Writing through

I don’t think it requires any great leap to say that a lot of creatives are struggling with the ongoing torrent of news. If you lean progressive (as I do), you can find something in the ongoing shittorrent of current events to concern and terrify you. The shooting in Quebec,  a potential constitutional crisis in the United States, whatever. By the time I post this article, I’m sure something new and worse will have happened. As if KRH and having tossed a hand grenade into my relationship wasn’t enough, it’s impossible to so much as glance at social media or the news without hearing about something terrible.

Not long ago, Chuck Wendig offered the advice “Write despite.” And that’s good advice. But the journey for each person to actually getting shit done when the world feels like it’s falling apart is probably going to be a bit different. Here’s how I do it.

Take the time I need. I want to be a writer, and that means writing even when writing isn’t hard or fun. That means meeting deadlines and pushing myself. It means trying, failing, learning and getting better. In short, writing is a career, even if I’m not currently making my living as a writer. But there has to be a balance in my life. And that means doing more than just writing for 8 hours after I get home at night. Sometimes, there’s value in turning off my brain with a video game (Rimworld is my current obsession.)  Or a movie or a book. Or a night with friends. All these things are important to keep myself sane, and also to refuel my creative engine. Some days, I won’t do these things at all. And some days (bad ones) all I can do is refuel and prepare for tomorrow. And that’s fine, so long as tomorrow I write.

Take care of myself. It isn’t enough to just take mental time for myself. I have to take care of my body, too. Although I might occasionally stay up late to hit a deadline, for me sacrificing sleep to write is a losing battle that makes me feel worse and doesn’t help me write better. Sacrificing time from the gym is the same story. Also important is taking the time to cook and eat properly, both to keep my wife fed and because I do best when I fuel myself properly. All seems basic, but it’s easy to forget sometimes.

Stay aware and engaged, but not too aware and engaged. The internet is a seething mass of terror sometimes. I browse social media and such during the day. But when it’s time to write, if I have my internet connection open or my phone out, I can browse twitter all day rather than actually putting my fingers to keyboard. That’s a great way to waste the time I have, so I need to use programs like Anti-Social or just plain put my phone out of reach and write.

Remember why I do this. Why do I write? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to give up on the remote dream of publication, let alone the near-impossibility of writing full time? Wouldn’t my time be better spent with KRH, my wife, my friends and family? Wouldn’t I feel better if I spent more time at the gym, sleeping and playing games? Wouldn’t I spare myself stressing over word choice, story progress, querying agents and writing the best damn books I can? Maybe, but one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not happy unless I’m writing.

I have a need to tell stories. I want to think those stories matter. I want to think that I can use my passion to make the world a better place for my son, my friends and family. I want to think that people who I don’t know might someday read my stories and have them mean something. Even if I wasn’t chasing publication, I think I would still be telling stories. In part, that’s why I made this blog. It would be far easier to just give this writing thing up for 6 months or so until KRH was older, or until he was in school, or a teenager, or out of the house. But I can’t. So I write because I want to and because I need to.

In other news, I finished my first edit. Now I’m making notes and identifying things I need to fix in a printed copy of the draft. After that, I’ll go back to my notes, re-snowflake, make note of consistency details, write a stylesheet and things like that. Afterwards, I start work on the second draft, a total rewrite.


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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!

The most wonderful time of the year

The tree in question. Also, the Flames vs the Avalanche and a black cat lurking in the corner.

The tree in question. Also, the Flames vs the Avalanche and a black cat lurking in the corner.

Christmas can be a hassle. I’m not a huge fan of how busy it makes us, or the things we do just because we’ve always done them. Those parts of Christmas can pretty much take a hike. But there are parts of Christmas that I cherish. I love spending time with friends and family. I love the experience of giving a great gift. And I love sitting in the gentle light of the Christmas tree to write.

This year, I’m doing some of those things! But others (primarily the latter) will fall by the wayside.


On a patio in Palm Springs, fingers to keyboard.

I love writing. I tend to view vacations and time off as an opportunity to write, to really immerse myself in what I’m working on and make a bunch of progress. If I’m travelling, I’m making time to write (often by the pool). If I’m out camping, I bring my laptop or a printed draft and I’m making time to write. Even on my honeymoon (Madrid and Barcelona) in 2014, I made time to write. I don’t obsessively work, and I make sure to take time for the reasons I’m actually there (being with my friends or loved ones, soaking up sun, seeing new things and having new experiences). But a vacation isn’t a vacation from writing.

That brings me back to this Christmas. It’s KRH’s first. Bravely, we decided to host, with our 3-month old, who was also nursing his first cold. My wife and I were similarly ill, but we figured we could make it work. We bought a turkey and prepared to have all the grandparents over (all our immediate local family). As it turned out, preparing took most of my writing time in the run-up to Christmas, but I figured I’d find time later.

