I was a teacher for a decade. Not a traditional classroom teacher, a Reading/Writing Specialist. I worked with kids who suffered from learning challenges. I also worked with a lot of kids with life challenges – inner city youth primarily. It was immensely rewarding and very hard. A few months ago, I was handed a medical condition that essentially ended my teaching career (Patulous Eustachian Tubes). Suddenly, I couldn’t teach to the best of my ability because all I could hear half the time was the sound of wind in my ears. (A lot less romantic than wind in your hair.) I don’t do things that I can’t do to the best of my ability…especially something as important as teaching. So, I decided to give freelance writing a try (more than just fiction). And I am currently figuring out how to make that work. Time will tell.
One of the nice things about teaching is that the sartorial requirements aren’t all that demanding. Teachers are not generally fashion icons. Most of the teachers I worked with wore wrinkled old clothes. Men: wrinkled Dockers, frayed oxford shirt, ugly and garish tie. Women: old, worn cotton dress or wrinkled slacks and a blouse. The women tended to dress better than the men, but neither set the bar too high. I pretty much stuck to Dickies work pants, a long sleeved dress shirt, and a sweater vest. Occasionally, a tie. This made sense for a lot of reasons. A sweater vest is a good way to look kind of dressy and still be comfortable (and hide all the tea stains on your shirts). Also, San Francisco gets chilly.
One of my colleagues and good friends, Pat, and I had a system. See, he, like me, is not the kind of person who likes to say…shave on a regular basis…or wear different pants every day. So, the system worked like this. You had to maintain a balance. If you were clean shaven, no tie required. If you hadn’t shaved in a month, better wear a tie and maybe even a sport coat. Now, when you work with kids, you get sick a lot. And, whether it makes sense or not – I think it does – the times I dressed the nicest were when I felt the worst. If I had a sinus infection, I shaved AND wore a suit. It got to the point where my students knew how good I felt by how I dressed. Slovenly: feeling pretty good. Snazzy: feeling like drinking a bottle of Nyquil and punching myself in the face.
You may be wondering at this point what this has to do with writing. So, I will tell you. I had a tangential revelation last night. On Tuesday, I wrote a blog about the unfairness of people expecting a GOOD Indie novel for .99 cents. I got a lot of thoughtful, kind messages that resulted in my raising the price back up to $3.99. Idea being, if I think it is worth more than .99 cents, I should charge more. And hopefully, readers will expect more from a $3.99 book. And, I honestly believe I deliver.
So, last night I was thinking about the positives and negatives involved in freelancing and working from home. There are a lot of both. It is nice to have a fifteen step commute. It is nice to be around my 3 year old daughter more often. It is nice to use my own bathroom and eat lunch in my kitchen. It is also hard. Three year olds make a lot of noise. We just moved and my office is currently filled with boxes, so I sit on the couch and try to ignore the noises around me. It is also a little lonely. I love my wife and my daughter, but they aren’t writers (yet). I think that is part of the reason writers love Facebook. You need to be able to shoot the shit and blow off steam with your peers.
Now, I am actually going to get to the point. I promise. One of the things that I like the most about freelancing is that I wake up, pull on the pants and shirt I wore the day before (unless it has been three days, then I rotate), down a cup of Kefir, grab my laptop and possibly some tea, and start writing. Shaving doesn’t matter. Showering doesn’t matter. Hell, sometimes I don’t brush my teeth until noon. It hadn’t occurred to me until last night that perhaps I was doing myself a disservice. Like dressing up when sick, I feel that I perform better when I look and feel my best. So, why would I expect to do my best writing in a grungy old t-shirt and jeans, unshowered, with fuzzy teeth? I violated my own system without even realizing it.
