how to work at home??

I know this has come up in other threads, but can no longer afford the luxury of writing in coffee shops! I really have to find a way to work at home. I posted this at a different thread on personal finance software and thought I’d post it as a separate topic to get people’s thoughts on this. Please don’t say things like ‘oh, it just takes concentration’ or whatever, because I’ve been around long enough to have told myself these things and discover it’s not that easy. I think we are all different types and for me, this is a real problem. Here’s my post, in part:

We are getting rather hammered by the economic downturn in my household. Been cleaned out basically, so we are having to save every penny and then some! But I write MUCH better when not at home. I wrote half of my dissertation and most of my revisions at the local coffee shop and did it in half the time I’d written the first half (working at home). I have tried and tried to create a separation in my home between my writing life and the rest of my life! If I could afford it, I’d build a studio above my garage just for writing and make it completely separate from the rest of the house. As it is, we have a very small house and the room I write in is the room I also do bills in, guests sleep in, etc. It’s been very hard to concentrate at home.

It’s weird, because I can be in a noisy coffee shop and be completely focused and write away without any distraction, but have a much harder time in my house where there is only me and my dog! It’s very strange. I know many writers who write on their kitchen tables, whatever, in their homes. So I don’t really know why this is different for me. I know I’m not alone here!

So I am struggling to figure out how to make this work, since I really can’t afford to go to the coffee house every day. But can I afford not to??? Or do I just find a way to force myself to make this work? Any thoughts on how to work at home?

Thanks!!! Alexandria

Well I don’t think it is a question of working at home but rather working in an environment you feel comfortable in.

So if hanging out at your local Caffeine Dealer’s pad is productive then look at a few inexpensive things you could at home to emulate the environment you find comfortable.

(1) Lighting.
(2) Chair and Table
(3) Ambient Noise
(4) Smells.

Ok first is the lighting bright fluorescent or natural light. If it is natural open the window shades, if it is Fluorescent put a few compact fluorescent bulbs lamps and turn them on.

Second, this is vital. Try to find a chair that feels like the one you are used to at the Coffee Shop. Find a small round table and put those in your room. If you can write in the center of the room that gives you the feeling of space around you. Face the furthest wall from you (illusion of more space)

Third take a cheap recording device and go down to your local coffee shop for a writing trip. Set your device to record. Then take this home and convert it an Mp3 and put it in iTunes in its own playlist and have it set on repeat. This gives you the ambient noise. Or play it on a stereo if it is distracting on your computer.

Fourth, put a coffee maker in the room and brew a cup of coffee to give you the “smells” of the coffee shop.

Only sit at this table and chair to write. Move it once you are done.

What I have considered is hiring desk space in an office for a set period of time.
It is common in London where people try to defray the cost of office space and as it would be for a relatively short period of time could be done in cash.

I could see me going to work in suit and tie, spending the day bad tempered ignoring others and their petty histrionics. Finishing at 5.30 and suffering the return home. The positive view is that I would have put in 7 hours “work”. I would not return and then start work again, I would have a feeling of content.

The reason I have not done it is I do not know if I could suffer good natured people asking how the work is going or asking to read or discuss what I have done. (I do read like an offensive person)

As an option I could hire artists work space often advertised on Gumtree/Craigslist.

Hope this helps


Kind of along wock’s lines but more to my own personal bent…

eliminate everything that is not part of either your “coffee house” or creative experience. If you don’t need it remove it. When work is really calling I go to a room that has nothing but a desk. No net, no window, nothing.

Close the door. Allow no interruptions. Have an understanding that “when the door is closed stay away”.

arse in chair == work. It is a job. Treat it like one. No excuses.

SCHEDULE breaks. if it isn’t time to get up keep the arse in the chair.

SCHEDULE start and stop times. You do need rest.

