While a few close friends have known about this, I held off from saying anything to a wider audience until her family had a chance to notify everyone they wanted to contact. With that accomplished, I can now share that my sister, Terri Bridges, passed away unexpectedly last week.
I’ve spent most of the time since that awful morning phone call from her husband, Scott, in a bit of a mental whirlwind. My first thoughts are of course for him and their daughter, Lindsey, an amazing young woman who’s just completed her sophomore year at college. They are a tremendously close family and knowing how devastating this is for them has helped me keep my own feelings in check. There are also all of Terri’s extended family members and friends, for whom this likewise is an enormous shock. My thoughts are with them, as well.
Unlike me, Terri chose to stay closer to home in Tampa after graduating high school. This ended up working out to her supreme benefit, as after a few tumultuous years she eventually crossed paths with Scott and her whole life changed for the better. To say he was a positive influence on her is a criminal understatement. He brought out the best aspects of her in so many ways — far more than I can easily articulate here — and I’d like to think she helped him open up and enjoy life a bit more than he might otherwise have done. Then Lindsey came along and the deal was sealed. This trio is a wonderful extension of both the Ward and Bridges clans. Later, Terri went back to school, got her degree, and took additional classes to learn things for the sheer fun of it. She took up cooking as something of a hobby-slash-obsession, and she even told me she planned to test all the recipes from the Jurassic World cookbook I helped write last year.
Though I’d had a falling out with our father — a rift which only widened and worsened after our mother’s passing — Terri and I always had a solid relationship, and the older we both got the stronger that relationship became. When Michi and I had our kids, I’d call Terri for advice about this or that, and we’d end up chatting about silly things for a while. Our talks increased after our mother died, and again when our father passed. Still, we didn’t talk as much as we could have, and we definitely didn’t see as much of one another as we both wanted. The biggest obstacle always seemed to be the distance between us and the time needed for a trip we all could enjoy. After our mother passed, our families took a Disney cruise later that year, and we decided we wanted to do things of that sort again as time and other factors allowed.
That will always be my greatest regret. We would talk and make tentative plans about getting together, but something always got in the way as can happen when you have kids and things to do during the summer, or work and deadlines loomed, or the money you thought was allotted for that vacation was needed to take care of something around the house, or any of a hundred other things which at the time at least seemed important. Sooner or later, we’d get to it, right?
It’s simply not fair that someone as bright and happy as my sister left us far too soon. On the other hand, I know she missed our mother terribly and believed they’d one day be reunited. I’m not at all religious or spiritual, myself, but for their sakes I’d be okay if this was a real thing that happened.
I suppose it depends on where you land with various things. We celebrated successes, our own as well as those close to us. We enjoyed the company and love of family and friends. We endured heartache. We mourned.
Elsewhere, it seems people are starting to wake up to the fact that elections have consequences. We were warned, of course, but we wouldn’t pay attention. We were told to look three and four moves down the board and consider pesky things like Supreme Court nominees and gerrymandering and voting rights and women’s rights and civil rights. People seemed to wake up a little in response to some of the more egregious moves. Better late than never, I guess.
I try not to get too political in this space, but suffice it to say the midterms gave me only slight cause for hope as we – slowly – take steps to mitigate the damage that’s already been done. Here I am, with my fingers crossed that it’s a small but growing trend away from the insanity of the last several years and the utter chaos that certain segments of our elected leadership seem all to happy not just to egg on but indeed instigate or assist.
NOTE: If you’re reading this and taking issue with those previous paragraphs, I understand and respect it but I have absolutely no interest in discussing or debating it with you. I also respect that you might feel the desire or need to find the exit ramp from this little banal corner of the internet, and if that’s the case then I wish you well.
So, things have been eventful here at stately Ward Manor in recent days.
On the writing front, was it only a few short weeks ago that I finished revisions to my latest novel manuscript before getting on a plane to the Star Trek Mission Chicago convention? For the first time, I was attending a show not as a guest or exhibitor, but as part of Paramount Global’s franchise team. Basically, the same people for whom I perform the various duties that make up my rather eclectic consulting portfolio. In this capacity, I was an extra pair of hands and feet, helping out with various setup and teardown tasks before and after the show, and whatever else needed doing where I could help. Despite being there “for work,” I still managed to squeeze in participating on a discussion panel and conducted three book signings. I also got to reconnect with many familiar faces I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic started, put faces to names previously seen only in the virtual realm, and make a bunch of new friends. It was a fun show all around, and I’m glad I was able to pitch in and contribute in some small way to the show’s success.
