The working alone part isn’t unusual. Lots of you probably do the same thing. Unlike many of you, however, I also live alone. My handsome devil sometimes makes it up the coast to spend the weekend with me in our magical cottage by the sea, but during the week it is just the seedlings, my PowerBook and me. I don’t even have a cat, for pity’s sake.
Some days I wander down to the village store to post a letter or to buy a loaf of bread (or some chocolate, more often chocolate than bread actually). These little outings may well be the social highlight of my day. Three days a week I teach yoga. On those days I get out of the house, I connect with good people and – not inconsequentially – I get to talk, out-loud, to someone other than myself. But apart from the yoga classes it is not unusual for me to go for an entire day without seeing or speaking to another person.
In this context, Twitter has been a godsend. I think of Twitter as being a water-cooler for the ‘work-from-home’ crowd. I didn’t come up with that metaphor. I came across it on Twitter but like so many water-cooler conversations I no longer remember exactly who said what so I can’t give credit where it is due. If the water-cooler image was yours please claim it in the comments and I’ll happily tip you my hat.
Actually, Twitter is my tearoom. I presume that in the mighty United States of America people actually do gather around water-coolers to chat. But in every office I’ve ever worked in, including those in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, work chit-chat takes place over cups of tea.
Twitter is like a tearoom but better. In most tearooms you have variations of the same conversation with the same person about the problems they are having with their manager/mother-in-law/teenage son. On Twitter I get to drop in on conversations between smart, funny people who are reading the newspaper (so I don’t have to), keeping track of developments in the publishing industry, talking about new forms of activism, sharing links to beautiful images or insightful writing or just being generally hilarious.
I also get to connect with other writers. I can cheer them on when they finally spit out the 1000 words they had promised themselves for the day or when – even better – they hit a major milestone in the life of their manuscript. They do the same for me. I no longer have to bore my friends with endless Facebook status updates about word counts. On Twitter I've found a whole gaggle of people who think word-counts are a worthy topic of conversation.
Perhaps best of all I can connect with friends who live in the far-flung corners of the globe. Twitter direct messages are like a free, instant text message service that keeps me in touch with my people whether they are in San Francisco, Bath, Portland, Sydney, New York, Kabul or Amsterdam. Where once we relied on occasional lengthy phone calls and emails, now I can chat with them in real time about the trivial details that make up real life.
All of this is fantastic. I feel less isolated as a writer and I’ve learned more about the publishing industry via Twitter than from the whole stack of books sitting on my (unused) desk. I feel more connected to my existing friends and I’m even making new friends. It is great stuff, but it could easily consume my working day.
So here’s how I’ve made Twitter work for me. I literally treat Twitter like a tearoom. I turn the internet to my laptop off when I am writing or working and check Twitter only on my phone. I leave my phone in the kitchen sitting by the kettle. When I break for a cup of tea, while waiting for the jug to boil, I check in. I scan through the last 100 or so tweets that have come in while I was working. Inevitably I’ve missed some. I don’t worry about them. I see them as the conversations that took place in the tearoom while I was in my office. We can’t spend our entire day in the tearoom so we inevitably miss some of the juiciest gossip.
While the tea brews I retweet anything that is so good that I want the rest of the world to have more of it. I reply to any tweets that inspire me and I send direct messages to friends or people who have addressed me directly. If I have time I click through any links that look especially enticing (though never a link in a DM – there is far too much phishing going on for that) and make a note of any sites that I want to go back to later.
I have a giggle, usually, and a smile. I feel part of a community of people all over the world who are working away separately but in harmony with each other. I drink my cup of tea and then I get back to work.
How do you use Twitter? How do you break up your work day if you work from home? How do you escape the isolation? How do you avoid being sucked into the online distractions?
PS: If Twitter is my tea break then taking the compost jar out to the compost heap at the back of the garden is my cigarette break. I don't smoke (any more) but I still enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation out in the fresh air, a few deep breaths and a little time to let whatever needs to float to the surface of my mind to do so.