There were just two things a young Kate Inglis wanted to be when she grew up: a professional roller skater and an author. “Only one so far has panned out,” reports the YA and children’s book author (If I Were a Zombie, Flight of the Griffons, and The Dread Crew) and the upcoming adult non-fiction book Notes for the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief. And while she doesn’t get paid to roller skate, Inglis does make a living writing, as well as through photography and corporate storytelling. And it’s precisely this robust variety of income sources that has allowed Kate’s freelance career to flourish. A career that she works on from an utterly enviable, all-white, loft-like “crowsnest” home office on the top floor of a house built in 1900. Below, she shares some of her secrets to working from home.
“Very early in my life, I decided that whatever I did for work, it shouldn’t be something I felt ambivalent about. What you do for work represents such a huge chunk of your life. In The Phantom Tollbooth, one of my favourite books, there’s a dog, Tock, who is also a clock. He blows up at Milo for being bored, and for talking about ‘killing time’. Time is the most important thing. Not treasuring your time is an outrage. That’s one of the first things I remember reading that really imprinted on me. Why float somewhere meaningless just for a cheque? Why not get a cheque and also learn something worthwhile at the same time, even for minimum wage? I worked at a gorgeous Italian deli and learned to appreciate truly excellent cheese. I worked at a beautiful café and learned how important it was to give people a nice little rest. Every job I ever had was a nourishing place to be, or taught me something I still pull from today.”
“I went straight from high school to a degree in Public Relations. It was corporate writing boot camp. After that I spent a decade in beige cubicles. Then I had a conversation with a mentor that changed my life. In passing, I complained to him about all the beige. He said, ‘You do realize you don’t have to be in an office, don’t you? You don’t need a boss. You can do this work anywhere.’ He rang a bell that couldn’t be un-rung. That was 15 years ago. I haven’t worked in an office since.”
Lots of people dream of working from home, but don’t know how to make it work financially. Any tips?
I can only speak to the dynamic of having clients—your skill has to work remotely, and the industry you’re in has to be open to remote contractors. It helps to have paid the dues of being on salary for a few years—I worked in marketing for software companies and digital agencies—so by the time you want to work freelance, you’ve got an established body of work and a circle of fairly senior, decision-making people already warm to working with you.
The trick is in making sure you’ve got enough work. You have to build a network of people who know you, like you, and might hire you. As long as you can make the shift to freelance with a good, diverse crop of potential clients, you’ll have enough volume at any given time to make a go of it.
What’s your morning routine?
There’s a lot of shuffling around in my slippers, getting the kids on the school bus, lighting the woodstoves. Then I make a big pot of tea and crepes or toad-in-the-holes. It’s always very buttery and very eggy. I put on the latest Sam Bee or John Oliver, eat butter, and think about the world until the teapot is empty.
I’ve got clients from Amsterdam to Vancouver, so the time differences mean I often have meetings and deadlines long after my kids go to bed. I’ll sometimes work until midnight or later, so mornings are often slow. Not very dressed, brushed, or presentable, but wooly and comfy.
What’s a typical day’s schedule?
I light the woodstove in the crowsnest before breakfast, so it’s toasty when I land up there to work. This may be before 10 AM on a good morning, or as late as noon if there’s other stuff to do—gardening, sanding a floor, grocery shopping for a supper party. That’s the great thing about working from home—I plan my schedule around my life, not my life around my schedule.
I’ll write or shoot for a few hours, with my husband drawing in his studio downstairs (he’s a storyboard artist and book illustrator). I’ll often stop to cook a nice leek soup or something tasty and bring it to him for lunch. I bring him leek soup and he brings me tea and wood for the stove. Somehow it’s a vote of confidence in each other.
The work goes until the deadlines are met. Sometimes I stop when my kids get off the school bus, because I’d rather hang out with them. Then I might pick it up again at 9 PM, and work until long after midnight.
What’s your favorite time of the day?
When the weather’s right, the light in the studio is gorgeous mid-morning, shining off the cove. Right around when I start working. I go up there and the wood smoke smells delicious and I remember the cubicles and the bosses and I pinch myself.
Do you use a real desk?
