“Mad morning rush feeding and dropping off my daughter. Meetings where I noticed yoghurt stains on my carefully planned ‘dress to impress’ outfit. The exhausting bedtime routine.” Tracy Buchanan’s account of becoming an author, while in the depths of new motherhood…
For the past few years, it feels like I’ve been fighting a constant battle. First to have my now four-year-old little girl – it took us five years and three rounds of IVF! Then to get my book deal, something I’ve dreamed of all my life. When it all happened at once – I learnt of my book deal just a few weeks after having my daughter – I presumed that finally, I could relax. I had everything I wished for.
But that wasn’t the case.
The fact was, achieving my dreams meant I spent those first heady months of maternity leave also editing a novel and writing another (it was a two-book deal with tight deadlines). Then when I returned to my office job at The Open University, the pressure mounted even more especially as my husband was working shifts.
Mad morning rush feeding and dropping off my daughter. Phone calls from nursery reporting a variety of ailments from hand, foot and mouth to conjunctivitis. Meetings where I noticed yoghurt stains on my carefully planned ‘dress to impress’ outfit. An hour stuck in traffic after work as my daughter screamed in the back. Then the exhausting bedtime routine.
All working mothers know the challenges involved, but combine that with writing in the evenings and at weekends, I was about ready to crumble.
Something had to give.
One day, a colleague showed me a TED talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about working mums ‘leaning in’ and taking hold of their career. It really inspired me. I realised there was no way I could keep spreading myself too thinly.
For the sake of my family and my sanity, I needed to slow down the writing and instead ‘lean in’ to my career. And by ‘career’, I meant the job that earned me a regular income each month, not writing. It was time to focus on that.
After all the years of fighting – the IVF; getting that first publishing deal; balancing an office job with writing and family life – it’s time to finally except we climbed that mountain and can now enjoy the view
So using that ‘lean in’ mentality, I applied for a new job at The Open University and was delighted to get it. But in the back of my mind, I mourned the fact the writing had to take a backseat.
Then guess what? A few months into starting my new job, my writing career really took off, My Sister’s Secret, that second novel I wrote on maternity leave, hit the Kindle number one spot, becoming one of the biggest selling ebooks of 2015. Finally, I was doing what I never thought was possible: I was earning enough to write full-time.
Now that was a proper dream come true. It meant I could write from home four days a week while my daughter was at pre-school or with grandparents.
It sounds ideal, doesn’t it? But the fact was, those first few months of being a full-time author were filled with worry. I lived (and still do) contract to contract. So any moment, the rug could have been pulled out from under my feet. I decided I couldn’t sit back, I had to carry on leaning forward, fighting for my role as a full-time author. I decided even though I could dedicate four of my weekdays to writing, I still had to write in the evenings, even some weekends, keeping up that high tempo I’d grown used to. If I didn’t, my dreams might crumble.
I started to get tired again, stressed, just like I used to when juggling all this with my job at The Open University. But then something clicked. Maybe it’s because I’m approaching the big 4-0. It started to dawn on me that finally, I’d reached an equilibrium. That maybe I was doing enough. That maybe, just maybe, I could stop fighting.
My days are now spent writing from my gorgeous home office, while finding pockets of time to shove in some washing, fill in school forms, book doctor appointments, the usual things that sometimes slipped while I worked in my old job. I can now be truly flexible, being there for my daughter if she’s ill, attending events that usually take place during the day then making up those hours in the evening (but that will be the only time I work out of hours, bar the odd message to reply to). If my husband is working late, I can quickly pop out to pick my daughter up instead. And if I’ve been up with a poorly child and am just too tired to work the next day, I sometimes have the option to take a day off without feeling too guilty.
So as I sit here with another two book deal confirmed with HarperCollins, I feel for the first time in a long time, I can relax. In fact, not just me, but we as a family too. After all the years of fighting – the IVF; getting that first publishing deal; balancing an office job with writing and family life – it’s time to finally except we climbed that mountain and can now enjoy the view.
So if you happen to see a family of three rolling down a grassy hill with a puppy in toe, or peek into a window to find that same family snuggled up watching a film in pyjamas in the middle of the day, you’ll know that’s the Buchanan’s, finally taking the boxing gloves off and enjoying life for what it is.
Tracy Buchanan’s fourth novel, Her Last Breath, is released as an eBook on 1 June and a paperback on 29 June.