On Father’s Day

So this Father’s Day, I realized I was a father.

This might not exactly seem like a real leap. After all, I’ve been parenting for 8 months. We knew our lives were going to change starting last year. Really, I’ve had a long time to get used to this.

And yet.

Parenthood, I feel like, is one of the few roles in life that can never be changed. Jobs and relationships can be ended. But once a parent, always a parent. And now I’m a parent. What does that mean to me? It means trying to raise a child into an independent adult. But more than that, it makes me responsible (with my wife) to do that for KRH. What’s best for him is now a permanent part of the calculus of my life.

Today, Kameron Hurley’s podcast reminded me of something. Having a child is inherently a hopeful act. In the same way that planting a garden looks forward to a better world, so too does having children.

The state of the world has always mattered to me, because I live there, and so do all the people I love and care about, and even those I don’t care about. But to have a child is to believe that the world is becoming a better place. It’s to believe that I can make the world a better place. I darn well better, because I’ve made the conscious choice to bring an entirely new person into it.

We live in threatening times. I think all times seem that way, when viewed from the inside, but at no point in my 33 years do things seem potentially bleaker than today. It is in many ways our darkest timeline. But we’ve decided to raise a child in it. I now have one more reason to fight for a better world.

I think you can make a pretty good moral argument that improving the lives of everyone is a pretty fine reason to try and do your part in making the world better, even in small ways. But I’m not responsible for anyone else in the world in the way I am for KRH. I’m no longer just fighting for my world. I’m fighting for his, too.

This is part of the Fatherhood I’ve realized. And I’m glad for it. I didn’t know this until now, but I’ve signed on for something much bigger than I first thought.

The first week

It turns out that entertaining a baby all day is hard!

I mean, I knew that. It’s not news. I did it when my wife was out of the house over the past eight months.  But this is the first time I’ve been the primary person. There is nobody to hand KRH to if I run out of ideas or he gets inconsolably fussy. And so far, that hasn’t happened a lot, but it has happened.

Here’s where I’m at. Because KRH still doesn’t reliably take milk from a bottle or cup, we wake him up at 6:45 before my wife goes to work, so he can nurse. Then she’s out of the door shortly after 7. That’s a very different schedule than KRH had before, where he would often sleep until 8 or 9 am. So he’s getting used to a very different schedule than before.

Now, KRH is a pretty okay napper, but sometimes he’ll sleep for 1.5 hours, and sometimes for more like 30 minutes. Unfortunately, with him getting up much earlier, his short naps won’t cut it. So one of my first jobs is getting him used to a new nap rhythm. We’re only a few days into this, so I can’t really say how we’re doing.

We have been keeping fairly busy. Monday, we ran errands and went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. We didn’t really see any fun birds (only ducks) but it was a nice walk and picnic. Yesterday was rainy, so we mostly stayed inside and played, except for going to the gym, where KRH played with childcare. Today, we’re going to lunch with my Mom, and if it stops raining we’ll go on a walk, and maybe play with the cloth strips my wife made for him.

Whew. In some ways, its harder than I expected. In others, I’m finding it alright. I’m finding little bits of time here and there to myself, with which i’m not really writing yet, but I am doing some important writing-related work (queries) and listening to writing-related podcasts (currently Print Run and Get To Work Hurley).

I want to figure out the rhythm of the day (to both KRH and myself) before I start sitting down to write. I need to know how to snatch 10 minutes here or a paragraph there, without neglecting KRH in any way. That’s how I’m going to get things done over the next couple of months, and indeed over the next couple of years.

And on that note, I’d better get on with some other things before KRH wakes up from his latest nap. It’s only been a few days of this so I anticipate having more to talk about in the coming days and weeks. Until then!

The last week

Here it is. My last week at work before I go on parental leave.

This is an interesting period. On one hand, I’m hugely looking forward to spend time with KRH. It’s summer and he’s growing and maturing quickly. I’m going to take him to the zoo, to parks and festivals, and just generally spend lots of time with my cute baby doing fun things. I anticipate having to do a lot of learning, and I know it’s going to be harder than I think.