Once my office is set up, things will be a lot easier. I will be “going to work”. I will hole myself up in there, close the door, and do my thing. No more sitting on the couch lowering my sperm count with a blistering hot laptop. No more distraction from the bristles that I have let go unshaven for too long. I am going to change the way I approach my work day. Even if I am working from home, I can look like a reputable human being. I can shower and brush my teeth. I may not wear a sweater vest and tie, but I can wear nicer clothes and look more ‘professional’. Because I think maybe, whether anyone sees me or not, it matters. Even if writing isn’t your day job, you might want to think about this. Bunny slippers are great, but, if you’re like me, your attire has a subconscious effect on the way you perform. It might make the difference between a metaphor that glistens and one that merely gets the job done. It might mean a few hundred more words.
People often comment that it must be great to work from home. You don’t even have to wear pants. Bathrobes suffice. Or do they? When I am dressed for ‘work’, I feel better about myself. When I feel better about myself, I do better work. If this is going to be my job now, I can’t afford to spend every day looking like I am hung over and homeless. It is something worth thinking about. If you want to write, do your writing the same courtesy you would do any other job. Show up looking semi-presentable and use deodorant. Your laptop will appreciate it.
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JD Mader is the author of ‘Joe Café’ and a Contributing Author to IU. You can find more of JD’s writing at his blog www.jdmader.com.
29 thoughts on “Work It!”
Dan, that's ironic, because I had just the same epiphany the other day. I started working out again. I started putting make-up on again. Suddenly it was as if I valued myself more. It feels good. Maybe it was the full moon that brought this on?
I can relate. As a home schooling mom, it's so easy to stay in my fuzzy PJs all day. I think you're right. I do my best teaching when I'm dressed for the day. -Not to mention it avoids the awkwardness of opening the door and having the FedEx man see me in footed jammies!
LOL. The UPS guy came today and I was laying on the couch with my laptop when my wife opened the door. He gave me kind of a dirty look (or I am nuts, both possibilities). I wanted to yell, "hey, I'm WORKING". 😉
Thanks for stopping by.
I find I work best in shorts and a t shirt, or sweats and a t shirt. But then, that's my writers uniform. If I am in jeans I am heading outside to do something. Slacks means it's a somewhat important thing I am going to do, usually a monthly meeting with others of my ilk, politically speaking. I still shave when I need to and waking up and not brushing my teeth never happens….working from home is not as easy as some think, especially when you're online and doing so because the temptation of the web is there, but I have caught up on lots of tv shows I have been missing….damn you netflix and hulu
Yeah, the tooth brushing is probably the first thing I should get on…
you know the really funny thing about my last comment? I actually have netflix open in another tab with Pawn Stars playing….
Yeah, temptation is great. I have to close FB when I'm working or I will just mess around with the junkies all day. I don't know how some people keep it open. I need focus. Thanks for coming over bud.
I have never been able to function as an awake being until I am dressed, showered and hair done. Make-up optional. So I agree. For me it is crucial to look 'awake' in order to act awake, which is to write and … whatever else.
I've often wondered how they did it back in the bad old days when no one bathed and you had to drink beer or wine because the water was polluted. People must have been groggy (pun sort of intended). 😉 Thanks Yvonne.
I know exactly what you mean. We are self employed, owning and operating The Button Factory out of our home. Most orders are done over the phone or through email, so I don't have to face customers for the most part. There are no set hours, I just work when there's work and do housework and take care of kids in between.
The good part is that I have been able to be here for my four kids when they weren't in school. I could stop working to take them to whatever event they had to go to, but it also meant that I spent a lot of late nights getting the work done that I left to do those things. The bad part is that I am never away from home and I am never away from work.
Now, to get back to your point – now that the kids are grown, the youngest is 17, and I don't have to manipulate my time like I used to, it is a lot harder to get things accomplished. If I don't get dressed and moving first thing in the morning, my day is wasted. If I stay in my pj's and bathrobe, I might as well stay in bed for all I get done. Even if no one is watching, it is best to dress for success.
