Tossing a grenade

When I started blogging about my journey as a writer and father, I didn’t intend to discuss my wife that often. I’m not sure why, given how important she is to my writing process. She has, at various times, been my editor, supporter, taskmaster and more. A writer herself, she understands how important my writing is to me, she encourages me to do it, and tries to ensure that I’ll have time to pursue writing even when things are busy.

We are, I think, a pretty good match. We communicate well, we agree on pretty much everything, and we talked extensively about what we wanted our life to look like after KRH arrived. I felt about as certain as anything that we would do fine when our son arrived, even though we know things would be hard and different for a long time.

It turns out that having a baby was a lot harder than either of us anticipated or prepared for, even knowing that change was coming. A metaphor that appeals to me goes like this.

Missing the window

Every couple of months, the conversation goes around writing circles about age of publication. There seems to be a certain stigma, currently, that a lot of successful writers make their debuts by their early 30s. If you haven’t, the thinking goes, you’ll never make it. I think this round of writer angst was kicked off by Min Jin Lee’s excellent post about her own writer’s journey.  That conversation requires the occasional bit of reassurance from more successful writers to newer ones.

Of course, that might be of limited use if you’re older than 35 and still unpublished, and indeed Scalzi’s own journey (second novel bought at age 33) isn’t that typical. Still, Scalzi’s points  about the average age of publishing stand. Writing books is hard. Getting published is harder. Yes, some writers do it early (and we laud and idealize those who do) but many, many well-known writers have debuted after 35.

Still, that brings me to my own thoughts. In my early 30s with several books written (but so far unbought), I’ve had the looming feeling for some time that I’ve missed a window of opportunity. Why? Well, I’ve been writing since my teens (though I didn’t get serious about it until just a few years ago). In that time, I’ve completed a fair amount of education, started a career and married a wonderful companion and partner, which doesn’t seem like a bad list of accomplishments. And yet, when I think about how much of that time has been outright wasted (and a lot of it was) then I can’t help but feel like I should have accomplished more.

Because, you see, I expect being a parent to KRH (and any future siblings he may have) to take a lot of time. I also expect to have to work more over the coming decades to meet my family’s financial goals. In other words, the time I should have been writing harder, producing more content, honing my skills further… was years ago. And I was, but maybe I didn’t do it enough? Maybe I should have gotten serious earlier? I wish I had produced more.

Giving yourself a hard time over the past is an emotional trap that it’s easy to fall into. Yes, you didn’t meet your goals. At the same time, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change that failure. All you can do is try and learn from it and do better. That’s a mindset I try to embrace, admittedly not always successfully. So maybe, yes, I did fail to make the most of a window of time over the last 10 years. But it’s worth noting that unless I became the next J.K. Rowling, I’m likely to look back on my accomplishments and feel like they weren’t enough. Still, I did accomplish a lot in that time. I learned how to work steadily and regularly, how to to finish my projects and a lot about editing. I built habits and learned how to work more efficiently and effectively. And hey I wrote some books I think are pretty good, even if they’re not on bookshelves. And I’ll keep writing until they make it there.



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Making deals

With KRH getting close to 3 months old, I think my wife and I are now getting to the point where we can hopefully start to settle in and work on building the habits and behaviours that will get us through rest of our parental leave. I don’t think it’s too wild of a guess to suggest that this process is going to require both some flexibility, and a lot of learning.

Here’s the first example. For all that I used to be a huge night owl, in fact my most productive time is early in the day. Pre-noon is better, early morning is best. Not only does the rest of my day get better when I’ve knocked out some editing or a few thousand words in the morning, but that’s also the time when my brain is clearest and most effective (assuming I’ve gotten a half-decent rest the night before). I’m also more efficient if I get to this before I get on social media or the internet.

Pre-KRH, I experimented with getting some time in before I went to work, but that proved to be me stealing time from myself because I just couldn’t be a social human and still get to bed on time. I write best and feel best when I’m well-rested. I’m never well-rested, but there’s a big drop in how I feel between going to bed at 10 pm and getting up at 6:30 and going to bed at 11 and getting up at 6:30.

So, for the last year or two, I do my best to get in some writing time during the week after I get home from work, and then try to get up on the weekends to put in some solid hours before anything else happens. When I do that properly, I can get more done in a weekend than I did in the rest of the week.