Hope that makes sense. If not let me know and I can try to clarify.

i’ve thought about posting a question or two along these lines myself. i’m in a lull a work, so i have time to hole up and write. i do that, but the book i’m writing (non-fiction) requires dealing with unpleasant subject matter. it gets to me. i end up blue and with cabin fever.

i’m the sort of person who can make myself do anything, if i think it’s necessary. i’m probably too much that way, since i “make” myself stick to it with the work on the book past the point where it’s good for me.

sometimes i take my laptop and go to a park or a lake and write there. it helps.

on the other hand, when my work is frantic (and there are periods of time when it is insane) i take my computer, go into my office, shut the door, tell my secretary to stand guard and get lost in the writing. at that point, writing is not work; it’s therapy.

my home office is an open dining room where i can look directly into the living room on one side, or the kitchen on the other. i run my office at work from here, do my writing, and do a lot of work related to my real job. i have the whole room full of supplies, printers, desk and iMac. I even took out the dining room table and replaced it with a conference table. after all that, i still take the laptop, go into the living room, sit in a chair and write alongside my family while they watch tv, talk, wrestle (i have boys) etc.

maybe that would help you, alexandria. try letting your family sub for the background noise of the coffee shop.

any ideas to help me with the blues and cabin fever would be greatly appreciated.


A famous English writer, James Herriot, wrote his many novels sitting with the family writing in longhand. If it works for you thats great.

For the blues and cabin fever all I can recommend is drink and drugs. Works for me.


[size=150]MY HERO [/size]

Humor is the best offense in the universe. Apply it where needed.

If that doesn’t work get roaring drunk and put all your clothes on backwards and walk around the house treating your husband like a seductive boy toy and constantly quote Dr. Suess.

Have you considered your local library? I too work best out of my home, and it’s a great free alternative to coffee houses.

I am lucky enough to live in an area with a fantastic public library, and it’s my favourite place to work. I love the smell of books, and I mentally associate libraries with productivity. Somehow the atmosphere motivates me to work. Many libraries now have wireless internet access, and there is usually plenty of space to set up shop. If you get there early you can sometimes even get a private study room. Failing that you can take over a table or a study carrel.

One of the side benefits of the library is that because of their restrictive food and drink policy there are no tempting hot chocolate vendors or candy machines. I just bring a thermos full of green tea, a bottle of water, and something to munch on from home, and then I’m not tempted to spend money.

I also like the ambient noise from people wandering about shelving books or browsing, or whispering guiltily on their mobile phones or whatnot. It’s good background hum, without being obnoxiously loud. I also tend to bring my iPod headphones and plug them into my mac so I can listen to working music.

Plette’s suggestion is excellent, except for one line:

† <-- That’s a cross. As in, hold it up to keep the evil away. My number one suggestion for working at home (or the library, or the coffee shop) is: Kill The Internet. Relegate it to a specific, scheduled time, with work (email, research) coming first, all else second, and be strong. It’s the worst kind of time suck – it can leech away hours of your day, and it kind of feels like working (you’re typing, you’re at the computer.)

Says me with like 150 posts on this site. Ugh. I have to go.

Yre only sayin that t` make me feel bad :cry:

The internet is your friend! Where else can you procrastinate, spend hours at it, and still manage to accomplish absolutely nothing?

Now I do agree with Sean. If you want to actually be productive you have to remove the seduction of the internet.

Now where was I?..

(continuing to download the whole internet on a floppy)

If that doesn’t work get roaring drunk and put all your clothes on backwards and walk around the house treating your husband like a seductive boy toy and constantly quote Dr. Suess.

i sort of like this one. if i can just remember my dr suess … i don’t want to get out of bed today, i am drunk, drunk i am …

The very first time I sat down, intent upon serious research away from the house, was in The Walter Sansbry Memorial Garden in the village, see link. … walter.jpg. I was researching an article on The British Navvy.

Armed with a £0.75p Moleskin Look-a-Like, a pencil (with an eraser on tend), and a copy of Railway Navvies, By Terry Coleman, ex Guardian journalist and Sub, I parked my arse on one of the benches dotted around the garden. It wasnt many minutes, however, before I realised I wasnt alone. Within my, ‘seriously’, immediate vicinity, there was a pair of Wocks (huge wood pigeons); a pair of collared doves; four black birds; numerous finches and tits; a squirrel and a water rat from a fast flowing brook in full spate, that marks one of the Parks boundaries. Off the top of my head, I can`t think of a lovelier stress buster.

