When I work from home, the soundtrack to my day goes something like this:
(pause of thirty seconds or so)
These noises emanate from the left of my desk — though sometimes beneath it — where my golden retriever, Riley, is picking up a tennis ball and dropping it, repeatedly. After each drop, she watches the (slobbery, dirty) ball intently, just in case it might start to roll away on its own or — joy of joys! — I decide to pick it up and toss it. Eventually, inevitably, I give in, grab the ball, and head out into the backyard, where if I aim it just right, I can get a big looping bounce off the back wall (Riley has learned to judge it like an outfielder tracking a drive off the Green Monster). As you can imagine, this is not the most effective way to get work done.
So, like many writers, I try to find secondary locations: coffee shops, public parks, the library at UC Berkeley, near where I live. Because of my travel schedule for Sports Illustrated, however, often I'm finding these places in some foreign American metropolis. So I sit in airport terminals, pull out my laptop on long-ish cab rides, and, if it's the only option, transcribe notes at a Subway sandwich shop (I'd include airplanes on this list but that's a crapshoot due to elbow-jousting with seatmates, the recline angle of the seat directly forward, etc.). I've found that there's something about the hum of strangers going about their business that is white noise to those trying to write.
Today, for example, I'm headed to Miami to cover the Heat-Pistons series. So I've packed all my gear into a roll-bag and a backpack, out of which I can survive almost indefinitely (it's sad how exciting a well-packed bag can be when you travel a lot). At the risk of sounding exceedingly nerdy (or too much like the William Hurt character in The Accidental Tourist), here's what's in my Swiss Army backpack: laptop with charger and extra battery (crucial for long flights), two gel-filled wrist rests for the laptop (to avoid carpal tunnel, which I got a mild case of while transcribing tape for my book), Bose noise-reducing headphones (for when the strangers aren't so white-noise-like), tape recorder with extra batteries/tapes, reporter's notebooks and a larger steno notebook, a reading book that can double as lumbar support on a flight (right now, it's Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which is excellent), folders for notes and travel itineraries, my iPod, Treo cell phone (great for making minor editing changes, back and forth with SI editors, on the fly), and a handful of pens (Pilot G-2s, about which I have an unhealthy obsession). I will spare you what's in the roll-on bag.
The point is: I have all I need to write and very little extra. So, predictably, I'm often far more productive when I'm on the road. No balls to be tossed, no yard to be picked up, no games of Pop-a-Shot to be played (yes, I actually have a Pop-a-Shot machine in my garage, ostensibly for stress relief). I can only imagine what happens once one has kids. For this reason, I'm always very impressed by writers who work effectively out of a home office. To me, the home office — as tax deductible as it may be — has a fool's gold element to it. The idea is wonderful: no commute, no dress code, and I can even put a mini-fridge in the room. The reality: not so much. (And, lo and behold, I just noticed that John Tayman wrote about this very subject a few months back on this blog. I am intrigued by his earplug idea.)
In doing some playoff research, I just checked in on Mark Cuban's blog and, lucky me, he has devoted his Wednesday post to the subject of journalism. If you have a free moment, and haven't had your fill of Cuban already, check it out. I'd be curious what people not in the business think of his take.
On another sports note, I'm about done with Jeff Pearlman's biography of Barry Bonds, Love Me, Hate Me and I heartily recommend it. It's probably more interesting to me since I grew up in the Bay Area, but Pearlman's reporting alone is worth the read (he interviewed 500 people). Some really great nuggets in there.
Books mentioned in this post
Chris Ballard is the author of The Butterfly Hunter: Adventures of People Who Found Their True Calling Way Off the Beaten Path