“What does this have to do with the post title, Dayton?” I can hear someone asking. Patience, grasshopper. I have to work up to it.
Yes, it has indeed been mighty quiet around these parts for quite some time. I promise it has nothing to do with anything bad, but rather just my being busy on various fronts. My consulting work comes in fits and starts, with tasks arriving from multiple sources and often with competing deadlines or at least competing time frames in which action is required. It’s nothing that isn’t manageable, at least in and of itself. However, couple that with a major writing project with which I must admit I struggled in a way I haven’t experienced in a rather long time, and the time crunch starts to assert itself.
Then there were the usual sorts of other tasks demanding attention such as my regular volunteering stints at the museum plus some fun things like a school trip for our oldest child to Florida. Their orchestra, band, and choir were afforded a tremendous opportunity to participate in a workshop with musicians from Disney down at Disney Studios, and the school built a pretty fun mini-vacation into the mix. We spent four full days at the Magic Kingdom, Disney Studios, and Universal Studios taking in all the attractions and other fun, and yes, I even snuck away when the Starship Enterprise wasn’t looking in order to visit space vessels from another galaxy. You know….the one far, far away.
With the weather warming up, that means more time spent outside, either working in the yard or tending to other things around the house, or enjoying extended walks around the lakes in our neighborhood. It also means convention season, with the first of those coming up later this week when I venture northward for Star Trek: Mission Chicago. I’m actually leaving for that event later today, and it promises to be a busy next several days. Later this month, Kevin and I will be guests at Planet Comicon here in KC, and a few weeks after that we’ll be on our way to Denver for what has only been recently announced as the final Starfest Convention. After missing in-person conventions for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m truly going to miss our annual pilgrimage to Colorado. We’ve been attending that show as guests since 2003 and have made so many friends with whom we enjoy reconnecting each year. This will be a tough one, especially when considering friends who’ve left us during the past two years, but we’re bound and determined to have a blow-out party for the ages as we gather one last time.
So far as summer conventions go, Shore Leave is of course a big one. As it did with Starfest, the pandemic kept me from traveling to Baltimore to hang out with friends and colleagues I might only see at this show, and there also will be some folks whose absences will be keenly felt. Perhaps for that reason above so many others, I’m grateful to reconnect with my East Coast extended fam and enjoy each other’s company while remembering absent friends.
Summer also brings with it the summer swim league for our neighborhood kids, and our youngest is still keen to participate. That means lots of practices during the league’s six-week season and six (hopefully not too hot) Wednesday evenings when we get to hang out with neighborhood friends. There’s also the museum, at which I’m still regularly volunteering, and hopefully a family vacation somewhere in the midst of all that…even better if it ends up being with my sister and her family, which is the current plan we’re hatching.
And yes, I plan to get back to littering this space with my usual brand of…well, whatever it we want to call what I do here. Writing and book release announcements and related musings, of course, but I also have a few ideas for the “Tuesday Trekkin'” and “Tied Up With Tie-Ins” recurring features, and a few other ideas percolating. If there’s something you’d like to me to spend a bit of time babbling about, drop your suggestions in the comments.
Work and other demands have taken their toll these past several weeks. What I can say is I’m nearing the end of this rather lengthy period of “Quiet Time” in blog land, but there’s still one stretch of days left to navigate. Once that’s done and things return to something resembling “normal,” I’ll get back to posting my irregular yet still-somewhat frequent blatherings about writing, pop culture, and other nonsense that takes up far too much space in my brain.
Until then, though?
I mean, that’s basically what I’ve been doing most of this time, along with the aforementioned work and other things. I probably should’ve said something before now, but I figured my absence — perhaps noted by one or maybe even two of you — was enough to convey that I was probably off somewhere doing other things. However, it occurs to me that it’s actually only part of the deal, because no sooner do I finish the Writing Project-In Progress than I plan to disengage from the electronic realm for a bit, at least to a very large degree. The primary exception for this will be checking in on various members of my family to see where they may have strayed while I’ve been occupied. And maybe binge some backlogged TV.