That is, until we ended up in the Children’s Hospital on Christmas Eve because KRH was wheezing. Wheezing, as it turns out, is one of those immediate warning signs for infants that sends you straight for medical attention. It was a scary evening, because when we got there the triage nurse judged him pale and mottled and got us seen right away. After some suction and nebulization, his breathing improved and his vitals remained strong, so they sent us home. Christmas morning, his wheezing got worse and we ended up back at the hospital for another round of suctioning and observation. The end diagnosis was a viral infection, so there wasn’t even much we could do except keep a close eye on him and wait for him to improve.

He has and is now back to being a cheerful baby (in fact he was even when he was wheezing) but mom and I are still sick and mostly exhausted after a bunch of late and worrying nights. We did manage to make the best of Christmas day and still have dinner with the grandparents.

It may shock you to learn this blog post is the first thing I’ve written in a little while! It is not a shock for me. I knew that I was going to have to take things a bit easier this Christmas. It’s been a long few months since KRH was born and there’s value in sleep, relaxation and time with family and friends. Working hard at writing is how I’ll achieve my goals, but I have a whole life to live in pursuit of more than writing excellence.

So for the rest of the year, my goal is recuperation. On January 1st I hit the ground running.

Progress and KRH

In the nearly five years I’ve spent writing seriously, I’ve managed to produce two complete novels, a series of novelettes, some short stories that won honourable mention in contests, and several other drafts ranging from wretched, squirming NaNoWriMo-level early drafts to decently enjoyable reads awaiting various levels of polishing. That’s compared to what I produced in about 15 years of writing before that: a pair of complete (I thought, actually only 3rd draft) novels, a scattering of other first drafts and a ton of fanfiction.

I write about this because one thing I’ve found integral in the last five years is tracking. It’s been so important for me to measure my productivity so I can figure out what I’m doing well and not, so I can make improvements.

At first, I started tracking butt-in-chair hours. That was, and still is, an excellent exercise for me. Some days can’t control my productivity level for a variety of reasons (my son is an excellent example!) but I can control how long I sit in the chair writing. It was only after I started tracking my time spent writing that I learned to build the habit of writing regularly, for example. It probably won’t come as a surprise, but I’ve spent more time writing in the last five years than I did in the twelve years prior. I learned, for example, that it takes me about 600-700 hours of writing to produce a novel (I don’t count time spent braining through a novel, of course, which is probably much more).

More recently, I started tracking productivity on a daily basis, be it pages edited or words written. This is where KRH comes in. It may shock you to learn that with a 10-week old in the house and me working full time, the total number of hours available to write have, for the moment dropped dramatically. So too has my ability to concentrate on what I’m doing, mostly because I’m now needed more often than I used to be around the house. It used to be I could do the week’s cooking, prep and cleaning a few times a week, and devote much of my other time to writing. Good luck with trying to change diapers, dress KRH or walk him down for sleep (or drive him around until he falls asleep, as has been necessary sometimes).

I’ve been using Jamie Raintree’s Writing and Revision Tracker over the last year. It was a useful tool in tracking both words written and pages edited, especially when I completed significant edits to the two novels I thought were complete when I started this year (some requested, some merely me realising the novel wasn’t as done as I thought). Simply keeping track of these things makes me more productive.

Now, because of KRH, measuring my productivity is going to be more important than ever. Going forward, I’m going to be measuring progress on my current project, and displaying it with this handy little bar below. You can expect it to advance to 100% and jump back down to 0% several times, because I’ll use it to track my progress for each draft rather than the entire project. I’m not yet certain how many drafts this novel will take. My current draft is a quick read-through to fix timeline errors, names and other things that changed in the course of the draft, and add new scenes. It should be pretty quick and I still hope to finish it this year, probably mostly around Christmas. I’ll make weekly updates as I go and report on anything I’ve learned as I do.

Frustration (part 2)

I feel as though this could be an ongoing topic!

When last I talked frustration, it was because KRH was in a frustrating phase. Lots of tears and not a lot of sleep, which is a combination that wasn’t much fun for anyone. Furthermore, he wanted to be held all the time, by which I mean, literally every second of every day. He also wanted to be nursing for about 90% of that time, even though he wasn’t really eating, just sucking. My wife slept in the easy chair a few times, just so he could stay attached to her.

Since then, we’ve had a bit more success. We’re learning to burp him harder and longer to help with gas. We’ve changed her diet to try and cut out some of the foods that might bother him. And we’ve learned new techniques to help get him to sleep, namely switching between walking and bouncing him before putting him down.

All this, though, requires both time and energy, and my wife and I had a 4 am conversation one morning, the result of which was that she needed more help. So, at least for a while, some things changed. Less time for me at the library and the gym. Naturally I don’t enjoy those things, but if she needs the help then I’ll be there. We’re still trying to make time for me to do the self care things I need.

I was able, last week, to finally finish my NaNoWriMo draft. It took about 6 weeks and came in at 81500 words. That’s not bad for 6 weeks. I’m about to engage in a first read through and fix to tidy up some details that changed in the telling, and also to add a few missing scenes. Some of the work on it was done one-handed while holding KRH. Turns out my typing speed while holding a baby isn’t that good, but I felt really good about the effort of holding a sleeping child and writing. It was a reminder that, although the two goals of a successful writing career and parenting a young child can feel mutually exclusive, they’re not totally so.

