Sometimes the universe really does deliver in spades. Towards the end of 2016, I was thrilled to learn that publishers Muswell Press were interested in taking on my first novel, The Girls’ Book of Priesthood. Two weeks later, I discovered that I’d landed a full-time role with one the Big Four as a writer-editor on their Brexit team.
To have scooped just one of these would have felt like a coup. To have both arrive in my inbox at the same time was an embarrassment of riches. It was also the start of one of the most intense professional periods of my life, as I juggled ushering my novel through the editing and publication process with mastering the complexity of cross-border supply chains and the brave new world of digital marketing.
Here’s what I learned about balance along the way:
Ditch the perfectionism
During the day, my job was to help deliver – at speed – blogs, opinion pieces and thought leadership on the biggest political issue of the day. During the evenings, weekends, bank holidays and countless days of annual leave, I was knee-deep in sprucing up my 80,000-word manuscript, rushing to meet the editorial schedule my publishers had set.
For someone far too prone to perfectionism, this was no time for Fabergé Egg Syndrome – polishing your prose to within an inch of its life. Whether in the office or with my novel, the priority was to get the job done well – but, above all, to get it done.
Happily, my two writing selves fed off each other. I didn’t experience creative radio interference, as one friend had worried I might; if anything, the reverse was true. And, because I was honing my editing skills on factual text by day, my ability to kill my fictional darlings by night intensified as a result.
Planning really does pay
‘If you want something done, give it to a busy person,’ says every business book, ever. That certainly proved to be true for me. Scrupulously planning the chunks of time I had available and prioritising what needed to be done by when was essential in coping with the disparate demands I faced.
Personally, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. I’d been freelancing for over 20 years, including 11 spent overseas working and raising my family. Proving to my colleagues – and myself – that I could seamlessly slot back into a full-on corporate environment was non-negotiable for me. The same was true of the novel: to see all those years creative highs and lows finally come to fruition wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to mess up.
You can multitask like a champ when you have to
Eight months into my new job, I needed an emergency operation on my foot. The timing, naturally, was terrible. I was racing against the clock to finish the copy edits on my novel, while the team in my department at work were also relying on me to help produce an urgent Brexit publication. Normally I kept these two writing roles entirely separate – but there was one frenetic week where I sat propped up on my bed, work laptop open on my left, personal laptop open on my right, and switched from the one to the other as the need or opportunity arose. As far as I know, WTO tariffs didn’t find their way into the love life of my young female priest-protagonist – or vice versa.
Cherish your support network
As the newbie in a huge global firm, I was very fortunate in the support and guidance I had from colleagues as I plunged headfirst into the role. And, once they had discovered how I was spending my time beyond the office, they were equally hands-on as cheerleaders – right through my novel’s publication and beyond. My family and friends ,meanwhile, provided round-the clock support, even though they must have felt like we went weeks on end without our conversations dominated either by Article 50 or achieving the right character arcs.
You can’t be ‘on’ 24/7
Time pressures get the adrenaline running, but too much stress, too little downtime, and those juices dry up. In balancing a demanding new full-time job and trying to polish off a debut novel, it very soon became clear that time away from both laptops was essential if I was going to make it to the finishing line. Exercise, a movie, the occasional day in the countryside with my family were all part of my armoury in staying creative and sane.
I’m now halfway through my second novel – alongside freelance writing, including for my former firm – and putting all those lessons into practice once again.