So, be good to each other while I’m gone. Be good to each other the other times, too.
UPDATE: I realize now my original post makes it sound like my situation is dire or otherwise unpleasant. Rest assured that’s not the case, and I apologize if anyone came away with that impression. I promise my absence from here is simply do to other, greater work priorities, to be followed by a brief reprieve spent with the family. I expect I’ll be back here with something by next weekend or so, if not a bit earlier…unless something pops up that simply demands I blab about it.
Yeah. Twenty years in the rearview mirror, just like that.
It was on this date in 2002 that my first novel was “officially” published. As it happens, it was a Star Trek novel, In the Name of Honor, and as is often the case with mass-market paperbacks, it had been showing up in stores in the days running up to its scheduled release date. Today, however, is the day I circled on the calendar way back when.
Little did I know what might come next.
Those of you familiar with my secret origin story know that this first novel came about after I sold short stories to each of the first three Star Trek: Strange New Worldsanthologies. I still recall the afternoon that John Ordover, at the time the editor overseeing the bulk of Pocket Books’ Star Trek fiction output, called me at my office in the fall of 1999 to tell me that he was buying my story “The Aliens Are Coming!” for the third edition of the annual contest and its resulting anthology. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something along the lines of, “Okay, I’m buying your story. This is your third sale, so you can’t enter the contest anymore. I think it’s time you wrote a Star Trek novel for me.” The rest…as they say…is a frappin’ mystery.
(Takeaway: All of this is John’s fault.)
Is it a stretch to say that phone call changed the course of my life? I don’t think so. Until then, I was rather happy with my career as a software developer. Writing fiction was something I’d taken to doing as a creative outlet, with no real thoughts – serious or otherwise – about ever being professionally published. That was something “real writers” did. I was just writing goofy stories to make my friends laugh, or the occasional bit of Star Trek fan fiction just because it was fun. Only after a dear friend, Deb Simpson, basically dared me to enter a story in that first SNW contest did I ever write something with the idea someone might consider buying it, and I was as stunned as anyone else when my name was announced as one of that first contest’s winners.
At the time I considered it a fluke, but there was no denying the utter rush of seeing my name in a table of contents in an actual book you bought at an actual bookstore. There’s nothing quite like it, I think; that sense of accomplishment, indelibly recorded for all the world to see. Even then, In the Name of Honor was different. This was the first time my name was on the front cover, and that was its own level of “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” Holy hell. How did this happen?
(Again, blame John.)
They should find a way to capture that sensation so you can drink or smoke it, because it’s an incredible feeling and even after all this time the experience is the same every time I get my first look at a new cover with my name on it. If that excitement ever fades, I’ll know it’s time to get out of this game and go do something else.
Since then, I’ve been afforded some amazing opportunities – things I can’t imagine ever doing if not for those SNW contests and this first novel. For one thing, I met the dude who would become my frequent writing partner to say nothing of my best friend, Kevin Dilmore, but I’ve also befriended so many other people – writers, fans and fellow Star Trek enthusiasts, people involved with the various Star Trek television series and films (and a few non-Trek productions, as well), and even a couple of honest-to-goodness astronauts.
Over the years, I’ve written and published original fiction, and even had the chance to write stories in other favorite “universes” like 24, Planet of the Apes, and Predator, but Star Trek has been and continues to be very, very good to me. Without a doubt, Star Trek opened all of those other doors but if you’d told me back in 2002 I’d still be writing and publishing anything – let alone Star Trek stories – twenty years later, I’d have thought you were high. If you told me back then I might eventually find myself in a position where Star Trek pretty much dominates my every waking and working moment, I’d have asked for your dealer’s contact info.
But, here we are. It’s been a long road, all right, but I’m honestly having the time of my life.
Every day, I’m privileged to work with talented and dedicated people who love this thing as much as I do and who want to do right by it. Any list of people to thank is pretty damned long at this point and I know I’d accidentally leave off someone, but I’d like to think they know who they are. They have – each and every one of them – elevated my game, and I can only hope I’ve somehow found a way to return that favor at some point along the way.
With that said, the opportunities and success I’ve enjoyed these past twenty years all track back to In the Name of Honor and – even more so – that first Strange New Worlds contest. For that, I am and will forever remain grateful to John Ordover along with writer and SNW editor Dean Wesley Smith and Paula Block for making it all possible in the first place.
