Tracy Barrett has fans everywhere. Some of her biggest might be in Cairo, speaking from experience. My youngest, Cyrus, has gobbled up her entire MG series, The Sherlock Files, and I have joined him. We've created our own little book club that has expanded to an embrace of the original Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. What more can any author ask? Inspiring the young and the not-so-young to love her books and those she touches in her writing. In addition to the Sherlock Files, Tracy has other books well-loved by her readers. Book lovers should check out her history and myth-inspired works, like King of Ithika and Dark of the Moon,as well as Anna of Byzantium. As an author and professor and adventurer, Tracy Barrett is an inspiration. She is joining us today.
Thank you for inviting me to be a guest here, Eden!
In the fall of 1984, with my dissertation on a medieval Italian poet half-finished, I accepted a one-semester teaching job at Vanderbilt University, filling in for a professor of Italian who was going on leave. Just one semester.
In the spring of 2012, I finally said “good-bye” to that job. In the meantime, I finished my dissertation, and taught every Italian class at Vanderbilt from 101 through literature and civilization. I never sought tenure, preferring to spend my weekends and summers raising my children to writing academic articles. Later, I also discovered a love of writing books for young readers.
I always worked hard, but during my last year at the university, it was non-stop. When I wasn’t teaching or prepping a class, I was writing. When I wasn’t doing either one, I was climbing the steep learning curve of my new volunteer position as U.S. Regional Advisor Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, a post I accepted a year before I resigned from teaching. Seven days a week, all day long, I worked.
When the day job ended, at first it was hard for me to take time off. While I’ve never believed that you have to write every day—there have been many days, even weeks, when I didn’t write a word, and I managed to publish nineteen books in eighteen years—now I didn’t have an excuse not to. Classes started without me. The SCBWI learning curve smoothed out. I have no syllabi to put together, no book orders to place, no tests to create and then grade, no faculty meetings to go to (yay!), no kids at home, a husband who’s retired, a self-sufficient cat (is there any other kind?), and an elderly dog who sleeps most of the day.
So I had no excuses. If I wasn’t going to write more than I used to, why did I quit my day job? After all, in a list of best day jobs for writers, The Writer magazine (August, 2011) listed “college professor” as no. 1. Had I made a terrible mistake in quitting? To prove that I hadn’t, I kept my butt glued to my desk chair. I started four (!) new projects, hoping one of them would grab me. All summer I felt guilty every time I left my home office.
As the leaves turn and we’re finally getting some relief from the heat that has blistered Middle Tennessee for months, I’m discovering that I have to find a new pattern for this new season of my life as well. I’ve narrowed my four projects down to two. I turn off my computer before dinner. I’ve declared Tuesdays “no-work” days: I catch up on email, read my friends’ Facebook posts, knit, read for pleasure (what a concept), go to a matineé—anything but write or revise. Research is permitted if it means reading a book that I would read for pleasure even if it weren’t useful for one of my works in progress. If I get a brilliant idea for something I’m working on, I’m allowed to write it down—as long as what I write fits on one standard Post-it. And usually, the next day it doesn’t seem so brilliant after all.
I’ve lost the social life that used to surround me at the university, so I don’t turn down any invitations. If a friend asks me to lunch, I go. I still organize monthly gatherings of non-tenure track faculty and attend weekly get-togethers at a local pub with another group of friends. I’m taking advantage of travel that I couldn’t do previously because of conflicts with the academic calendar.
Since I started this schedule, I find that I’m much more relaxed, and paradoxically, more productive. I finished and revised a manuscript that was a loooonnng time getting done, and revised another one. I’ve made nice headway on the two new projects.
I expect to fine-tune my new “season” as I go along, but for now, this is what works for me. If you’re afraid to take time off because “a writer writes every day,” give it a try. If the thought of not touching your computer in the evening gives you hives, grit your teeth and see if you can do it. You can always go back to your old schedule. But you might just find that leaving your work primes the pump, and maybe you, like me, will be a better writer and a happier person for doing it.
Tracy Barrett has written nineteen books, both fiction and nonfiction, for readers in elementary school through high school. She loves history and mysteries, which are combined in her Sherlock Files series, which has been translated into three languages. The first book in the series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, has been nominated for nine state awards. She also loves Greek myths and has written two books that retell Greek myths in new ways, King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she blogs at Good-Bye, Day Job!
Good-Bye, Day Job: http://goodbyedayjob.blogspot.com/