A Matter of Single-Mindedness

Posted on 1st February, 2019

Going back a few years, I worked in a place where the offices were in different buildings - an arrangement called “hen and chickens” - a large building in the middle with smaller ones around it. I worked in one of the “chickens” and four days out of five, I was first to arrive. Each day I popped into the “hen” to pick up our post, then unlocked our building and, having taken the key from the key-safe, unlocked the secretary’s office to put the post on her desk.


I switched on the water-boiler in the staffroom, so others would arrive to a hot drink. After that, I turned on the computers in the main suite, including logging into all of them and opening the appropriate programs. Only then did I go down the corridor to my own room.


That happened four days a week. On the fifth day, a colleague – let’s call her Maggie – arrived first. I would arrive about twenty minutes later…. to find the post hadn’t been collected, the hot water hadn’t been switched on and the computers hadn’t been touched. Even the lights were off. Maggie had simply marched straight to her room without even switching on the light in the corridor.


I’ll be honest – I resented it. But then I pictured how she was immediately getting started on her work and decided to give her technique a go. But on the one occasion I swept inside and headed straight for my room, I felt so guilty when the next person arrived and started setting things up, that I never did it again.


Yes, Maggie’s behaviour annoyed me – but d’you know something? I admired it too. Imagine being single-minded enough to ignore the “polite” need to do the setting up for everyone else.


Maggie has flitted across my mind a few times in recent months. When I was made redundant from my day job last summer, I took the plunge and became a full-time writer. Should I now adopt Maggie’s attitude to work? Is this a good way to be, if you are a writer – or indeed anyone else who is self-employed?


It worked well in November when I used NaNoWriMo to plough my way towards the end of a book. My attitude then was “Tell me if the house is on fire but otherwise leave me alone,” and, with the cooperation of the rest of the household, this worked. It worked to the tune of 66,000 words.


But... I couldn’t be like that all the time. It isn’t me. And it would be unpleasant for the rest of the household.


But... should it be me? This is now my job. Should I adopt a tougher attitude?


The way I have got round this, is by regularly “going out to work”, ie by taking my writing elsewhere... leaving behind my redecorated, re-carpeted and freshly curtained office, complete with the pretty, Edwardian desk that was a present from my husband and the view of Mount Snowdon in the distance.


Thoughts, anyone?



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Comments (10)

This was an interesting post and got me thinking, Sue. I often wonder if I'd gone straight from working full time to writing would I be more focused. You are certainly getting the 'job' done with your fabulous books. I could never see you as a Maggie. Writing is your job now but you'd never ignore those around you. Taking your writing elsewhere is definitely working for you and you can always go back to that wonderful office if deadlines are not looming. :-)
Hmm, very interesting blog post, Susanna (loving the hen and chickens building layout)!

I am definitely more you than Maggie, but I can see that being Maggie can have its uses. I have gradually improved my work ethic with writing. I've spent so many years dismissing it, when people ask what I do. It's just a hobby, I would say. I couldn't seem to get into a routine, being self employed and at home - my own boss! Which is so odd, because I am an incredibly conscientious employee when working for someone else, always trying to put in more than I need to, be it time or effort.

Last year, I made a promise to myself (and my husband, who was getting gently frustrated with my calling my writing a hobby) and tried harder to treat it like a job (thank you, Kirsten Hesketh, for giving me the push on Twitter!) and it worked. By the end of the summer, there was a publishing deal on the table!

This year, I've been much more focused, head down, treating Mon-Fri like any of my old jobs - working. I'm still not Maggie. I can't ignore what's going on around me. I can't sit down to write in the morning until I've tidied the kitchen (usually from the previous night's excesses), or answered any urgent emails from family or friends BUT I'm getting there.
Such an interesting post, Susanna. Because I got used to fitting my writing in round many other things (and still write around family life), I've 'trained' myself to be focused and work at my desk without being distracted by other things. That being said, I often work more steadily elsewhere, particularly when writing a first draft. The problem with 'going out' to a cafe or elsewhere to work, however, is that I live in a small town and friends and neighbours would spot me and stop to chat!

And by the way, I agree with Jane Cable. In my view, 'Maggie' wasn't so much 'single-minded' as not a 'team player!' I've worked with people like Maggie too. xx
Hi, Kirsten and Jane.

Thanks for your comments. Yep, going out is definitely a way of getting stuck into the writing. I find that I can be hugely productive.
I know exactly how you feel. But by doing the polite thing every time people come to expect it. I find going out to a fafe is sometimes the only way.
When I'm on a deadline, I can be very Maggie and don't even 'see' the mess and the housekeeping that would make things easier for me and for everyone else. When I'm not on a deadline, I can procrastinate for Britain and faff around making everything organised. I am starting to write two days a week outside the home in a favourite café and I love it …. Great post xxx
I know what you mean about OHs who don't quite appreciate the necessity of fixed working hours, Jane!
I became self employed long before I became a writer so to a certain extent I'm used to it. My technique in the early years was to carve my working day into manageable chunks (for me, that was three of two and a half hours each) and work for the allotted time. If I wanted an early finish then I'd make an early start. If I wanted to make the coffee first (as it were) then I would. Not quite so easy is communicating this to my OH now we're both at home all day!

By the way, I think 'Maggie' was selfish. Being single-minded shouldn't rule out being a team player.
One thing I am generally good at is not being distracted by online things; and I am also good at being organised... so that should make me more like Maggie, shouldn't it?! The various parts of your website are always up to date, with fresh material, so you certainly seem well-organised to me, Tara. Thanks for commenting.
Such an interesting post. I’d love to be more Maggie but writing is not my job and other things definitely get in the way. Like you, I feel like I can devote November to it (every other year) but otherwise creative writing comes after everything else (and some of that is my fault for not being organised or getting distracted by YouTube).