Here’s to the next twenty years, or however many the Fates decide I have in me.
2021: Because apparently there was just too much 2020 to stuff into a single year.
It’s a year later than the last time I did this sort of post, and where are we? COVID is still a thing, albeit in something resembling an “evolved fashion.” Just like 2020 and despite the protestations of YouTube and TikTok mouth holes everywhere, I did what I’ve always done when it comes to health stuff: Trusted the advice of people who actually went to school to learn about this shit, and did what they suggested I do. Because that’s really all there was to it. It appears we may all well be turning a corner, even though many challenges remain (Did someone say, “Omicron?”). I guess we’ll have to see what the new year brings on multiple fronts. Here’s hoping.
On the home front, we’ve done our bit to keep on keeping on. Our daughters, now in 9th and 8th grades, were able to return to in-person learning at their respective schools. It occurs to me that these next few months mark the last time they will be on different school schedules, as they’ll both be at the same high school starting in the fall. How all of that time flew past remains a mystery. Our oldest daughter continues to pursue her interest in music. She’s playing or learning to play three different instruments: viola, piano, and guitar, and she plays the former for her school orchestra. She’s also got a thing for arts and crafts, namely painting and pottery, and she reads a lot. I mean a lot.
Meanwhile, our younger daughter continues to play volleyball, both for her school team as well as a private club out in town. She’s also into her own hobbies like puzzles and reading. Indeed, we got her a lavishly illustrated, leatherbound edition of The Princess Bride as a Christmas present. Oh, and a new laptop. Both girls continue to make the principal’s honor roll at school, so all is well on that front.
My wife is enjoying a bit of a well-earned work sabbatical. Taking advantage of this time, she’s picked up her own violin and resumed playing (she originally went to college on a music scholarship, you know) and is even attending lessons with our viola-playing daughter. She’s also taking guitar lessons. I get to listen to her and our daughter playing upstairs, which is kinda neat, I must say.
Then there’s me.
One personal item I haven’t mentioned – either at the time or since then – is that it’s coming up on a year since my father passed away. Outside of immediate family, it was news I shared only with a very small, very close circle of people (if you counted on one hand you’d have fingers left over). I didn’t have a lot to offer about it at the time and still don’t. To say that my relationship with him was “strained” — especially the last 15 years or so — is a pretty big understatement. His passing brought forth a lot of unresolved anger I’d been holding in for a long time, and while I think I’ve let most of it go I can’t deny there’s still a bit of it lurking around the fringes. I know there’s nothing to be done about it now, but I’m still working to a point where I can shove whatever’s left into a box and be done with it. There’s also the regrets about lost or wasted time, but choices were made, and so on.
In happier news, 2021 saw me continuing in my role as a consultant to ViacomCBS Global Franchise Management, and that arrangement has been renewed for 2022. What does this mean? Basically, I consult on various projects such as novels, comics, games, and other initiatives that help expand “the Star Trek brand” beyond just TV and film. To that end, I read a lot of proposals, outlines, scripts, manuscripts, and whatever else they want me to review and comment on so far as making sure everything stays consistent with what’s been established on screen. This primarily means efforts based on the newer Star Trek series, and we’ve had a bunch of those made available for your viewing pleasure since 2017.
It should surprise no one that this train is definitely continuing to roll. New seasons of existing shows in development? Yep. New series on the drawing board? Ayup. Other things here and there? You just never know. There’s also no shortage of material tying into the classic/”legacy” series, and I get pulled into some of that action, too. So, yeah….they’re finding all sorts of ways to keep me busy, which is good because there are standing orders that I’m not to be left unsupervised for any great length of time.
On the writing front, most of the buzz around my 2021 output has circled around the Star Trek: Coda trilogy, the project on which I worked with friends and fellow wordsmiths James Swallow and David Mack. The culmination of two years’ worth of on-again/off-again brainstorming, plotting, planning, and writing is now out there in the wild, bringing down the curtain on 20 years’ worth of storytelling and interconnected continuity spanning dozens of tales across multiple Star Trek series. It was a tremendous undertaking unlike anything I’ve ever attempted since starting this odd writing journey of mine. How we carried it off is ultimately up to each individual reader to decide, but — at least according to some of the email I received — anyone who thinks we didn’t take the job seriously or (worse) we approached it callously, cynically, or disdainfully is simply mistaken.
