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 Lainie Anderson. Lainie has been a weekly columnist with Adelaide’s Sunday Mail since 2007, and previously worked at the Herald Sun in Melbourne and The Times in London. In 2017 she travelled to nine countries on a Churchill Fellowship to gauge the significance of the pioneering 1919 flight from England to Australia and the Vickers Vimy aircraft now housed at Adelaide Airport. Lainie was South Australia’s Epic Flight Centenary 2019 program ambassador.
Using war diaries, letters and Churchill Fellowship research from along the race route, Lainie’s Long Flight Home recreates one of the most important – and largely forgotten – chapters in world aviation history.
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?
Freelance writing is my full-time job (well, normally it is, when everything hasn’t dried up because of COVID-19). Thursday has been my Sunday Mail column writing day for the past 13 years, but apart from that no two days are ever the same. More below!
How do you usually structure a writing day?
When I was writing Long Flight Home, I started every work day at 5am to give myself 2.5 solid hours of writing before the boys woke up for school. I find my brain is much sharper first thing than later in the day. I did that every day Mon–Fri for 13 months and really loved it. Some days (because of my Sunday Mail column, other freelance writing work or meetings) that was the only time I could commit to the book, so it was really important for continuity and my confidence as a first-time writer to just get out of bed and get words on the page. On days when I could devote myself to the book, I’d start at 5 am and generally finish by about 4 pm to answer emails or walk the dog, with a half-hour break for lunch. Whenever I’m writing my column (and when I was writing Long Flight Home) I avoid my phone, emails and social media. They are massive time wasters and really bad for concentration.
How do you keep yourself on task when you’re working from home?
I’ve worked from home for 12 years now, and my husband Max (currently an out-of-work travel writer due to COVID-19) has worked from home for 20 years, so we’re pretty used to getting the work done when it needs to be done. For me, fear of failure is a major driver.
I read a lot of articles and motivational pieces on “how to write a book” while I was researching Long Flight Home, and one of the best pieces of advice was to set yourself a small task each day, so you don’t feel swamped by the enormity of the entire writing project. For example, instead of procrastinating by doing the washing or some other “essential” household job that seems so much easier than sitting down at the computer, set yourself a goal of writing 250 words before doing the washing. More often than not, you race past 250 words and have many more words on the page before even realise it.
How do you take a break properly?
Max and I always have lunch together, and sit outside in the sun whenever possible, away from our computers. We thought we’d fight like cats and dogs when I started working from home, but we rarely argue (about writing stuff anyway!) He’s kind, funny and a brilliant writer, so I’m very lucky to have him as a writing buddy and mentor.
Do you have any favourite treats or things to have nearby to help you work?
I have a yellow water bottle that I bought at the Australian Open with my son Harry, and make sure that’s always full. I always have spearmint chewing gum on hand too – I find it’s great for concentration or when I’m feeling a bit drowsy after lunch. Black coffee in the morning. Peppermint tea in the afternoon. I have a little, round shiny pine cone that I rub for inspiration – for some reason it reminds me of my Dad (who died 11 years ago) and it makes me happy and uplifted.
What are your thoughts on getting dressed for work when your office is at home?
In theory I know it’s important to get dressed and maintain personal hygiene, but I reckon 70 per cent of Long Flight Home was written in my dressing gown. Some days the boys would come home from school and I’d still be in it. I know that’s bad, but it’s true. 🙂
What are your top tips for working from home? Alternatively, what has working from home taught you?
When I was just starting Long Flight Home I read a brilliant motivational Tweet that went along the lines of: “You can fix a bad page of words. You can’t fix a blank page of words.” I love that mantra – especially for historic fiction writing when you need to get all the facts clear in your head before you can write creatively around them. It reinforced the need to just get words/thoughts down and fix them later. I never actually had writer’s block the whole time I was writing Long Flight Home, and I have that motivational Tweet to thank.
Having said all that, though, my advice to others is to not beat yourself up if you’re having a crap day.
Sometimes, for your own mental health, you just need to turn off the computer and spend the day in the garden, or going for a walk to clear the cobwebs. Some days I’ll be trying to craft a column for the Sunday Mail and my head is like cotton wool – a half-hour walk with the dog to collect my thoughts can save hours of blankly staring at the computer screen.
What does your workspace look like, and where is it? Would you change anything about it?
My desk is a lovely second-hand wooden table in a room just off the kitchen. I have lots of family photos on the opposite wall and a big window looking out to the back garden. The room is also a bit of a thoroughfare through the house, which I love because I’m always in on any action. My desk is often a bit of a mess but I wouldn’t change a thing.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on my Sunday Mail column and a couple of websites. I’m trying to finish a website focusing on the South Australian Smith brothers and their pioneering flight from England to Australian in 1919 (also the topic of Long Flight Home). It’s hosted by the History Trust of South Australia and I was meant to finish it last year, but I didn’t get to write all the articles I had in mind because 2019 was the actual centenary and pretty hectic with activities and events. The other website is a support site for mining and fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) families, which I created with my friend Alicia Ranford 10 years ago. The past few years, following my Churchill Fellowship on the Smith brothers’ flight in 2017, have been really busy so it’s good to have some time to get back into it.
I had lots of Long Flight Home speaking events cancelled when COVID-19 hit, so I’m looking to getting back into that again, too.
My ultimate aim is to clear the decks of my to-do list, particularly with the epic flight centenary, to free up some brain space for inspiration for another book. I’d really love to find a topic that inspires me as much as Adelaide’s historic Vickers Vimy aircraft and that incredible first flight across the world (achieved by South Australians no less!)
Keep up to date with Lainie by following her on her (brand new) website and on Facebook. Read more about Long Flight Home over on our website.