On the other hand, I’m also looking at the next fifteen weeks as a bit of an opportunity. In addition to spending time with KRH, I want to spent time working on me. I’ve been at my current job for over six years, and in the workforce for longer. This will, by far, be my longest break from the grind of the day job. It’s not going to be a vacation, but it is going to be a transition, and transitions to me are always opportunities for change. In a lot of ways, I hope this parental leave may be the transition I wanted KRH’s birth to be. Not so dramatic, of course (I really wanted his birth to be a transformation of my life and habits that, in retrospect, was entirely too ambitious). But I hope it will be an opportunity for reflection and some renewal. A leaving behind of some things and an adoption of some new things. A change to grow and evolve, as we all have to.

I’ll be embarking on all this slowly, because I’ve learned that trying to change everything at once for myself is a bad plan. And for the first little while, I’m just going to get used to the new circumstance. Spending time with KRH, after all, is the priority here. I’ve got some ideas about what I want to do differently and how to do them, but I have no idea how being the lead parent will be, so I’m going to have to adapt things to that reality.

So we’ll see how this goes.

The routine

I don’t think it’s a big secret to say that I’ve struggled a lot with writing since KRH arrived. If I’m honest with myself, a lot of things are going “wrong” with my writing right now. I’m finding it harder to find time to write, and when I do, I struggle to focus and concentrate. And when the stars align, I find myself easily pulled out of it. As such, the amount of time I’ve been butt-in-chair to write has been steadily decreasing.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I was going to keep writing at the same pace after KRH as I had been before. More, in fact, because I was going to learn to be more productive and get better at finding small bits of time to write. This was a time of major life change, so I was going to use the opportunity to get better.

Hasn’t happened. I’ve struggled, a lot, and things seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Maybe this is understandable, given just how big a life change this has been, but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel desperate, when I should feel hungry. I feel this way about a lot of things in my life, but I’m not sure how to change them.

One thing I’m going to do to change this is start to work on my concentration. I do have time to write, so making good use of it is critical. I’ve heard a lot about the power of routine to build productive habits, so I’m working on a 4-step routine that I can do so my body and brain knows “now it’s time to work.” Here’s what I’m going to try.

  • Stretch – 2 minutes
  • Meditate – 2 minutes
  • Think about 3 things I’m grateful for
  • Visualize my true self – what does the person I want to be do with the time? What would allow me to look back and feel happy about this time?

That that’s it. I hope it won’t take more than 5 minutes, but that I can use it to build the productive habit. I’ll report back on how it works.

The primary caretaker

Ever since KRH was born, now seven months ago, I have been Dad only part of the time. Which isn’t to say I haven’t always been a dad, but for much of the week, I am busy at my day job. For the most part, when I’m at work I’m not parenting. My mind isn’t in parent mode. In a similar vein, for at least some of the last seven months, while I’ve been happy to be the person taking care of KRH for an afternoon or an evening, I have never been the “primary” parent for a long period.

That’s in part been because of the physical reality, because although he’s started solid food, we were never able to get KRH to take a bottle with any frequency, so until recently he needed Mom at least a few times a day. And in part, my wife has been the one on leave from work, so the vast majority of taking care of the baby has fallen on her, even as she’s needed to recover from pregnancy and birth (a job I think we often underestimate).

Long story short, I’ve never really taken up the full time job of caring for a child.

That’s going to change shortly! Next month, I’ll be starting parental leave, while my wife goes back to work. For my wife, it’s going to be difficult to leave KRH, but we decided we wanted either of us to be able to take care of KRH on any given day, and we decided the best way to do that was to make sure I had time to be the primary parent. So for about three and a half months, that’s going to be my job. I’m really thankful that my wife is willing to give me the opportunity to do it, because I think I’m going to learn a lot and hopefully have great times in the process.

What this probably isn’t going to be is an opportunity to write a whole lot. I’ve already cut the time I’m writing down because I just haven’t been able to keep up lately. I’m expecting, honestly, to get almost no work done while I’m on leave. I’m expecting taking care of KRH, plus doing household things, to take most of my time. If I do have time to write, great, but I don’t anticipate it. So while my writer brain really doesn’t like that and screams about it, I’m getting an opportunity to just spend time with KRH. It helps, of course, that he’ll be as playful and independent as he’s yet been and it’ll be warm and lovely for the months I’ll be on leave. So I anticipate lots of summer walks and trips to the park and the zoo and festivals and all sorts of similar things.