That method hasn’t been working as well since KRH arrived. The problem, you see, is that since I was awake, if I heard KRH fussing early in the weekend, I’d go to him so my wife could sleep. He’s been giving us pretty solid stretches of 5-6 hours at night lately, but this habit began when my wife was getting more like 2-3 hours twice a night, so even if I could get her an extra hour, that was a big deal. It may shock you, though, to learn that listening for and then entertaining a baby wasn’t resulting in me getting a while lot done. KRH is very cute but he usually demands to be held and it’s tough to type with a baby on your shoulder, especially one who’s usually fussy for food.

That, combined with our weekends generally being really busy (seeing friends and family, doing things in the house, shopping and cooking for the week, errands and chores), meant that if I missed that time in the morning, I generally would get very little done on the weekends. And that, in turn, was tanking my weekly productivity.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to get down into my office and write in the morning both Saturday and Sunday. And the result was a lot of work done. Okay, great, but how do we make this work? My goal isn’t merely to abandon my wife to that time that I used to be helping.

So, we made a deal. In exchange for her getting up to feed KRK on the weekends (like she does on the weekdays) so I can write in the mornings, I agreed to take him for a longer period in the afternoon/evening. This is possible because, right now, he’s sleeping longer, but he also usually goes back to sleep after his morning feed. Bargaining, as it turns out, isn’t just a step in dealing with grief.

We’ll see how this works over the next week or two and if it’s a working solution for both of us. If not, then we’ll look for something else.

Meanwhile, my novel edit is proceeding. After getting nothing really done over Christmas I’m back to work. I’m making some progress fixing timeline errors and changes, and finding out that while there are some big plot holes, there are also some solid scenes and that the overall plot arc seems functional. That’s better than I’d feared!

2016 in reterospect

I really like New Years. No other time encourages us to look back over the last year and think about how we want to improve in the next. I’m not much one for resolutions, but I think there’s a lot to be learned from examining our failures and successes. Since KRH was born in October, most of this year was completed before he came along, but I spent most of the pregnancy knowing (and honestly struggling) with his arrival.

You see, I love my son and I want to be a great Dad to him, but after my wife and I spent some time trying to get pregnant and we realized that this pregnancy was going to continue, I had to grapple with the conflicting nature of my goals. Stated simply enough, having KRH would distract me from my goal of writing full time. It’s a tough gig to make a living as a writer, and for all that I have a couple of books complete (and I think they’re good books) I know I need to get better and more consistent to be able to make a go of it. But as I noted before, we wanted KRH and I always knew he would take time from my writing. So it took me some mental time to wrestle with his arrival and how it would impact my writing time. The result, in many ways, is this blog. I want to chart the ups and downs and back and forths as I try to be a great Dad and pursue my writing ambitions.

So with that said, what did I get done in 2016? Well, late in 2015 I came to the realization that a novel, A Foreseen Happenstance, that I’d been working on for some time (and thought I was finished with) wasn’t done at all. I had a bolt from the blue discovery that the main character was the wrong gender. As a man, the character’s motivation was never strong enough; he had too many things going for him. As a woman, she had to face sexism, prejudice and a rigid hierarchy. More changed in that rewrite, but I managed to rewrite, trim out about 10,000 words and edit in the first 3 months of 2016. Those were my most productive months of the year and the fastest I’ve ever completed such an expansive rewrite.

Shortly after that, I recevied a rewrite request for another novel I was querying, Legacy of the Destroyer. The agent in question thought the premise sounded decent and the writing was good, but that the novel was about 20k too long. A complete rewrite to get all those words out took me from June to October and was pretty significant. For trimming the book by nearly a sixth, I was happy with both the process and the result.

In November, as I always do, I took part in NaNoWriMo. I completed a draft for Cloudbreakers, a novel idea I’ve had kicking around in various forms for almost five years. Getting a draft typed was a big deal. The end length was 80k. I also spent some time working on several other drafts, including my novel Death on the Snowfield, which isn’t yet done.

So, in 2016, I spent roughly 470 hours with fingers to keyboard on writing. That was better than the year before, but not as good as in 2014, when I spent 530 hours. Though of as an average, I’m fairly happy with it because it works out to over an hour a day, but at the same time, I feel like I could have done more and should do more in the coming year. Which is funny, because this year and the last year were full of challenges, and 2017 is going to be filled with the challenge of full-time parenting plus my full-time job. What I think I’m going to need to do is set my goal high, but at the same time keep my expectations even. Still, I feel like if I want a chance at ever achieving my goals, I need to pour more and more time into writing. I have to keep this somewhere between being a driving force, and ensuring that it doesn’t interfere with parenting KRH. Time spent not writing isn’t necessarily wasted, even if that’s what my brain wants me to think. Still, I need to push myself harder than ever, and keep learning to be better and more efficient and consistent.

Anyway, here’s to a better 2017!