your desk at work, and then go back to the items still waiting?
But my interrogators are certain, somehow, that it’s not the same. Oh, but that’s not creative, they reply, dismissing the effort their jobs require far too easily– and giving far too much weight to the demands of ‘creation’ versus ‘work.’
And I think that people do themselves a serious disservice, with that.
When teachers teach, they have multiple classes, filled with kids that have different needs. A reporter or a cop doesn’t investigate only one case or story at a time (far from it!). A carpenter or plumber is rarely working on only one job, and an office worker of any stripe is often juggling not just projects but multiple bosses! And meetings, let’s not forget all those meetings…
Me, I wonder how YOU do it.
Laura Anne Gilman started her professional life as a book editor for a major NYC house, fitting her writing into the remaining available hours. In 2004 she switched that around, becoming a full-time writer and freelance editor.
Laura Anne is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus books for Luna (the “Retrievers” and “Paranormal Scene Investigations” urban fantasy series), and the award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy from Pocket,as well as the forthcoming story collection DRAGON VIRUS. A member of the on-line writers’ consortium BookView Cafe, she continues to write and sell short fiction in a variety of genres.