I have a while until this begins, but I can’t wait. I’m sure when it happens I’ll have a lot of things to post about.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
59% Complete
53,137 of 90,000 words

I want it five years ago

I spend a lot of time thinking about personal growth. I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are imperfect creatures by nature, and that there is always some way or another we can improve ourselves, be it our health, our personality, our habits, whatever. As a writer, I see how slowly improving my writing techniques and output will eventually yield massive gains and indeed that has been my plan for a long time.

But somehow, I think, my thinking about growth has gotten twisted, or maybe always been twisted. As a society, I think we hear a lot of stories about people who made massive changes overnight. They quit smoking cold turkey or took up a health lifestyle or quit their jobs to write or were one day struck by an epiphany and did something. And I think we tend to idolize those people whose willpower, apparently, is simply enough to sit down and make that massive change.

I don’t think most change comes from that method. If it does, maybe it shouldn’t. Sure, if that works for you, but I can’t off hand think of anything I’ve accomplished through that kind of massive change. And yet, if you looked at my planning document(I use and love my Volt Planner, I’m consistently setting goals across multiple areas for massive change. I’ve gotten better about breaking goals down into achievable bites and strategizing methods, but I’m still often trying to pack big changes into a month.

I think one of the reasons I’ve found the jump to parenthood so difficult is that I somehow expected that it would be a milestone and an opportunity. I thought that since everything would be changing, it would be an opportunity to set all the blocks of my life exactly as I wanted them. I’d eat perfectly after KRH, I told myself. I’d get really good at stealing 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there of writing, so that I’d actually write more and more efficiently than before. I’d get to the gym more regularly, something I only started doing a few months before KRH was born. And so on and so forth.

Does it shock you, dear reader, to learn that none of those massive changes worked out? Even though I had broken things down into achievable bites? It turns out that having a baby was more difficult than I expected, in different ways than I expected. So here I am, six months after KRH was born, and much of my change is still unmade. It doesn’t help, I think, that when I set out to make a change, I want it to happen five years ago, and if not then yesterday will have to do.

Now, this realization is a bit funny because I’ve long mentally accepted the idea of continuous growth. But I think I really need to focus on the fundamentals and try and do less of what doesn’t work. So in May I’m going to do that, and I’m going to pick a few narrow areas to try and improve in, rather than filling my list with to-do things. We’ll see what kind of progress I can make.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
56% Complete
50,197 of 90,000 words

Six months

I knew things would be tough after KRH arrived. I expected it to be. Indeed, I feared never being able to write as a parent. I worried that this was going to be the end of my writing career. I worried I simply wouldn’t have the time. I wondered what I’d give up and sacrifice for this duty of parenthood that I’d chosen. Of course, I looked forward to that duty as well. I had a ton of curiosity about who my child would be, how they would grow up, and what our time together would mean both to me and them. But there was a definite period where fear was one of the things I felt the most.

Six months have passed, as of yesterday. A lot has happened in that time. The stringbean baby has grown up a lot. He has hair and two teeth (and he’s kept the bright blue eyes I love so much). He’s grown so much, and now he’s as chubby as a baby should be. He talks (for a given value of talking). He grabs things (my hair and beard, mostly). He’s happy and healthy. He can roll over onto his tummy. And much, much more. What seems like an eternity is also the merest heartbeat, as near as I can tell.

So where are we? Where am I? Maybe that’s a better question. I don’t think I exaggerate to say that the last six months have been the most challenging of my life. For all that I feared that KRH might be the end of my writing career, I didn’t think having a child would be so hard. In those six months, I’ve run on less sleep than I thought would be possible. I’ve had the foundation of my life shaken deeply just from KRH’s sheer needs and the amount of change going on. I’ve struggled with just what it means to be a parent. A lot of thing have seemed a lot less certain than I thought they would.

Before KRH, I spent a lot of time reading, looking for reassurance that I would still be able to write after he arrived. One of the things that really didn’t allay my concerns was the suggestion that I should give up writing for the first 6 months of KRH’s life. I can’t afford to give up that much of my writing career, I though, and I definitely can’t afford to do it more than once (as my wife and I still plan to have more kids). I decided to ignore that advice, and instead I thought writing through that time would make me a better writer. More diligent and disciplined.