Still, over the next while I expect to be somewhat disappointed with myself about the amount of time I have with my butt in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard. There’s not really a good way around that; I have expectations of myself, both for writing and for parenting, and the parenting will have to come first, especially for now. Still, I can and will find the time to keep working, even if it won’t be at the pace I want. And really, a lot of parenting will come down to managing my expectations about a lot of things, and treating myself with more empathy. I think that might be a good skill to learn anyway.


NaNoWriMo: A retrospective

Here we are, a week after NaNoWriMo 2016 wrapped up. I’m pleased to announce I finished and won. But it did come down to the wire. I’m going to dig into that a bit. Below is the handy graph of my wordcount from this year.


So a couple of things jump out at my from this year’s graph. First, there were big periods where I didn’t write much. That’s not super unusual for me. This year, I lost days around November 8th, and had numerous days where I either didn’t write or only wrote a few hundred words.

Let’s compare this year to last year. That’s an interesting comparison, because last year I had to have my appendix removed right before the month began, and when November kicked off I’d gone back to work early, was struggling, and still managed to write the most words ever for a NaNo.


So a couple of things stand out for me. First, much like this year, in 2015 I had a big chunk of time where I couldn’t manage any words. I also had a fair number of days where I didn’t write or only wrote a little. In fact, like in 2016, I never really pulled ahead. Now, in 2015, I crossed 50k on the 23rd, mostly on the strength of a weekend where I wrote about 10k. To finish off the month, I had another weekend, where I wrote about 14k. If you remove those surges, the two graphs are pretty much similar.

I think this is important for me to understand just how the two months compared. I went to a similar number of events both years, roughly twice a week. However, in 2015, I was able to get more words out of them. Also, I was able to devote big chunks of time on weekends. This year, I found myself generally unable to do that, mostly because of the need to change diapers or feed my wife or any of the other small but innumerable tasks KRH requires. Really, I think that (plus being tired) are the only differences between 2015 and 2016. Also worth noting is that in 2015 it took me almost 55 hours to reach the 74k words I did. This year it took 30 to get to 50k. Pace wise, that’s pretty darn close. Now, this year’s manuscript is simply worse, but I feel like having an infant gives me a pass this time around.

I draw a few things from this. One, if I can make it through the first 8 weeks of KRH’s life and keep writing at the same pace as before, that’s a positive sign (Though I plan to get more efficient). Two, if I don’t spend as much time writing as I did before KRH, I have to learn to be satisfied with that, at least in the short run. That’s not something I’m good at, but it might be necessary to keep my sanity. I’m going to experiment with James Clear’s advice on consistent goal setting, especially when it comes to setting an upper limit on my goals (sustainable). And we’ll see how that goes. I’ll report back on it come the new year.


As we reach the 7th week of KRH, I feel as though a major feeling in our household these past few days is frustration.

That might not be fair on our behalf. Last week, KRH had some nights where he’d sleep for 4-5 hours at night, and my wife was starting to feel human. KRH was also acting happy and less fussy, so we had a view of the promised land. This weekend, he slept more erratically and only when someone is holding him, and therefore we slept less. He also caught me a pretty good one via headbutt to the mouth (he’s surprisingly strong), and lately seems to cry immediately when I hold him. So some frustration is inevitable, because my wife feels like she can’t put him down, and I feel like I’m not being all that useful.

Now, when I’m not feeling frustrated, I know this is likely just a phase. KRH is growing and still very young. And surely we’re not the first parents to have a frustrating baby, especially at 7 weeks. In fact, I think we’re doing well, given the challenges of having a baby that age. In fact, we tell ourselves (and even believe it) that most of the time he’s a pretty good baby. It’s not like he does anything to frustrate us on purpose.

So where does this leave me with writing? Not exactly where I want to be. I was hoping to have finished my NaNoWriMo draft by now, and to be into a quick first pass of rewriting. As it turns out, I’m still 10k words away from the end of the draft, and it’s going to end up in worse shape than I’d anticipated. That’s okay because I think I know how to fix it, but the last week or so hasn’t been all that productive. And that has to be okay. Fingers are still striking keyboard. Words are still getting written. There are going to be days where I’m lucky to get in just a little work.

Here’s an example. Sunday was busy. I didn’t sleep that great, we had to go to brunch at my parent’s home, we needed to get groceries and cook for the week, and I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Now, I could have made better use of some of my time, but I didn’t because my head was in a frustrated space. So, at the suggestion of my wife, I managed 15 minutes of writing in the car on the way to brunch. It was only about 500 words, but that was 500 words I was unlikely to have written otherwise.

There are going to be days like that. Weeks and months, too. The purpose of this blog is to talk about being a writer who is also a parent, but really I’m a parent who is also a writer. Writing is my heart job; and I’ve been writing seriously for a couple of years and spent a lot of blood and sweat, tears and toil. But in becoming a parent, I’ve taken on an obligation to my wife and son that I simply can’t blow off. In some ways, they’re competing jobs; both will take as much time as I can give them, and I’ll always feel dissatisfied with how much time I can put into them. But right now, there’s a clear winner in priorities and that’s being a parent.