Writing Times

Writing as a stay-at-home dad is like being the subject of an experiment to see when and how the human brain can be creative. It's often hard to find set periods of time to write (though it's been getting easier as the kids get older) and the times I do find are generally short. Dominion was written between the hours of 5 and 6 a.m. while I was on parental leave for my second child. Some days I would get an hour to write, some days I would open my laptop and instantly hear a crying baby. I had read that a consistent writing schedule was helpful in Anne Lamott's excellent Bird by Bird, but consistency doesn't happen when you're on kid duty.

So what I've learned about my brain is this: it can adapt to just about any schedule, but it needs some time to settle in. Lately I've had two to four mornings a week for writing, about two hours each morning. For the first while in this new arrangement, I would write furiously for the first 45 minutes, and then I'd hit a wall. My brain was pretty sure this was stopping time, because surely someone was about to start crying, right? Time to shut down and start looking for the diaper cream. It took me a few months to push past that, to start writing longer. Even now I usually have a lull after 45 minutes. I get up, pace for a few minutes, and then I can resume.

The other thing I've learned is that I can't write first drafts in the evening. Our youngest, who is now two, has always been an early riser. I wanted to get up at 5 and do some writing, as I did before, but she liked to get up around 4:30 most mornings, so that was right out. So I tried writing after bedtime instead. But I've always been a morning person, and creatively it shows. When I write something after the kids are in bed, it either stalls out before it begins or it's so full of plotholes that the words hardly stick together. For hard first draft work, or really complicated revisions, I need my wits about me, and by 8pm my wits have already hit the hay. On the other hand, this is the perfect time for some minor revisions--I'm much better at catching writing that doesn't flow, because even the smallest hitch can trip me up when I'm tired.

I remember when I was younger, I could write in a frenzy. I'd finish a short story in a day, sweating over my keyboard. I didn't know about NaNoWriMo back then, but I would have done it. (I did write a draft of an early novel in under a month once. But it was June, so it doesn't count.) Now I'm much more of a chip-away-at-it writer. Small but steady progress, adding up to big things over time. It makes more sense for my life as a parent.