The Rake’s Guide to Working from Home

Writers are old hands at working from home. Here, one of our scribes provides tips on staying engaged and productive while in isolation.

Author Gay Talese looking over manuscript as he sits in his sub-basement office at home. (Photo by Marianne Barcellona/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Switching to working from home can come as a shock to the system. If you want advice on how to adjust, there’s no one better to consult than a writer. Most ink-slingers, myself included, have done no small measure of domestic-based labour over the course of our careers. For some, it’s one of the key attractions of the wordsmith’s life.

In an interview with The Paris Review, American writer William Maxwell, who served as fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975, explained why he’d refused the magazine’s offer of an office and insisted on working from home: “I would have to put my trousers on and ride the subway downtown to my typewriter. No good.”

Maxwell preferred to roll out of bed in his pyjamas, throw on a robe, and write until — as he put it — “I suddenly perceive, from what’s on the page in the typewriter, that I’ve lost my judgment. And then I stop. It’s usually about twelve-thirty. But I hate getting dressed.” Maxwell said that remaining in an “unkempt condition” symbolised a single-minded focus on his work, and that he was only suitably steeled for human interaction “after I’ve got my trousers on, but not before.” A good rule to keep, as the pantsless man venturing out in public can get in all types of strife. Especially when a curfew’s in effect.

The suddenly pressing need to avoid human contact during the coronavirus crisis is what’s driven many of you to adopt working from home. Unless constantly on Zoom video conferencing, you could very easily follow Maxwell’s example and while the day away in your PJs or other homely attire. I’ve found, however, that as comfortable as a time-weathered polo and fleece-lined track pants can be, the ritual of dressing properly of a morning helps shift the mind into gear. Ditto the application of deodorant, cologne and adherance to conventional grooming standards.

Published

March 2020

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