Today I’m contributing to the Writing Mama Blog Hop, curated by the inimitable Sharon Bayliss, whose December People series is burning up the Amazon charts at the moment (see what I did there?).
I’m a parent. Yeah, that’s a heavy thing. Kids, man. They have to eat, sleep, and learn to read and perform higher mathematics. It’s our job as parents to make sure that happens with minimum injury. We’re occasionally successful, but the price every parent pays to keep their children on the path clear of natural selection is the most precious commodity we possess. And that commodity is time.
Which sucks when you’re trying to foster a career as a full-time writer. It’s hard enough making a living writing full-time. I know I can’t cut it just yet. Bills are too big, and it’s not just me I’m trying to support. So I have to work harder to get my books out if I ever plan to quit the day job and fulfill my passion. More like a life plan, really. But it’s not the money that presents the greatest obstacle as a writing parent. As I said, time is an enormous drain.
As a writer, I have to create a far more rigid schedule. I can no longer write on whim. The morning is utterly consumed with getting ready for work, packing the boy’s lunch and making him breakfast, getting him out the door in time for me to leave. Then there’s the day job, which is necessary at the moment. That kills the lion’s share of my creative window, which for me is late a.m. into the early afternoon. Then it’s another hour-long commute home (thanks so much, crappy economy) and the boy’s already at home doing homework. Thus begins dinner-making, exercise, karate and other extra-curricular activities. And if I want to be a parent who is more “present” than “absent”, some quality goofing-off time with the family.
The boy’s in bed by 8:30pm, which leaves me my golden period of time to squeeze in as much word count as I can before either my brain completely goes numb, or the pull to spend time with the wife intervenes. This is basically one hour per day. That’s not much. It’s not as much as I want.
But them’s the breaks when you’re a parent. The child is priority. The family is a very close second. And society pressure is such that men must work full-time at the expense of all avocations. It is certainly frowned upon when a man announces he’s quitting work to pursue [insert hair-brained scheme here]. It’s the stuff of sitcoms, and has been the rocks upon which many dreams have been dashed.
I’m not here to complain about my life… but if you’re an author and a parent, particularly a father working full-time while trying to convert a career into writing, you might take comfort to know that your frustrations are shared. The only way to crank out quality writing in this intense time-squeeze?
1) Keep your belly-fire stoked. If you constantly crave the writing process, the need to spin that yarn, the inexorable siren call of that completed first draft… then you’ll find a way to get your butt in the seat at the end of the day.
2) Kill the Mood Fairy. Your writing can no longer be dictated by mood. You have a small window to create, and thus your muse must punch her clock on your schedule. Be vicious. Ruthless. Unforgiving. It’s your time… guard it with your life.
3) Keep your family happy. You’ll need complete support from the spouse and the children. Otherwise they’ll find benign yet corrosive means of undermining your writing drive. They’ll want you to come watch TV, spend all weekend with them, manage to insinuate that you can always put it off until later. You can, technically… but procrastination has a vicious kind of momentum that’s hard to reverse.
Best of luck, comrades, with balancing your family life and your need to write. There’s no magic wand yet that I’ve found. I am lucky in a way that most others don’t share. My wife is also a novelist, and we tend to share our Word Count Power Hours. We appreciate goading one another toward writing. It’s a lifehack, I’ll admit. AND IT’S ALL MINE! HA HA HA HA!!!
This is a Blog Hop!
Fantastic tips! The mood fairy is definitely one to get rid of. If I can grab ten minutes of writing here and another twenty there, I sit myself down and just write. If you ever find that magic wand, let us know!
I’m dating myself here… but there’s this great line from the 1984 Alan Smithee/David Lynch version of Dune, in which Gurney Halleck opines: “Mood?! Mood is a thing for cattle and love-play!”
I often hear the voice of Patrick Stewart bellowing this line over my shoulder if full brogue whenever I start the internal whining.
There’s no question that it’s a juggling act. I was definitely in the middle of that a few years ago before my daughter turned 18. I was juggling a full-time job, writing, and the challenges of dealing with a troubled older-child adoption. Not easy.
Interestingly enough, I found that I was a lot more productive with my writing in those days than I have been of late. These days, I’ve been spending more time trying to focus on marketing and sales than I have on the actual writing. I’m guessing that it’s probably time to go back to the latter.
Sometimes I think we are our own worst distractions.
Yes! Without question.
So you’re easily bribed by beer, huh? I’m not judging. I’ve got so many things I love to do BESIDES writing — did I mention that I’m training for my first ultra run? Which means I’m clearly insane, in more ways than one now. Ah, well. Here’s the Big Truth: I visit my mother in the nursing home every week (it used to be more often back when she knew who I was), and seeing all those people there inspires me to Seize the Day every day–no matter what that means. It could be hiking, running, writing–I don’t care. I’m just going to live life as big as I can while I still remember who I am.
In other news… good luck with that Ultra Run! Holy cats!
I have six kids, and it amazes me that they’re all still alive. Especially the teenagers. The perpetuation of the human race is a miracle.
Let’s see, if I do the math, I can get 1,000 to 1,500 words done in an hour, which means I could write a full-length novel in two months just one hour at a time. It pays off!
I range anywhere between 1000 and 2000 in a night, depending on the pace of the narrative. Action scenes and witty dialogues tend to flow well… the hard plot-tying twisty spaghetti-bowls tend to move slow.
If I stay on-task, I can hammer out a first draft in about three months. Note the “if” there…
The first draft of my first novel was written in less than 30 days, mainly because I spent every free moment on it that wasn’t taken up by my job or sleeping. My second book took longer than that.
If I can just sit down and write, I can get a lot done, but like you have said, we are often our own worst distractions.
Great tips! I love your quote, “We’re occasionally successful, but the price every parent pays to keep their children on the path clear of natural selection is the most precious commodity we possess. And that commodity is time.” Thanks for participating!
Ugh, that mood fairy! She’s a hard habit to kick, but once I force myself to sit down and turn off the internet (or I’m sure to get sucked into social media land), I can usually find my groove.
And beer, eh? For me, it’s wine and dark chocolate and shoe shopping. My family has been known to ruthlessly use these against me too! #evil
It’s like some kind of conspiracy… it’s like… THEY KNOW!
Sounds like we’re living similar lives, though I don’t have the commute. I, too, can get about an hour per day for writing, maybe two on a weekend. Kids are definitely a time suck, but most worthwhile things are.
Ugh… this commute, man. I wish I had a personal driver so I could just sit in the back seat and write. (and there is no public transit to Baltimore, nor would I take it were it available largely due to safety concerns)
This here’s the truth. It is so helpful to have a supportive spouse, but you are right! There are tons of times when I want to write, but I can’t. And a few times when I can write, but I don’t want to. In short, what I want has nothing to do with this. (Except that I want to have written) 🙂 Great post!
I think it was R.L. Stine who claimed the key to being such a prolific writer was the difference between loving to write vs. loving to have written.
Supportive Spouse? Check.
Kids out Hunting and Gathering on their own? Check.
Moody Fairy? Can’t seem to squash this viscous time drain. I was under the mistaken impression for a long time that writing was mostly inspiration. I have learned now that is not the case but still find myself avoiding the pen or keyboard at times because of “my mood.” It is good to hear how others do it – just put out the words. It is very motivational.
Thanks for the post.
And it’s easy to wax dogmatic about personal discipline… but the real truth is sometimes you just can’t bring the word count.
At such times, it’s equally important to be forgiving of ourselves. Beating ourselves up about getting out of the “swing” can actually be just as catastrophic for our writing habits.