I’m glad I did keep writing through the last six months, but I’ve accomplished a lot less than I thought I would. The hours I’ve been able to spend at the task have been dramatically declining. March was one of the worst months I’ve had, time-wise, since I started keeping track of my hours written. I find it tougher to focus now, and the time I had for myself to write (after I got home from work) is now the only time I have to spend with KRH. That isn’t to say that I’ve accomplished nothing, as I pumped out the first draft of a novel and I’m halfway through a second draft, but I’ve underwhelmed my expectations.

In those six months, I’ve learned a lot. What worked before (writing after work, long afternoons in coffee shops, time to myself for rest and recovery) isn’t the same now. So I need to find different things that will work. I need to learn to refocus and concentrate better than I used to. I need to be able to write on less sleep than I used to enjoy. In short, not at all how I thought this time would go.

I struggle with that a lot. I had a plan for how I wanted these months to be, and instead things have been totally different. I don’t think I understood, in some ways, just how my life was going to change. I’m still not sure I do.

I don’t intend to give up writing. I’m not happy unless I’m chasing this dream. But I think I am going to have to accept spending less time with it than I wanted. I am going to have to adjust my expectations on myself, at least as long as my wife and I have young children. That doesn’t mean give up, but it does mean to adapt and persevere in ways I haven’t had to before. So that’s what I’m going to have to keep doing. But then, isn’t that what we do our whole lives? Yes, this circumstance is difficult, but it will make me better. I think I have to rely on that and have faith in myself.

Like scar tissue

So lately some of my favourite writers have been over on Reddit, dispensing advice and answering questions. At the time, I was struggling with confidence, so I asked Kameron Hurley and Brandon Sanderson the same thing, “how do you develop toughness as a writer?” You can read their answers at the respective blog posts, but they said pretty similar things. You can control the process, not the goal of publication, so do what you want to do.

Chuck Wendig is the writer who, for me, most personifies Dad and Writer. I’ve been following his stories about his son bdub for years, now. So naturally, when he appeared like a swarm of bees on Reddit, I asked him the same question. Here’s what he had to say.

Man, I dunno, it’s like scar tissue. You can’t build up scar tissue without submitting yourself to the slings and arrows of it — you gotta take the hits, you gotta be willing to suck, gotta be willing to take the rejections right on the chin and let it rattle your teeth. In terms of pushing past the bullshit of the world, well, I’ll admit, all the Heinous Fuckery going on in the world makes it hard, but you also have to realize that stories matter. Escapist stories matter. Resonant stories matter. All stories matter, so be a part of that. Commit and contribute. Turn off the news. Turn off social media. Commune with the work and tell the world to fuck off for a little while.

Stories matter. Do the work. As with the past advice I’ve been getting, this was important for me when I received it. I’ve been trapped in a bit of a funk for some time, probably since KRH was born. Not only does the world feel like it’s hurtling toward chaos, I’ve struggled both with the fact that I can’t spend as much time pursing my goal of publication as I used to, and with feeling stuck, like my new project has an uncertain future and that I’m not sure how to take it where it needs to be. I’ve been starting to emerge from than funk lately. This is a good reminder that what I’m trying to do matters. Writing is important. My writing is important. I needed that.

Meanwhile, I also asked Wendig about writing as a Dad. His thoughts.

Well, in some ways it’s easy, because being a writer isn’t like being at a 9-to-5 job — I can come in, make breakfast, make lunch, still be a part of his life and then go fuck off to Imagination Unicorn Karate Land for as long as I need to.

But here’s a few tricks:

a) write early in the morning, before Tiny Human awakens b) forgive yourself and the kid — it doesn’t really start to get easier until they’re 2-3 years old c) it’ll get much easier when they go to school, too d) carve out little pockets of writing time whenever you can

In some ways, it’s a little tough to keep in mind that things won’t get easier. KRH is just 5 months old. 2-3 years old seems like a long way away, and if my wife and I have more children, as is the plan, then it just starts the plan all over again. That feeds into my fears that I’m missing my window, so to speak. But Wendig reminds me that it can be done, (even if I don’t have a magical writing shed). That’s the sort of thing I’m focusing on going forward.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
42% Complete
37,836 of 90,000 words

Write like you’re on vacation

My wife and I are lucky enough to get to vacation once a year. This year’s destination was Cancun, Mexico. Previous vacations have been pretty good; a lot of time writing, some sun, some good food, a few drinks. Paradise for me.