Elsewhere in the Star Trek universe, I was privileged once again to join a very talented team of writers for the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide, a comprehensive sourcebook for the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game.
Under the guidance of the game’s project manager, Jim Johnson, I got to work alongside friends and fellow writers Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and Scott Pearson as we put together a pretty fat portion of the book’s contents. This does not even include the material provided by other writers including Patrick Goodman, Rich Handley, John Kennedy, Ian Lemke, Fred Love, and Aaron Pollyea, to say nothing of the game designers, artists, and other creators Modiphius brought to the table. It is by far the most work for a single project on which I’ve worked for the game. I have no idea what the future holds for me and Star Trek Adventures, but I’ve learned to never say, “Never,” when it comes to this kind of thing.
Outside the Star Trek realm, Kevin and I got back together to write a few short stories. One of those, “Protocol 23,” was published in 2021 as just one of the tales comprising Thrilling Adventure Yarns 2021. Edited by Bob Greenberger and published by the band at Crazy 8 Press, it was a bit of a departures from the usual sorts of things Kevin and I write together. What can I say…we made ourselves laugh, and it’s always a treat to work with Bob for any reason. I don’t know if we’ll dip our toes into a pond quite like that again, but I think the premise we came up with for this story lends itself to additional tales. I guess we’ll see.
We wrote two other stories during 2021, both for anthologies which will be out sometime in the coming year. The first is for The Four ???? of the Apocalypse, edited by Keith R.A. DeCandido and Wrenn Sims through their small-press publishing house, Whysper Wude. A publication date hasn’t yet been set, but I’m sure Keith and Wrenn will let us know in due course.
The other story is another departure for us: a space western! It’s for a publisher with whom we haven’t previously worked, and for an editor who’s a friend but this is their first time inviting us to a project they’re shepherding. We had a lot of fun with it and it’s another concept we think lends itself to additional stories. Whether that happens depends on time, availability, and other factors, but we’re certainly keen to revisit the premise if the planets align.
Which brings us to 2022’s writing! Kevin and I are planning a pitch or two for anthologies we know will be opening to submissions in the near future. We’re also still yakking about things like revisiting the aforementioned space western setting as well as the Vogue Theater we created for our 2020 story “Helluloid” for the anthology It Came from the Multiplex from Hex Publishers. We’ll see how things shake out.
Elsewhere, the coming year will see publication of Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook from Insight Editions. This was another step outside my normal wheelhouse, but my editors at Insight were confident I could pull it off. I had a lot of fun with this one, especially working with food stylist Elena Craig, who created 50 recipes that evoke the fictional island of Isla Nublar and the cuisine of the equally fictitious Jurassic World resort and indeed the very real Costa Rica region where the island is supposedly located. That will be out in April.
Meanwhile, I’m toiling away on a new (as yet unannounced) project, with a due date in late February. I’m also considering what might be next after that and I have a few ideas I’d like to pursue. Of course, if someone comes knocking with another job offer, that’ll change my priorities, so I guess we’ll just have to see what we see.
A global pandemic. Lockdowns. Kids sent home to learn via “online instruction.” Political ineptitude and insanity, and that was just March, for fuck’s sake. If I have any takeaway from the madness that was (and still is) the COVID-19 situation, it’s that — much like professed political and other ideological leanings and the actions one is willing to take in support or defiance of same — it revealed to me glimpses if not full-on displays of the true character of a whole lotta people, for better or worse. However, after months and months of seemingly unending bad news coming from every conceivable direction, it appears we may well be turning a corner, even though many challenges remain (Did someone say, “New strain?”). I guess we’ll have to see what the new year brings on multiple fronts. Here’s hoping.
The new normal is that those of us fortunate enough not to be furloughed or laid off during the current insanity communicate with our co-workers using email, texting, Skype, and…of course, Zoom.
Indeed, more and more of us are diving into the app and using it as a sort of virtual conference room, despite stories of hackers and other ne’er do wells crashing such environments for their own amusement as well as the numerous warnings that Zoom’s security features are about as helpful as a fishnet condom. Some of the warnings are legit and – at least as they’re telling it – the folks behind Zoom are doing their best to address and improve the various security concerns.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are just Zooming away, thrilled with the ability to project a professional image from the waist up while everything below the camera level is an unfiltered party zone filled with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze!