Well said. It has been interesting being self-employed. I find I tend to overwork my employee. 🙂
I write naked, except for a bowtie and a Spiderman mask.
Well, obviously… 🙂
I feel less alone knowing you understand.
…but still naked.
Yes, better understood yet colder.
But David, that's also your profile pic….
Currently, the educational climate is such that teachers have trouble teaching kids because the teachers are required to spend so much time planning, documenting, and evaluating the teaching process.
In that same way, writers can fall into the trap of spending so much time listening to and engaging in the dialogue of what are our duties as writers that we lose our voices. We wear ourselves out traveling back and forth to "voice" lessons.
I want my words to sing and my readers to enjoy the singing. David sings nude in the shower. Yvonne doesn't sing till the hair's just right. I sing best in the morning. Let's just all make sure we sing.
The final documentation that we are writers is our writing.
Another 'well said'. That said, I think I'm done singing for today. Until everyone goes to bed and I can't sleep and freak out and start feeling like a slacker…
Oh well, I need my fuzzy slippers to feel good in the morning and while I am working – you see my feet are always cold. And yes, I have to pull on a sweater so that the fed-ex guy doesn't catch me in my jammies.
But, as someone with an auto-immune disease I only have so much energy. Sometimes it is a decision of whether I take a shower or write. Also, I have to have naps to keep up my energy.
Not everyone has my problems of course.
Good luck to you –
Hey, everyone has got to find what works for them. I am closing in on what works for me, but it is not a universal prescription for success by any means. If it works, do it! 🙂
Dan, I freelanced for a long time, and I'm now back at it, after having to quit teaching.
It's three times the work: you have to drum up the business, then do the work, then chase them for the money. It's a golden cage, but it's a cage nonetheless – give yourself the gift of a routine. It takes discipline, but it works. Yes – what you look like does reflect on how you work. Stand up when you speak on the phone, smile, look and feel neat and clean – it'll show in your prose and your voice.
Sorry about the ears. It does get better is the good news, because you get used to it. Tinnitus is a related annoyance which can drive you absolutely crazy. But if you can shut out the noise of a 3-year old, you can shut out the wind. Always, but always have a radio playing just low enough so you can't make out what they are saying. It reminds you you can hear over and under the bloody noise.
This time next year, you'll have got it licked. But train the family to recognize when you are working by how you look – I got reading glasses for that years ago. I really need them now, but the family still knows that when the glasses are on, I'm working. No interruptions unless someone has trodden on a wasp. Or fallen down a well. Or eaten something that's been at the back of the fridge a month.
You have a couple of rough years to ride out, then the little one goes to school and there's only picking up and dropping off to work into your routine. I had to shift my working day so I knock off at 2AM. It doesn't always work, but I can fit a lot into a very LONG day. It means I have no time for reading, but hey. I only have a few years left, and then I can write fiction all day if I like.
Remember to be nice to your clients (you will meet some doozies) be nice to your family (I've already gathered they are a cheer squad) and be nice to the worker/writer inside you. Do not over-do anything you ingest, including tea. Moderation will be your saviour always.
My heartiest good wishes.
That was really nice, Rosanne. And good advice. I appreciate you taking the time to share it. It is going to be a challenge. Fortunately, I like challenges. And I can write fast. Starting off years ago as a journalist, I never appreciated what a skill that was. If I'd never been a reporter, I don't think I'd be able to function with deadlines and stress. I get some kind of sick joy out of it now. 🙂
You're right, my family is incredibly supportive. And I have good friends like you looking out for me, too. That counts for a lot.
The pleasure is all mine. Forgive yourself one derailment a trimester!
LOL, will do. 🙂
JD, I guess the important thing is that you feel you have job … my writing is much closer to a hobby … much to my wife's annoyance.
That's what I love about writing. It can be anything. Can take up any amount of space in your life. And the choice is up to you. Well, as long as your wife doesn't get TOO annoyed. 🙂
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