This is exactly how I pictured my time in Mexico. In fact, I took this picture on the last day while rushing to get ready to go to the airport.

When I have time off work, I like to work. No, really. For me, a vacation is an opportunity to spend time doing things I really enjoy, even if that thing is writing really hard. I see vacations as an opportunity to really get some thing accomplished.

Or, I used to. Christmas, when I intended to make a big end-of-year push to get some work done, turned out to be anything but when the whole family got sick, I was worn out, and it was KRH’s first festive season. But this vacation would be different, I told myself. KRH was 5 months old, not 3. We were going with my wife’s parents, who would babysit! I would get up early before everyone did, so I could get my words in and still spend lots of time with my family.

You can probably guess how that went, huh?

It’s not to say I didn’t get anything done. But we arrived in Cancun already exhausted, because preparing for the first vacation was a lot more work than we expected. The plane trip was good and KRH turned out to be an excellent traveller, but it was still a long day and trip. And between the heat, the new experiences, and us adapting to a vacation schedule with a baby, it turns out I actually got very little accomplished at all.

He is both an exceptionally good and an exceptionally cute traveller.

It wasn’t exactly for lack of trying. I did drag myself out of bed early about half the time. But it was sure tough to put finger to keyboard. And once the day got going? Good luck. There was food to eat, and swimming to do. For a nine day trip, we lost two to travel, one on a tour to Isla Mujeres, and the others sure went fast. And you know what? I don’t regret it at all.

Here’s the thing. This is probably going to be the new pattern of vacations. For a while, they’re not going to be free writing sojourns anymore. Instead, they’re going to be about spending time with KRH and his hypothetical future siblings. That’s not a thing I’ve gotten the opportunity to do enough.

NOW NOW NOW is an ethos I’ve embraced for a long time when it comes to writing. As silly as it is, I feel like my window is slipping away, or that I’m somehow missing my chance to achieve my goals. I worry I’ve already wasted too much time and that my goals are getting further away as I get older, not closer. I fear that I’m falling behind others, no matter that it’s neither a race nor a competition. So a vacation, a solid week to write, is always a treasured opportunity. And although losing that is going to be hard and I won’t stop trying to write while I’m off work, what I will do is stop thinking of them as writing priority weeks. Now, they’ll be parenting priority weeks. We need to have that sometimes, right?

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
42% Complete
37,836 of 90,000 words

The process alone was enough

A little while ago, during an AMA, I asked author Kameron Hurley about becoming tough. A few days later, Brandon Sanderson stopped in for an AMA as well. In terms of both craft and persistence (he wrote a lot of books before he got published), Sanderson is the writer I want to be like the most. I asked him much the same question. “How did you develop the toughness to keep at your craft, when I’m sure there must have been times you despaired about ever being published?” I didn’t get an immediate answer and figured my question had already been answered, so I didn’t lose any sleep over not getting it answered.

However, kudos to Brandon, about 25 days later he got to my question. Here’s his reply.

I’ve told this story before, but the biggest moment for me came right before I wrote The Way of Kings. I was unpublished, with a dozen (as you’ve mentioned) books under my belt–books nobody in the business seemed to want to buy.

The decision to go was very personal. It was an acknowledgement that the process alone was enough for me. I wanted publication, I wanted to do this as a living, but even if I never obtained that, I loved the writing process enough to keep going.

I wrote, and write, primarily for myself. I realize this is cold comfort when I’m able to make a living, and you haven’t yet reached that point. However, my decision was this: If I reached the end of my life with seventy unpublished manuscripts, that would be a better life lived than if I’d stopped writing.

Just like I needed that last reply, I also needed this one. I’ve been slogging on a book that is probably, at my current pace, 10-12 months away. I’m really unhappy with that speed, but I’m not certain how to improve on it with the time available to me with KRH around. I’m also continuing to get a trickle of query rejections (when I even receive those). So a reminder as to why I do this is timely. A life spent in the pursuit of publication is a life I prefer one one where I don’t even try. A life telling stories isn’t a bad one, even if I’m my only audience.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
36% Complete
32,746 of 90,000 words