Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Why Working from Home Does Not Always Work

   I am not the world's most sociable person. I don't like going out for dinner. I don't do parties as a rule. And I get irritable when my house is full of people for more than a few days. So why is it that what seems to be the ideal job for me - working in solitude from home - is far from ideal?
   I moved to a small port city, population 17,000, in Massachusetts a few years ago. After living and working in London for the better part of 20 years, this meant that I was moving to an area where I knew no one, had no work colleagues and no family. My husband had secured a great job in a NH town 30 miles north, where he worked with one of his best friends and found an instant circle of like-minded colleagues.
   Luckily I had already established myself in freelance writing, so I reached out to colleagues and friends and Wall Street types and got contracts for several financial and technology publications, plus I got a lucrative PR gig with a large UK news agency. I worked from 6:30am until 4:30pm most days, with a one-hour gym break or walk mid-morning. The money was pretty good and it was satisfying to see that the more I wrote the more I got paid. I liked the big  house, two cars and clean air but I missed London, I missed my friends. Most of all I missed going to work, where there would be banter and ideas flying and talk of global events or travel or the financial markets.
   To help compensate I started a social group of local writers. As I write this we have about 40 members; usually 15-20 would show up to the "potluck" dinners that they all seemed to prefer (rather than meeting in restaurants). I made some friends. I learned a lot about writing and publishing books, something I had always yearned to try. But there was a major flaw. Few of the group had the vaguest notion of what I do for a living - which is writing about issues and trends in financial markets, energy and technology. I would go so far as to say they disliked hearing about it, especially if I mentioned places on the globe I have travelled or "faces" I have met in the course of my work.
   Then I discovered a fabulous writers' workshop in Boston and signed up for course after course, where I received encouragement and learned about writing a novel.  I finished my novel. And revised it. I met agents at a writers' conference who were encouraging. But I just couldn't drop my paying work to do the work necessary to polish it. Plus - gasp - I found it boring. Re-writing and revising the same 90,000 words over and over again versus writing a hard-punch article about high speed trading? Or a cleverly funny blog about self-learning algorithms? Or a straight-forward story about oil prices? The book lost.
   Gradually I realized that even the stories that I loved writing were getting harder and harder to write. I had no context. I was not going to conferences unless I paid for them. I didn't meet anyone in my line of work. Phone calls helped, but being out of the line of fire was really dulling my senses. I was working alone, in a quiet and sleepy little town. My cats were my only companions during the workday. They don't know much about finance.
   So when a job at my old alma mater McGraw-Hill was posted on Gorkana, I did not hesitate to apply. It offered a newsroom, a team, offices around the world, a topical subject matter. I got the job, and had to speed up my planned move to NYC. So with much organization and money spent I am on my way to New York on Sunday. I don't intend to work from home again for a very long time. Maybe when I retire.