Welcome to the week, and to a new blog series here at Wakefield Press! Introducing How to Work From Home: Authors talk about how they stay productive.
Like many others, we’ve recently begun the transition from office work to working from home. It’s a strange transition to make, and we need some help. We’ve interviewed a collection of our favourite authors to get their best tips, tricks and truths about working from home.
Next in the series is Annette Marner, is an award-winning poet, novelist, fine art nature photographer and ABC radio broadcaster from South Australia’s Southern Flinders Ranges. In 2018, she won the Arts South Australia Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature for A New Name for the Colour Blue. Her first book, Women with Their Faces on Fire, won the Unpublished Manuscript Award for Poetry for Friendly Street/Wakefield Press and was on the reading list at Flinders University.
Annette is also an established fine art nature photographer, and has had her work featured in group and solo exhibitions, as well as having her images published internationally.
Is writing your full-time job, or do you have another job to keep you busy? If you have more than one job, what’s the split between that job and writing?
I work full time on my creative projects which are writing, fine art nature photography (I sell fine art prints to clients around Australia), and more recently I’ve resumed my freelance teaching of ‘how to speak with confidence’ workshops for groups and individuals. All three of these creative areas overlap for me. What I discover in one area enlightens and enlivens another.
How do you usually structure a writing day?
I start after a breakfast of oats, fresh fruits, freshly ground linseed and organic yoghurt (I mention this because it’s so important to start the day with a nutritional breakfast). During my morning work session, I will go to the kitchen for a glass of water 2–3 times. Not having water on my desk means I have to get up and move. Sometimes, I set alarms on my phone to remind me. I work until 1 pm. I stop then for an hour and have a healthy lunch, usually vegetables and fish. I do not eat my lunch at my desk. In this hour, I go outside and play with my dog, do some stretches, and try to have a rest from thinking.
I start again at 2 pm at my desk. I might have another break for 20 minutes at around 4 o’clock to play with the dog or have an afternoon decaf coffee. Also, in this afternoon work session, I’ll make 3–4 more trips to the kitchen for water. Getting up from my desk often clarifies my thinking and helps with creativity and problem solving. I work until 6 pm. On days where I have scheduled 30 minutes on the exercise bike, I stop work at 5.30 pm.
A break from writing is most commonly a walk with the camera and a notebook photographing and studying wildlife which is still part of my creative work, but it is a change from sitting at my desk. This is usually late afternoon or before breakfast when the light is at its best for wildlife photography.
How do you keep yourself on task when you’re working from home?
The creative process has always been as necessary for me as breathing –– so it has never a question about keeping myself on task. The challenge is recognising when it’s time to stop to eat, to rest, to prepare healthy meals, and to exercise. I’ve found it helps me to schedule these tasks in my diary and even set alarms on my phone rather than thinking they will just happen naturally, because then they usually don’t happen or they are poor in quality.
How do you take a break properly?
My breaks are made up of a chat on the phone with friends or colleagues. Playing the guitar and singing are really relaxing for me especially after work. Sometimes, I just play. Sometimes I sing and play. A five minute work out lifting weights during the day is also a really good break. I have always had hand weights by my desk.
I like some of my favourite books to be on my desk that are in the same field that I am working on at the time. They set a standard of excellence, and remind me of the commitment it takes to excel. I rarely have a drink or snacks on my desk. I prefer to walk to the kitchen each time I want anything. It prevents me from sitting for too long without moving.
What are your thoughts on getting dressed for work when your office is at home?
I think experiment to find what works. I have discovered that if I formalise my approach too much, i.e. do make-up, and dress up as if I were going to my former workplace which was ABC Radio, the creative play I need for my writing of fiction or poetry doesn’t seem to happen. But if I have a webinar, or on line conference etc, I will dress up because I am going into a workplace with other people. So I approach each day differently depending on what I’m doing. Also, being at home with my dog means I need clothes where I can comfortably sit on the floor or play outside with her. If the creative writing is flowing, and that is always very exciting when it happens, I don’t care about what I’m wearing.
What are your top tips for working from home? Alternatively, what has working from home taught you?
It’s worth planning a beautiful and efficient space to work on, even if it is just a table or part of the kitchen or dining table during certain hours of the day. I have key components for my writing space which I think are beautiful as well as being very useful: a fold-up laptop stand, my black and white wooden block calendar, my desk clock, and my desk lamp that is shaped like an egret.
Also, I have a crystal in my window to break open the sunlight and colour my workspace with rainbows. As they flow across the room, they remind me that as a writer and photographer, I am always working with light.
And for efficiency, next to my desk, I have a silver case, which is actually a tradie’s toolbox I bought from a hardware store. The case came foam-lined with compartments that I use to hold all the stationery I might need – paper clips, scissors, eraser, stapler, spare pens and pencils, envelopes, stamps, and external hard drives, chargers etc. It means I have everything right next to me. And it’s all portable if I want to work somewhere else.
I like my workspace to be beautiful and ordered. In the midst of a major project, it can be organised chaos, but upon completion, the order and beauty must be restored. Every Friday afternoon, for example, I take everything off my desk and clean my laptop screen, my keyboard, lamp etc. I vacuum the floor around my desk every second day (necessary because of long-haired dog). I have learned that the most important job for me working from home is to build a routine that supports my health and my work.
Where is your workspace? Would you change anything about it?
It is most commonly a desk, but sometimes it is the dining table. I spent quite a while planning what I need on my desk so I love it.
What are you working on at the moment?
Promoting my love song to the Australian landscape which is my newly-released novel A New Name for the Colour Blue; working on a series of short-stories set in South Australia; a second poetry book; adding more photographs to my fine art Australian wildlife collection for a major exhibition later this year at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts.