Finding the time

Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie

Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie

Towards the end of last year, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't happy. For a while, I'd had the sneaking suspicion that the weather wasn't fine in my interior landscape, that the sky might be looking stormier with every passing day, but I told myself to ignore this presentiment. It was nothing more than a symptom of living a busy life.

After all, my wife and I were in the process of selling our house, my son was about to start his first year of school and we didn't know where to enrol him because we didn't know where we going to be living in three months. Work was stressful with a number of high-pressure projects looming. My hair was thinning... It was perfectly natural to feel some malaise.
Except it was more than that.

Something was wrong and it took a conversation with my wife to figure out why.

In 2011 Pan Macmillan published my first book Winter's Shadow . Winter's Light followed in 2012 and Claudette in the Shadows in 2013. Late December 2013, my son, Bailey, was born. I kept writing. Or tried to. But it wasn't easy. Any free time I once had was gone. It took enormous discipline to get any writing done at all but still, I managed to peck out a new book, Lüne, over the next 3 years.

To put that time-frame in perspective it took me 6 months to write the first draft of Winter's Shadow and about 4 months to write Winter's Light. My process had definitely slowed down. And then my daughter, India, was born.

My available writing time shrunk even more. I continued to re-write Lune but to get any time in front of the computer involved either sacrificing much-needed sleep or off-loading the two high energy chaos imps, Bailey and India, onto my wife. Something I didn't want to do because I actually loved being a dad.

Being a dad gave me more happiness and personal satisfaction than writing ever had. Why sit in front of a computer battling frustration and self-doubt when I could build a lego fortress with my son or play guitar for my daughter, see their joy and feel my own sense of self-worth skyrocket. With a demanding full-time job and two children I adored spending time with, putting my writing on the backburner was the easiest thing to do. It felt right. Except it really didn't.

It's one thing to live a life without ever finding out what it is you want to do. It's another thing entirely to find something you love to do, something you're good at, and ignore that part of yourself completely. I'm a writer. And I wasn't writing. No wonder I was unhappy.

My wife pointed this all out to me when I finally opened up about how I was feeling and she suggested something I should have done much earlier – drop back my working hours to 3 days week. We could afford it and if it meant I'd feel better in myself then it was definitely worth the financial sacrifice we'd be making. She's pretty amazing my wife.

However, as appealing as this plan was I didn't seize on it immediately. It felt irresponsible to throw away money – money that was being used to pay off our mortgage and feed my children – to pursue something which, if I was honest with myself, probably wouldn't bring in much – if any – money at all. Economically, this decision was foolish.

I wrestled with myself over this issue and realised I was scared. Scared to back myself. To actually treat writing like a career and not a hobby to fit in around my "real" life.

I talked to my boss, and bless him, he was all for reducing my days. However, he proposed I start with a 4-day week. It would impact the business less and we could always talk about transitioning me to 3 days further down the line. This was a fair compromise and also alleviated some anxiety I had about taking such a big chunk out of my monthly pay slip.

We're coming up to the end of February 2019 and I've been working part-time since January. So far, I've managed to complete a first draft of the Winter's Shadow movie (blog post to come) and a re-rewrite of my new-ish novella Emerald Shadows. I've made more writing progress in the past couple of months than I did in the preceding year. More to the point, I feel happier, more complete. Life is still busy but at least I know I have one day a week that's mine. It's not much but it's enough.


Michael Hearle