Just a little off-topic, since it`s nearly Christmas.

In the village is a florist/greengrocers, wherein a young student teacher works part time. This young woman is in love with Life, and all things nauseatingly sentimental, and schmaltzyngooey ect! ect!. Of course, I, having only her very best interest at heart, never miss an opportunity to give her the benefit of my 65 yrs experience of the real world. The other day, after telling me how much she loved all things, Christmas, I felt it my duty to explain to her: (a) just why and how she was labouring under a delusion; (b) why it would be to her advantage if she adopted a more cynical and thereby realistic approach to Life.

“Dont tell me that! Dont tell me that! Dont tell me that! Dont tell me that!..” she went on. She`s a nice girls, but like all students (especially female ones), she has a lot to learn…obviously.

My route home took me through the Memorial Gardens. As I approached the exit I noticed a bird, perched on a branch of a bush, adjacent to the path. It was a Robin. The biggest…fattest…Robin, I have ever seen. Its breast was the most gorgeous expanse of brilliant orange red, you could imagine, this side of a Christmas card. As I drew level with it, I stopped and…stared, I suppose. It was perched no more than three metres from where I was standing. Apart from following my approach with its head (at least from when I became aware of it), it never moved. I looked around the garden. Wherever the Sun had failed to reach, the trees, shrubs, and grass were still glistening with frost. I was standing in a Christmas card scene. So help me! I swear, for all the World, that is what it was. And there was this turkey sized Christmas Robin, telling me (metaphorically WocknJaysen, metaphorically), what a miserable, cynical old bastard I was.

I swear on everything I hold sacred, this isnt a tale, its true. It made me wonder, as I continued on my way home, whether I was beginning to really believe the stuff I`d teased Clare with. I had a good few hours of introspection, for the rest of the day.

Theres a lot of shitty stuff going down, all around us, I know, but theres an awful lot of un-shitty stuff out there as well. Itd be a shame if we loose sight of it. Wouldnt it?
End of off-topic.
Take care

You mean they don’t talk to you? I’m sorry you are not part of the club.

Seriously… I know what you mean. I find more and more pointers indicating that the “crappiest” part of the world is the source of the reflection in the mirror. And I don’t mean the light. The one thing that gives me hope is the statement my kids are tired of hearing. There is only ONE thing in this world that you truly control, your outlook on life.

Vic-k, maybe, just maybe, there is hope for the cynical, withered up old turds like us. Maybe.

Ha! I step away for a few hours and come back to 14 long, wonderful replies! Thanks and I’ll look it all over to see what great ideas you all have. A couple of quick notes: tried the library, isn’t the same for some reason. What is it about a coffee house that makes it work? Maybe someone has already answered that question, so I’ll go look…


Ha, no, it’s clear. Basically it’s ‘keep your arse in the chair.’ Good advice! I’m liking some of these ideas, like looking at the environment of the coffee house and seeing what it is that works for me and then creating that at home. I haven’t really thought of it quite that way! Seems so obvious, but up until now, the coffee house worked so well I never had to bother looking at why it worked!

My family consists of my husband and dog, and he often has the TV on when I’m working so that makes it hard to concentrate. On the other hand, sometimes we are working together at the dining room table and that works great. Just like the coffee house, now that I think of it. Interesting…

I am also writing a non-fiction book. My dissertation involved subject matters like torture and the Holocaust, so I definitely relate to the difficult subject matter. The present project is about social indifference and the suffering it can cause. Another really happy subject. I combat cabin fever with time with friends. Getting my ‘arse,’ as Jaysen calls it, out of the house to have tea with people I love and can laugh with. I combat the blues the same way and also with reading things that inspire me, since I spend so much time with things that are difficult and emotionally painful and hard to bear at times.

