‘How quickly can you write four books?’ asked my prospective publisher, Affirm Press.
‘Um… A year,’ I said with blind confidence.
Fast-forward a few months and I was sheepishly calling my editor explaining that my brain had fallen out and there was no way I could write four books in a year. They’d signed my kids’ book series, Starring Olive Black, when my son George was five-months-old and I was totally naïve about this new motherhood gig. Luckily, I had the best editor (thanks Clair Hume) who was a new mum herself and between us, we found a way.
I ended up writing not four but five books in just 21 months – from the time George was seven-months-old, through two winters of childcare colds and another pregnancy, finishing just days before my second son, Freddy, was born. It was wild. Wild but wonderful, and I made a tonne of mistakes as I figured out how my dream career could work around family life. While I’m enjoying the baby bubble these days (which Freddy made a cute book trailer to explain), these are some of the things I’ve learnt about getting your creative game on, post baby.
FREDDY’S #BOOKTRAILER I finished writing this #bookbaby just a few days before I got to meet my actual baby last November. Hooley dooley, what a wild ride that was – writing five books in 21 months from the time George was seven months old through to being pregnant with number two. This time around though I absolutely embraced the #fourthtrimester and fell into the nappy-changing, nipple-aching, midnight-googling, heat-wave-cluster-feeding, Peppa-Pig-negotiating, toilet-training delirium that is having a newborn and a toddler. . Oh yeah, and then my book came out! . As Fred said, I’ve loved this time with the boys and am so glad I took a break. But to keep this kids-book-writing dream of mine alive, it’s time to spread the word about Olive’s latest blockbuster movie, THE PYRAMID PUZZLE. It’s an absolute privilege writing for young people and creating a character who’s feisty, funny, flawed and full of heart. . So if, like Freddy, you’d like to help a new mum out, please share his message with the kids, parents and teachers in your life. I hope they fall in love with Olive as much as I have. . Happy reading. And thank you to all those around me who made this possible, especially Fred, my squishy, adorable mohawk man, and your besotted big bro George. Alex.
1. Forget work-life ‘balance’.
Balance? Shmalance. It’s chaos once kids are in your life. So instead of striving for this unattainable equilibrium, someone told me to think about it in terms of seasons. There’ll be different times of the day, week or year when you should throw yourself head-first into the roles of mother, writer, head chef, bestie. Between 5pm – 8pm, don’t talk to me, I’m being a mum. In Book Week I’m a writer – chatting to kids in schools and admiring their home-made Harry Potter costumes – but the week following, the boys and I double-down on babychinos and park hangs. Instead of feeling like you’re always failing in certain parts of your life, give yourself a break and let the seasons unfold.
2. Rethink your work schedule.
Gone were the afternoons of cultivating an idea (read ‘faffing’). This new working-mum schedule involved fitting things in. You know, between feed times, grandparent babysitting, seventeen loads of washing. My thinking/faffing time moved to the night feeds, with the Notes section of my phone getting a work out in the dark. Editorial calls were taken walking George to sleep around the park. I learnt not to bother attacking a first draft unless I had three to four uninterrupted hours. And my first drafts were now peppered with ‘[insert gag here]’ or ‘[research to come]’ notes. This allowed me to finish a chapter without losing momentum, then fill in the gaps later. It’s trial and error, but you know your brain best. Work out which tasks suit which pockets of time. And be flexible if you’ve been up all night – some things you can manage when tired, others you can’t. You might be better off sacrificing work time for a nap, rather than powering through unproductively.
3. If you have a partner, focus on communication.
Even though I was the one at the desk, I totally feel like my husband Paul and I wrote these books together. I’m so grateful that he understood why this work was important to me. That even though it was stressful at times, I got so much energy from doing it, was happier and therefore a better mum and wife. That’s not to say there weren’t ‘those bloody books!’ moments. There were. But there were less of them when we communicated well. It also helped to tell him when a busy period was coming up. Being on deadline, I felt more stressed that the house was a mess or that I hadn’t prepped meals than I did about the work itself. But if your partner’s in the loop, you can share the load better and be more understanding that life will temporarily be a bit mad.
4. Get organised.
I’m still trying to get better at this, but I realised that if I got organised with the boring household stuff, it gave me more time to hang with Georgie and to write. And I don’t mean just do the housework more quickly. I mean plan it better and allocate the tasks better between the people in your household. A wonderful resource for this is Nicole Avery’s Planning with Kids. She has a great Instagram account too.
5. Try to keep the mummy guilts at bay.
Creative career or not, we ask those ‘Am I earning enough money?’ or ‘Is it selfish doing my dream job and being away from my little human?’ questions. I occasionally doubted if it was worth it, usually on sunny days when I’d hear George playing outside and was stuck at the computer with a cold cup of tea and an empty cookie jar. But these were outweighed by how much energy I got from writing about Olive, and the great joy I get meeting kids at school visits who’ve connected with her. I had to remember the end game. If I worked really hard for this short period of time, I’d be a step closer to creating a lifestyle and career that’ll work for our family long-term. When the guilts rear their ugly head, remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and chat to the important people in your life.
6. Find your tribe.
The most pleasant surprise with the books was finding myself part of this wonderful community of Australian authors and illustrators. These people (most of whom I’ve never met in person) helped celebrate the wins and were cheerleaders in hard times. Plus, in a practical sense, your tribe can help you discover where the opportunities lie in your field.
7. Say no when you need to…
This has been one of the biggest motherhood adjustments for me, but I’ve learnt (the hard way) that when I tried to do it all I’d end up getting sick or overwhelmed and become a useless writer and mother (and wife and friend!). Instead, it’s totally fine to say no (both to social things and work opportunities). It’ll take you a little longer to reach your goals, but you are getting there, even if it’s slowly.
8. … or work out another way.
There’ll be plenty of things you can’t do now that you’re hanging out with a smoochable bub, but focus on what you can do. I can’t do long interstate book tours anymore, but I can do Skype visits with interstate schools, or send letters to kids whose parents reach out to me on social media. Think of it as a challenge to make your own opportunities.
9. Get inspired.
The book Motherhood and Creativity is one of the few parenting books I read before George was born and it’s still my go-to baby shower present for mums to be. Rachel Power has interviewed a bunch of insightful, creative Aussie mums and they share what they’ve learnt. I chat about this book, and all things motherhood and creativity in more detail in a recent episode of The SuperMum podcast.
Melbourne-based writer Alex (Lee) Miles has worked across theatre, television and advertising, and under the alluring penname H.I. Larry for eight children’s books in the Zac Power series. She’s imparted wedding wisdom with Sixty Secrets for a Happy Bride, and excited young readers across the country with her latest children’s series, Starring Olive Black. When she’s not at the desk, you’ll find Alex hanging out with with her husband Paul and their sons, George and Freddy, or speaking in schools.