For 15 years, I worked on couches and in bed. I didn’t have an office. The sea captain’s house is the first time in my life I’ve had the chance to make a real studio. With a real desk! Marvels. My husband’s studio is on the main floor, and mine is on the third. I worried we’d trip over each other, or drive each other nuts—but we are a story farm. We are upstairs and downstairs and we use each other as sounding boards. It’s fantastic.
What do you sit on?
Always something fuzzy.
What are three things on your desk right now?
A stack of advance reader copies of my book, Notes for the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief. It’s coming out this fall. A 35 year-old Pentax film camera that needs servicing. Origami paper and Japanese washi tape.
What tools do you use most every day?
My woodstove for half the year. For the other half, open windows and breeze. Lit candles. The freshness of the air is the most important thing. It cannot be stale. It has to be animated.
How do you keep yourself from getting distracted?
If I need to drift, I drift. I cram when I need to. I drift and I cram. That’s my baseline.
What’s your view like from your office or desk?
A stand of very tall, very old willow trees in a row at the edge of the ocean. Bald eagles circling the neighbourhood for wandering chickens.
What’s your home office’s decor style?
Downstairs, it’s quite grand. Sea-captain grand. But up in the crowsnest, it’s more modern and wide-open than the rest of the house. The space up here makes you want to roll around on the floor. I resisted adding too much stuff, because the space itself is so lovely when it’s unencumbered by things.
Favorite decor elements in the space:
Nick’s drawings everywhere. My giant bulletin board, and the double desk. The painted floor. Our family art space. The happy-monsters collage that a class of kindergarteners drew for me after I read my book of childrens’ poetry to them.
What visually inspires you most in your space?
The openness. The light.
Which “team” are you on when it comes to the most productive and inspiring workspace: the “have to have it organized to work” side or the “clutter feeds my creative soul” team?
I prefer a sparse room, but I also like all kinds of things—the old stereoscope (a Victorian 3-D photograph viewer), or my cameras, or the bottomless quilts made by my mom. For me, the question isn’t tidy versus cluttered—whatever it is, it has to be chosen rather than an oppressive pile that weighs on you. Some kinds of clutter are charming. But a pile of undealt-with things? That’s got to be dealt-with.
What’s the most envious part of working at home?
As long as I don’t have an imminent deadline, I step away and do something else if I don’t feel like working. It keeps my brain from feeling discouraged or getting stuck. It keeps me in constant, relatively contented motion. I almost never resent my corporate work or my creative work because when I do it, I choose to do it. Also, no commute. You don’t get paid to commute.
I love the sheer size of the crowsnest. It’s the whole footprint of the house, and I’ve got my own little private clubhouse up here—my own bathtub with a view of the ocean, a dressing room, and my writing space plus our gigantic couch for movies and our family art corner. It’s wide open, but it’s also got several distinct and intimate spaces. It hosts every state of mind: quietness, activity, parties, creation, the kids, me on my own.
How do you make time for relaxation/creative thinking/brainstorming?
My whole life revolves around making time for relaxation, creative thinking, and brainstorming. Without it, I couldn’t be an author and photographer as well as a corporate writer and strategist. I work hard and relentlessly in bursts so I can incorporate the slow moments that my personal work requires.
Will you ever be able to work in an office again? Is there anything that could convince you?
A zillion dollars. And a pony.
What do you miss most about working in an office? What don’t you miss at all?
I sometimes miss the camaraderie of being part of a busy team, but after 15 years on my own, I’m ruined by the self-determination of my own space. I don’t know if I could tolerate the constant chatter and obligations of an office.
I used to work in Yaletown, in Vancouver BC. I do miss having yoga classes and Japanese blow-torched mackerel within walking distance. But now, I’ve got the beach within walking distance.
Is there anything you wished you knew before working from home?
It’s important to dedicate time to business development as well as to the work itself. This all sounds like a dream, I know—but when you’re a freelancer, you’ve got no job security. You can lose a steady contract in five minutes with no notice, and for reasons that have nothing to do with merit. If you get lazy hustling for new contacts—if you’ve got too many eggs in a single basket and don’t diversify your flow of clients and projects—you can get blindsided. Always hustle. There’s no such thing as having too many people who want to work with you.