I’ve had to learn to do this over time with the dissertation. It was often very dense, hard material. My first chapter used a book called the Body in Pain, and was a kind of anatomy of physical pain, with torture and war as its subject matter. My second chapter was all about material that came out of WW II and the Holocaust. Lots of detail about the Final Solution and how it was organized, etc. My third chapter involved material that developed out of 9/11 and lots of reflection about that experience. It involved a documentary with interviews from all kinds of folks, philosophers, theologians, etc., and included footage of people jumping out of the World Trade Center, etc. To say the least, it was often extremely difficult to spend time with all of this, day after day.

So I had to learn how to deal with this heavy material. There is an internal process to this–where I have to create some internal distance. Not wall it off, because then I’d be closed to it and not be able to go where I need to go. But an emotional barrier of sorts that could allow me to go into those dark places and not get caught by them. External things helped. Like I said, teas or lunches with friends who I could laugh with and let in some needed light! Also inspiring and fun books, fiction or non-fiction. Weather permitting, walks in the park, things like that. Time away at the local coffee and tea shops, where they know me extremely well after all the writing I do in such places.

You have to get out of the house. You have to get away from the material. I take frequent breaks. Whenever I start to feel stuck or heaviness set in.

Just some thoughts. Hope that helps! I’d be happy to say more if needed!


Arse in chair, or it’s iPhonic simulacrum, is the necessary starting point. Ironically, it also can be part of the problem. My treatment for cabin fever, writer’s block, the blues, and general ennui is simple and direct. It’s exercise, and whenever possible, out of doors. Nothing elaborate or expensive. A brisk walk, especially in cold weather. (Vic’s excellent anecdote was not irrelevant at all.) Sometimes, if conditions conspire against me, I’ll cheat a bit: drive the four miles to a bike path along the river, and walk there a while.

It always forces my attention – for a moment, intermittently – off whatever was ailing me. A sycamore tree framing a bend in the river, a father showing his children how to fish, Vic’s fat robin. Chances are, I’ll come back to the day’s demon from a slightly different angle. My oldest daughter – much better educated and more generally intelligent than I – tells me, yes, it’s the mental and emotional distraction, but more than that, it’s the fresh supply of oxygen to the brain that’s doing the job.


I am always amazed by the generosity of the people on this forum. PS is right; Vic’s beautiful reminder that good things happen is very apt. Keep this up Mr Vic and you’re going to tarnish your bad reputation.

Alexandria, I’m glad to hear that someone else was affected by dark subject matter. I was wondering if maybe I was just a wuss to let it get to me. My problem is exacerbated by my job. I’ve had to do some things there – every one of which I would do again – which have made me unpopular. I guess I’m permanently in the penalty box. They can’t fire me. They would if they could, but they can’t. I won’t quit. I would if I could, but I can’t.

I have a lot of control over certain aspects of my job, and I exercise all of them to allow me to do the things I need/want to do and to ignore the rest of my colleagues. Writing is actually one way out of that trap. When I’m working on this book, my job drops away.

PS and Alexandria both point out things I need to do: Exercise (which I need for more than my mental health) and spend time with friends. I understand what you mean Alexandria, when you talk about an emotional boundary between myself and the people I interview and the things I read for this book. My problem is that I’m emotionally worn out from maintaining survival boundaries at work. But it’s something I have to do if I want to write this, and I do want to write it.

I’ve been thinking about ways to modify a bedroom so that it “feels” more like a working writer’s room, rather than a catch-all. I doubt if you can move the bed, but you might try rearranging it to function more like a sofa. I think you could use pillows to do a lot of that without spending any money. You might also exchange the bedroom lamps with something more business-like from the rest of the house. That wouldn’t cost and would change the atmosphere. Make it your writing room. Then, if you need it for guests, let them use your writing room – not the spare bedroom – for a few days.

It sounds like you need the cozy feel of people nearby, but not the distractions of tv. I’ve been a mom so long I can tune out a marching band that passing by two feet away and still hear anything that I need to react to. Being in the living room with my bunch doesn’t distract me in the least. You might try asking your dog into your room when you write. My cat often curls up on my lap when I’m at the iMac. It’s very companionable.

Good thoughts from everyone. If anyone knows how to handle researching dark subject matter while holding down the job from hell, please post.