Being an author is my second job, not my first. And this is something I have to remind myself of daily, lest guilt overwhelm me.
My primary job is as a parent. I’m a stay-at-home dad with three kids. The two eldest are in school now, and the youngest goes to daycare three days a week. One of those days is devoted to housework, because three kids can cause a whole lot of mess, let me tell you. The laundry alone is a Sisyphean task, even when it’s shared with my wife. So I have two days each week to write. And even on those writing days, I spend a lot of hours taking care of the kids, because I have to get them up and ready for the day, and I have to be there when the bell rings. That’s my most important job, and it’s important enough that I want to pour all the energy and care I can into it. Writing comes second.
So, what does that mean for my writing? It means whenever I hear someone say “Write every day,” (as an ill-received Daily Beast article said this summer) I grind my teeth. Partly because it’s a stupid thing to say—everyone writes differently, and you can make it work an infinite number of ways. And partly because it’s something my judgemental brain is already telling me, and I fight a battle against it every day. “You’re missing your chance,” my brain says. “Surely you can find more hours, more energy.” No, brain. No I’m not, and no I can’t. And the books will get done. But in the meantime, two of my kids want snacks and the third just took a swan dive off the couch.
The way I mix writing with full-time parenting does mean I have to navigate some obstacles. This summer, for instance, I went two months without writing. We had just moved to a new city, and the kids were at home, and I wanted them to feel as comfortable and as cared for as possible in our new place, to make a hard transition a little easier. By the time school started up again, my fingers were itching for a keyboard. After that long a hiatus, it took some time to find the flow and the voice of my work-in-progress again. I had to refamiliarize myself with it, shake hands with the characters and bring them back to life in my head.
(Every obstacle is an opportunity too, though, and I found some pretty glaring problems I had been blind to before the summer.)
What I didn’t do was say “Well, I’ve fallen behind, I might as well quit.” For all my brain’s unhelpful mutterings, stopping is never really a consideration. Writing is a part of who I am and how I make sense of the world. So I did the work, got back into the story, and now, several chapters further on, I’m in love with this world that I get to visit two days each week. I sometimes wish I had more time here—hence the long gaps between blog posts, because most often I’d rather be off in fantasyland. But my characters don’t need me as much as my kids do.
So what would I say instead of “Write every day?” I think I’d just say don’t stop. But I’d also say be a human being before being a writer. As important as I think books and stories are, there are things that are more important and it’s okay to put those first. Writing isn’t actually a race. The finish line stays put, and the progress you’ve made—marked out painstakingly by words on a page—doesn’t disappear. Your manuscript won’t suffer trauma from neglect like a real, breathing person will. To finish a book all you need to do is keep going. If you keep going, no matter how slowly, you’ll reach THE END.
So be quiet now, judgemental brain. I have books to write.