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A Balancing Act: Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Sara General


My writing life has undergone many transitions. My twenties were probably the most turbulent. I was in university for most of them and struggling to make ends meet. Back then I would dream about the kind of stability I needed to be a writer. I had a very specific picture in my mind of what it would take and I planned to achieve it by my thirtieth birthday. I knew exactly where I needed to be when I turned thirty—on my own, in a small house or apartment, with a MacBook, surrounded by books. What I didn’t account for, was the fact that the job I had to help pay for the small house, the MacBook and the other bills that come along with life—would take up every waking hour of my time.


It was this commencement speech, given by Neil Gaiman that helped me to realize one important fact—I was writing more emails than I was writing stories. I would spend minutes, even hours poring over the words of emails, briefing notes and press releases. And even though I for the most part liked the work I was doing—I felt like my creativity had been stuffed in a bottle. I felt like my voice had been stripped away and all that was capable of coming out was branded, careful messaging. My projects were likewise impacted by this state of limbo—of wanting to say things but being uncertain whether or not I should. I hid meaning behind meaning and because I only wrote when I thought I had a full day to do it—there were days and even weeks between my writing sessions.


Looking back, I think this was an important thing for me to go through—this uncertainty, this questioning. It helped me to write a totally strange story that while totally strange—was 100% the story I wanted to be writing. It was filled with characters that practically leapt out of my imagination and even though I didn’t do a perfect job of capturing them the first time around—I’ve had four years to do better. I learned—very slowly—how to write a little bit at a time. Stephen King has written about this, but so has Neil Gaiman, in an article where he says that if you write just 300 words a day—by the end of the year, you have a novel. So last April, I decided to try it—to write as little as 300 words, every day. 


I was pregnant at the time and wondering what would happen with my writing once I became a mother. I knew I wouldn’t stop writing but I still didn’t know what my writing schedule would look like. How could I? I’d never really had one. Fortunately, it all turned out well—I stumbled upon the Monthly Writing Challenge community and for the last year I’ve felt more productive than at any other time in my life. Stories are pouring out of me. I developed a solid writing routine. But then my maternity leave came to an end. And I was to return to work—to a job I absolutely love. Would my writing routine crumble again? I was determined that it wouldn’t—that everything would work out fabulously.


And guess what? It did! I admit the first day was hard. Not the writing part—the part where I had to be away from my daughter. I didn’t want to be away from her and I suppose I still don’t. But I really do love and believe in the work that I’m doing. It makes me feel happy, excited and fulfilled. I’m also lucky that my baby is only five minutes away from my work with my partner and our mothers.


So for the last two weeks, I’ve been waking up at 6:30 and writing until I get my 500 words. My work in progress, which I started three weeks ago, has now grown to 17,000 words! I can go to work with a sense of calm—at least in the writing/creativity sense of the word. That calm means a great deal to me. It helps me to keep balanced between being a mommy and being a writer and being a wife and a sister and a friend and all of the other roles and relationships I maintain. And none of this would be possible if my partner wasn’t as awesome and supportive as he is. I am extremely blessed.


Editing remains something of a challenge. I’m working on an edit of my book The Vampire Skeleton right now and reading this book: Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View. I can usually only edit for half an hour or so on the weeknights. It takes me about two or three nights to make it through a chapter, if I’m focussed. It’s a touch slower than I’d like to be moving so my goal is to make up for that in 2-3 hour sessions on the weekends but I’ve yet to implement this structure. I know that I can make these adjustments and that it’s okay to take my time. I suppose in summary—I am feeling enormously grateful. Grateful that I’m still writing, still editing, still doing all of these things that I love and that make me happy. Being a parent. A Wife. An Artist. A Language Learner. And taking care not to become a professional email answerer/workaholic.


Happy writing & editing everyone!