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Cynthia Baxter | Confessions of a Mystery Novelist: The Truth about Working at Home

October 24, 2010

cynthia baxtercrossing the lion“You work at home? You must have so much self-discipline!”

Whenever I mention that I’m a writer and that I work at home, somebody in the crowd is amazed by my ability to be productive. A lot of people seem convinced that without a boss peering over the wall of their cubicle, they’d wile away the day shopping on-line, sneaking down to the kitchen, and tuning into Oprah.

While I’ve never missed a deadline, most people would probably be surprised if they ever turned into that proverbial fly on the wall and watched me work.

Even though I’ve never had a problem getting any of my books written on time, I’m hardly a nose-to-the-grindstone type. Whenever I’m sitting at my computer, I’m on alert for any distraction, any possible excuse to get up and do something else.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few tricks to help keep me in my chair. The main one is keeping all the things I could use as an excuse to wander around the house nearby. Hand lotion, a nail file, and lip balm are always just inches away, as are my cell phone and my landline. So are tissues, a glass of water, cough drops, my address book, and dental floss.

I also make lists. If I suddenly have a nearly overwhelming urge to hand-wash a sweater, instead of rushing to the bathroom sink to get the Woolite, I grab a pad of paper and a pen and write it down. Then, I can forget about it for the moment — and once I do unchain myself from my computer, I’ve got a list of things to do on my self-created lunch hour or coffee break.

People who marvel over anyone’s ability to get work at done from home don’t fully appreciate the value of fear. Writers have deadlines. Even if they can’t see an actual boss’s face looming ahead of them, there’s always that invisible calendar hovering overhead.

Even so, you’d be amazed by what suddenly seems irresistibly attractive. Putting the laundry into the washer, getting the mail, making a cup of coffee, putting the laundry into the dryer, making another cup of coffee, calling my husband to remind him of something or other, Googling the name of that boy I had a crush on in the seventh grade, folding the laundry . . . If you’re creative enough, there’s no end to the list of distractions you can come up with. I’ve often been tempted to wear a pedometer on my belt. All those trips to the kitchen, the mailbox, and the laundry room are no doubt adding years to my life.

Somehow, in betweenM all those distractions, the books get written.

Besides, I’d much rather be the one who’s in charge of making sure my work gets done. I’m one of those people who’s never been good at discipline that’s imposed from the outside. While I liked school, I found the idea of being forced to show up at the same place at the same time every single day oppressive. This was true even in the days when I wasn’t expected to do much more than cut a pumpkin out of orange construction paper or learn the words to “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”

When I grew up and started working in an office, my attitude got worse. I’d be fine the first day of work. But I’d wake up on Day Two thinking, “Wait a minute. They want me to do that all over again? But I just did it yesterday!”

Fortunately, I’ve always had a knack for writing, and by the time I was in my late 20’s I was able to abandon nine-to-five jobs to write fiction full-time. And the bottom line is that writing books — playing with words, thinking up plot twists, and watching my characters come alive — is more fun and more rewarding than anything else I do.

And that, in the end, is what keeps me drawing me back to my computer.


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