Hazel McHaffie

working from home

Please do not disturb

People often ask how I manage to work from home, and what does my week look like? So a few hints and tips from the McHaffie DIY Manual on Writing by way of a change, this week.

Working from home
I guess it comes down to three things: discipline, persistence and obsession. My second names. One of my obsessions is that I need peace in order to write, mental peace as well as physical. So first I have to tidy up my mind as well as my environment.

This week that clearing process included finishing the book I was reading, Whatever you Love by Louise Doughty. A disappointing read, sadly. I rather enjoyed the author’s weekly column A Novel in a Year, so I had high hopes. And WYL began well. But it failed to live up to its early promise. Too slow paced and altogether too improbable. I can deal with not liking the main characters, but really! Would a newly bereaved mother deliberately entice the man who killed her little girl to her home to have sex with him? Would you marry a man who held you over a cliff edge to terrify you? No, it wasn’t for me.

Once that and all the other extraneous tasks are dealt with, I’m free mentally to get on with the creative writing.

I love working from home – not sitting in traffic, not being jostled by tired commuters, not having to brave the elements, not tiptoeing around moody colleagues. In fact, there’s only one downside I can think of: getting other people to respect my working hours. I’m too available.

What my week looks like
Every week is different. Depends on which bit of the work I’m preoccupied with.

If I’m dreaming up a plot I might be cleaning windows, or driving through the country, or whipping up a feast. All with notebook and pen at the ready, of course.

If I’m in full creative flow with a new book I’m locked in the study working all hours of the day and night, disengaged from real life. PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB; DISTURBED ALREADY the placard on my door.

This particular week has been dominated – day and night – by editing. Shorter sharper bursts of activity so that I’m not lulled by the narrative into missing those extraneous phrases and repetitive sounds. I have to be slightly detached from the characters for this phase but they still haunt me wherever I am.

Saving Sebastian is due out in July and my editor wants two changes. A shorter book, and less distinctive accents. Oh, and lose a few adverbs!

I have a number of supporting characters with regional or foreign accents in the story – Arthur (a florist’s delivery man), Aurora (a Nigerian grandmother), Desiree (a Glaswegian girl who’s having IVF) – and I’m trying to convey qualities about them by their speech patterns. It’s a fine judgement deciding how authentic to be in written form. Jennie felt in places their dialogue was holding up the flow, so I’ve been smoothing it out.

I’ve managed to lose about 10,000 words so far. Sobering thought, eh? Labouring over the creation of 10,000 words, only to take them all out again. It’s a crazy life! Oh, and in all this detailed scrutiny I’ve noticed that I use the word ‘just’ far too liberally, so I’ve been searching for each occurrence and stamping on it as often as possible. I wonder if I use it to excess in my everyday speech.

Most of the week, then, I’ve been closeted in the study, staring at the computer, going over and over the text, tightening it up. But I did sneak out for my eldest granddaughter’s birthday, and to visit elderly friends. I’m not a complete troglodyte. Although I must confess, it felt like truanting, and I worked most of Saturday to compensate. Like I said, obsession is my middle name.


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