A creative person working from home has a lot in common with a person living with chronic pain.
This was the (not altogether serious) conclusion I drew while interviewing psychologists for a story about chronic pain, many years ago. I noticed that their advice had a lot in common with the advice that writers and other at-home creatives regularly received. To wit: make a schedule, even if you have to invent it. Put on your clothing, every day. Leave the house at least once every twenty-four hours.
In general, the advice for both at-home creatives and chronic pain sufferers aimed to solve two major problems — lack of an imposed structure, and social isolation. Living with other people tends to help with both of these issues; living alone exacerbates them. (Anyone who’s ever gone to a writing conference has seen what happens to people who live entirely inside their own heads — there’s a marked tendency towards the unkempt look and the slightly feral personality.)
Personally, in the nearly two decades that I worked at home, I didn’t find either a lack of structure or social isolation to be much of a problem. I’m an organizational nerd — I like making to-do lists and plans; I don’t like watching television during the day. As far as the isolation went, doing journalism, and then travel writing, helped, since I had to be out among people regularly. I also lived with someone for most of my adult life, but when I didn’t, “working from home” often meant taking my laptop to a coffee house or the library.
Then jewelry making happened to me. When I started this business, I thought I could continue working at home, and keep my overhead low. While it’s certainly possible to make jewelry from home, it’s not the same proposition has pounding away on a keyboard. There were issues of ventilation while sawing and soldering; contamination, as I handled chemicals in the same kitchen sink where I prepared food; and feline mischief, which was both significant and worrisome. (You may not realize this, but nearly all tools and processes of jewelry making are both dangerous and hypnotically compelling to cats.)
I could have solved these problems, but I realized it would be easier to just find a bench space. And so, some three months ago, I rented some space from the lovely and talented Bernice Kelly, of Macha Jewelry.
Camaraderie. As a writer, I’d occasionally work in the same coffee house with other writers, but but it’s nice to be working on similar types of things with other humans. Also, Bernice is totally generous with advice and feedback, I’ve learned a lot from working near her.
Pretty clothing: I have a nice wardrobe and I get to wear it. (Probably I shouldn’t because I forget to put my apron on all the time, but that’s a different story.)
Clear end points. My biggest problem has always been stopping work, not starting. Once I get going on a project, I want to finish, period. At home, this would lead to less-than-good social behaviors — not showering until darkness fell, forgetting to eat, etc. The reality is that work done in a state of frazzle often has to be redone. At the studio, it’s more clear to me that work needs to end, and I need to go home.
Home is home. When I get home, I’m really off-duty. I’m also not restless and desperate to get out of the house at the same moment my partner is returning home from his day.
Henry, Jack and Daisy are safe(r). The cats are now deeply occupied in finding other ways to cause trouble.
What’s Not as Good
The commute. Oh my God, do people really do this every working day of their lives? Granted, my commute is especially annoying, because Greenpoint is difficult to access for anyone who isn’t on the G train line. (Which I didn’t even know existed until I got this studio.) I have to take two subways, which don’t actually connect to one another, meaning I have to exit the system, walk for a bit, and then swipe my Metro Card again.
I have to admit, I was a real baby about all this at first. But I got an unlimited Metro Card to handle the double-swipe problem, and, to my surprise, I eventually found that “commute time” is just another word for “reading time” or “thinking time,” or “writing time.” (I actually drafted this on a the subway.) I also always stop for a cup of coffee as soon as I get off the subway, which is the incentive I look forward to on the days when the G train is slow as dirt and subway people are coughing all over me.
Overhead. The bench space rent is really reasonable, and I have access to professional equipment that would cost me beaucoup bucks to purchase for myself. But it’s more expensive than nothing.
What’s Stayed the Same:
Daily clean up. I have a shared space, so I have to put all my shit away at the end of the day. But this is also something I needed to do while working in the living room.
Focus. I’m very focused when I’m at the studio, but I was always pretty focused on my work at home too. Perhaps I’m slightly more focused at the studio, because I have to think about what I need to get done before I leave and can’t easily run back to the studio if I forget something.
The Bottom Line: I’m cheating with this analysis a little, because I still do writing work, and I still do that from home, or from a coffee house. As a writer, I can’t imagine that I’d ever want to pay for office space when coffee houses exist. But insofar as the jewelry making goes, or some other endeavor that requires more than a laptop and an electrical outlet, I think the benefits of not working at home outweigh the downsides.
Even today, when it’s less than 20 degrees outside.