How to write a book on maternity leave

When I signed my three-book deal with Aria Fiction I was over the moon. My first ever manuscript had not only bagged me an agent, but now also a book deal! Who could ask for more? Even better, they had agreed to buy my second novel too, which I had already written, though it was still very rough around the edges. Soon the contract negotiations began. The first book, Just the Two of Us, was going to be published on 1st February 2017 -five months after I was first approached by Aria. The second, One Summer in Positano (originally titled It Was Always You) was going to be published just six months later. And the third, as yet unwritten, had a publication date of summer 2018. It was due to be submitted by January. During the negotiations, I was pregnant with my first child, which meant I would be editing book two with a newborn and then cracking on with book three whilst on maternity leave.
On the one hand, I began to panic, how would I ever manage to do it? But on the other, I was about to have a whole year off work… So many people I’ve met have said that they dream of writing a book on maternity leave. I knew it had been done before and theoretically of course anything is possible! So, I took a deep breath and signed on the dotted line, agreeing to all the proposed deadlines. A couple of weeks later I read one of my favourite writers, Caitlin Moran’s column in The Times. It basically said you would have to be utterly mad to contemplate writing a book on maternity leave. Oh. Too late for me… so I plodded on. Or waddled, more accurately, at that moment in time!
In February 2017 along came my daughter, two weeks overdue, which had bought me invaluable extra time to edit. Now, one year later, with my third book (The Distance Between Us) due for publication any minute, people often ask me for my top tips on how to manage writing a book on maternity leave. So here goes:
Tip 1) Don’t attempt anything until your baby is at least six weeks old. I left it three months. You need time to get used to the enormous changes that are happening in your life, to recover from the birth, and to enjoy all those precious newborn cuddles.
Tip 2) Think about your story line before you have the baby. I had written the synopsis and a vague chapter by chapter overview before she arrived. I think this helped because it’s quite hard to find the headspace to generate ideas when you are so sleep deprived.
Tip 3) Set yourself very manageable bite-size chunks to write. Think of it as chipping away at a huge block of marble to reveal the hidden figure within. Each writing session, no matter how small, will help you get to that target of 100,000 words (give or take 10% – so, obviously, I was aiming for 90,000!) I tried to do 1,000 words each time I sat down at my laptop but sometimes it was only a couple of hundred and that was fine too.
Tip 4) Babies sleep a lot, especially in their first year. I used to write when my daughter was asleep, and still do on the days when I am not teaching.
Tip 5) Don’t obsessively reread your work. You need to get that first draft down on paper. I recently read a quote by the author Shannon Hale which I adored: “Writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” I would set myself targets for when I could send the document to my kindle and read and edit the whole manuscript thus far, for example after 10,000 words. In the meantime, I had to content myself with rereading what I had written the previous session, editing that, and then stubbornly carrying on. As Hale said, you are shovelling sand into a box, the really fun part comes later, when you get to turn that sand into sandcastles.
Tip 5) Take breaks. If you want to take a whole month off writing, do it. I took the whole of August off so I could give my mind a rest and enjoy the holidays we had planned without feeling guilty I wasn’t writing. If you think about it, you only need 90 days where you sit down and write 1000 words and that’s it, your first draft is complete!

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