Okay, so maybe that sort of thing isn’t happening with everyone. Your mileage may vary.
In and around all of this, I’ve been having a bit of fun with one of Zoom’s personalization features, the “virtual background.” Rather than broadcast a video feed of me sitting at my desk with my whiteboard on the wall behind me – which may or not contain various sensitive scribblings about projects in progress and so on and so forth – I can just insert myself into any real or imagined place in the universe. I hinted a bit about this the other day in a piece I wrote about working from home, but since then? Yeah, it’s gotten worse.
I mean, sure. At first it was the usual sort of thing you’d probably expect from me:
And why have just any starfield as a backdrop when you can have one from the animated Star Trek series?
NOTE: Click any of these to biggie size, by the way.
From there, I started playing. It was innocent enough, at first going from the Best Care Anywhere…
…to a place where there’s no air anywhere.
But before I knew it I was offering fellow Zoomers sneak peeks into other, heretofore unseen areas of stately Ward Manor….
Then I decided a virtual background deserved a window into an actual…you know…virtual world. So, I took the red pill and freed my mind.
That was before I decided I needed something a little more retro, which led me to my current favorite. It’s one that should be immediately recognizable to anyone with at least one foot standing deep in 1980s nostalgia:
Of course, no sooner did I sit down to write this piece and find a few sites boasting nice collections of backgrounds so you too can add a little extra zip to your Zoom sessions than I found this:
Now, I’m by no means revolutionary in this regard. Indeed, there are a number of sites which have already posted collections of backgrounds you can use to spruce up your own little virtual presence. Check out the offerings at these sites to list just a few:
In recent weeks as we’ve settled with varying degrees of comfort and success into our “stay at home” protocols, I’ve been asked a few times about how I handle working at home. Mostly these are folks who were used to “home life” and “work life” being two very dissimilar things, separated by at least some distance and at a minimum defined by two markedly different physical locations. Now their worlds have been thrown into a blender and mixed together and they’ve been working these past weeks to establish a new paradigm, set of habits, expectations, and so on.
“You’ve been doing this forever,” they say. “You’re used to having to remain productive even in the face of frequent distractions,” they say. “How do you manage it all?” they ask.
Granted, my work really hasn’t been disrupted by the current situation to any significant degree. I’m still employed, for which I am immensely grateful as that lessens the stress I’d otherwise be feeling on any number of fronts. Yes, this has been a transition — in large part due to the kids — but we’re making the best of it with assistance from their wonderful teachers and school support staff, who also are doing their best to push forward despite the challenges they face.
Between the last few years of my corporate life and my switching over to be a full-time writer (aside from one brief stint where I took a contract writing job that required commuting to an office), I’ve been working out of my house for well over a decade. It started not long after my first daughter was born, which was helpful as I was in a position to get her (and, later, her sister) to and from daycare/pre-school and ultimately to and from “regular” school. Then we moved into the current Ward Manor in 2014 and they started taking the bus to school.
In the early going, establishing a routine was easy. Kids and my corporate job required I come up with a schedule and stick to it. Without going into specifics, my job involved a series of deliverables which had to hit their marks every month in order to keep the larger process moving. Most of those deliverables were due on specific dates each month, regardless of when those dates fell on a calendar. So, weekend or holiday? That’s the way it went. Hit the mark. If I screwed up, it affected the people waiting on me and so on, to a point where my company could be financially liable for violating service level agreements. So, not much room for dicking around.
Anyway, between work and getting the kids to school, it didn’t take long to establish a routine whereby I was up, clean, groomed and presentable, and ready to go on a regular daily basis. This continued to serve me as I left Corporate America and moved to freelancing full-time. Even as the kids have grown older and become more self-sufficient, I still use their schedule as a guideline for keeping my own routine on track. It works more than it doesn’t, even when you don’t factor in extended stay-at-home orders in the face of a pandemic.
Though I admit to moving the goalposts here and there with respect to start and stop times, I try to stick to something resembling a schedule and routine, especially during the week. First and foremost, I get up and get cleaned up. I know we all joke about staying in our jammies all day or maybe just going completely smokeless as we dance through our abodes, but for me getting dressed and all that is a mental button I push that tells me it’s time to be productive. Granted, during the cooler months that might very well mean sweats, but it’s something other than what I wear to bed.
Once all that’s done – including fixing breakfast if I’m hungry — I’ll finally make my way to my office. The basement in our house was completely finished by the previous owners, and the layout is a sort of “L” shape that divides the level into two main areas along with a full bathroom and closets. It’s basically a small apartment, for all intents and purposes, and the way our house is built and landscaped means the basement level is a walkout to the garage and ultimately our driveway. I even have decent windows so it doesn’t feel as though I’m toiling in a dungeon. It’s also far enough from the kitchen that I’m not as tempted to go fridge forraging.
My office area is separate from the part of the room that has a TV and couch, and the layout is such that I can’t see the TV from my desk. Still, the nature of my writing work does mean I’m on the couch with my laptop from time to time, watching something for research at some point during a project. Otherwise, I tend to work at my desk. That’s where the library is, and I’ve usually got music on for background noise.
The first part of the morning is usually spent going through email and seeing if there’s anything pressing I need to do for this or that client. This transitions into my writing up a brief “To Do List” for the day’s activities. My rule of thumb is to organize what I perceive as the day’s tasks in ascending order of time needed to complete each action item. So, I knock out the quick stuff before moving on to progressively meatier tasks. This approach provides a little series of warm fuzzies as I get to cross items off the list, for which I confess a weakness because it tells me I’m getting shit done.
More often than not, the meatiest item on my daily menu involves the major writing project on my plate. The novel-in-progress, for example. Depending on various factors, things come along during the day that get added to my list and I adjust as necessary. If it’s a hot item then I may move it to the top of the day’s pile and proceed from there, otherwise it gets set aside for adding to tomorrow’s list.
I make sure to take breaks throughout the day, whether it’s for lunch or hanging out with the kids for a bit. With the current situation, they have school during the week via “virtual learning.” It’s not nearly as structured as a regular school day so we have to make sure they’re doing okay with their assignments and other activities like practicing with their instruments (one daughter plays the viola, the other the cello) and doing the challenges put forth by — for example — their P.E. teachers. They’re old enough now they have their own preferred ways of keeping busy and they can fend for themselves if they’re hungry. They’ve even been pitching in with meal prep. As needed or just because I’m feeling antsy, I get outside to work in the yard at some point during the middle part of the day. I also make sure to hold up my end of things like cooking and cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and so on.
(This is probably a good time to admit some of these practices long predate working at home and even my stint as a cog in the private sector wheel. Military life instills routines and habits for pretty much every aspect of your existence at some point, including figuring out how best to allot time and attention spent on mundane tasks like laundry and housekeeping. Despite being a civilian for more years than I care to say out loud, a few of those ingrained habits and approaches to accomplishing such tasks linger to this day.)
Work interactions, as they’ve always done, continue to involve email and phone conferences. Phone calls factor into a daily task list, and it’s only recently that video chats have been added to the mix. I’ve done a couple, but even those were enough for me to up my Zoom game with a few different virtual backgrounds. For example:
There almost certainly will be others.
Anyway, the routine I’ve established takes up most of the daylight working hours. Pretty much every “sucessful work at home strategies” article you’re going to read will tell you making and sticking to a schedule is essential to that success. It’s a good guideline but let’s face it: If we’re on the jazz then schedules go out the window. There are more days when I keep working into the evening than not. Sometimes it’s because I’m on a roll, but others it’s due to my being behind on a project and a deadline is looming and I feel like I need to put in the extra effort. Work comes in waves where I’ll be at it for days on end with long hours, broken up by periods of little or no pressing deadlines or other tasks. That’s when I get to do things such as catch up on leisure activities like reading or plowing through the TV backlog.
As with anything of this sort, what works for me may or may not work for others. You have to find an approach that best fits with all the various things and people going on in your life. It takes time for a schedule to become a routine before solidifying itself into a habit, so don’t be too hard on yourself in the early going. Look for the rhythm that’s right for you, and dance to it.
Just don’t dance too close to the fridge. Or the windows, if you’ve opted to go without pants. Or, maybe you want to give the neighbors a thrill. Whatever tickles your…whatever.