There are a few kinds of growth. One is the kind KRH is enjoying. He’s still gaining weight and, according to his doctor, is in the 90th percentile for babies his age. That’s pretty good! He is now immensely chubby compared to when he first joined us, but that’s good. Babies are supposed to be chubby. Both my wife and I have, at various times, had awfully sore shoulders, backs and necks from carrying him. He’s also on the cusp of rolling over, and can usually be relied on to wiggle around out of anywhere you leave him. He’s growing and I couldn’t be happier about that.

A different kind of growth is the progression of skills. That’s the kind of growth I’m not feeling lately. Now, not all of writing is about growth. But I think the act of writing each book or project should teach me something and provide an opportunity to advance my skills.

The problem lately, I feel like, isn’t a lack of growth. It’s a lack of grit. And sure, this is the same thing I’ve been struggling with all through February. Consistency is a big problem, and its impacting most things i’m doing. I’m not going to the gym as regularly as I was. I’m not making a regular time to write. And while I’m not making no progress, I’m clearly suffering from it.

James Clear recently wrote about grit, which I think is the thing I’m currently lacking. And rather than merely relying on willpower, he suggests the best way to build it is through consistency and habit. So March is going to be about establishing habits.

As it turns out, there’s one thing I can do to get most of my goals on track. Reliably get up in the morning to write. It works for a couple of reasons. If I hustle, I can get in an hour of writing. If I consistency get up at the right time, eventually my bed time will shift earlier (because I’ve been going to bed and lying there awake because I’m not tired). I write on the treadmill, so that gets me some activity as well. My days run better with these things done early.

What’s likely to get in the way of this habit? Short nights where I don’t sleep much have been the biggest problem so far. I’m going to try and focus on ways to keep myself out of bed after my alarm goes off, like moving my phone farther away from bed (so I don’t grab it and go back). We’ll see if that helps.

In the last week, I made some fair progress on Cloudbreakers. There’s a bit of a pause midway through the first act, so I have some work to do to iron that out. Also, I’m pretty far behind where I wanted to be by the end of February, so without some progress on that I’m going to fall behind my goals for the year. That’s not the end of the year, but it’s my goal to get this book done, so I gotta get on with it.

2nd draft

22% Complete
19,557 of 90,000 words

When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough have to keep going too

I’m not sure I would ever really describe myself as tough. Toughness to me brings to mind the hardworking and determined. When I think of a tough writer, I think of someone who can take criticism or laugh off a bad review. I think of someone who can take a setback as a challenge, with a gleam of “I’ll show you” in their eye. I think of someone who can go to bed at midnight after a night of writing and get up at four to start again. Toughness, for me, implies a resilience that feels superhuman. I don’t have that.

Nor would I call myself particularly talented. But I decided long ago that talent is something we create, rather than something we’re born with. A talented writer is merely one who has worked really hard. Who is tough, so to speak.

I think writing is a business that requires toughness. Fight for what you want. Make the sacrifices. Outwork everyone. Do better. Be better. That’s how you find success. The writers I look up are the ones who tend to embody these traits. All of them talk about how difficult this business so. Finish your shit. Do the work.

February has been a tough month. My mental state has been so-so. Work is challenging. Life at home with my 4-month old is good, but also challenging. Writing is challenging because when is it not? And my work has suffered.

If I was tough, my thinking goes, I wouldn’t struggle with this. I’d do my work, even when I had a bad day at the office. I’d do the work, even when KRH won’t go to sleep and stay up late to cry. I’d do the work despite whatever awful crap is going on in the world.

That doesn’t mean I’m not doing any work. But I’m not doing as much as I want (as if that were even possible). But often, I find myself feeling like I should be tougher in the face of these things. Isn’t that how I’ll find success? By outworking other writers? By doing the work harder, longer, better, than they do? How else can I compete?

I don’t have a good answer to this. And I feel like, more than ever, I should be tougher than I am. What I have, I suppose, is persistence. I’ve had a lot of friends who have given up on writing. I know others who have lives, children and families and jobs, that don’t allow them time for writing. And they make the right choices for themselves, and those choices often don’t involve pursuing writing. But I refuse to give up on my goal. No matter how discouraged I may feel, or how difficult my life may feel, or how far away from that goal I am, I won’t give up. Is that enough? I don’t think so. But it’s what I have, so I’m working with it and it will have to do.

2nd draft

14% Complete
12,357 of 90,000 words


February has been a challenging month. We are sleep training KRH, (basically, teaching him to go back to sleep on his own), which is both exhausting in that the method we’re using (The Sleepeasy Solution) requires KRH to do some crying, and for us to be up frequently to reassure him that we haven’t abandoned him. It’s been going fairly well and we’ve achieved a regular bed time and naps, but it was pretty tough on both my wife and myself. On top of that, the last few weeks have been rough at my work and challenging as my wife and I still try and rebuild our house.

So, when Kameron Hurley, one of my favourite dispensers of writing advice, stopped into Reddit for an AMA I asked her the following.

“How do I become tough? How do I get to the point where my writing attitude is “Do my fucking work and fuck the rest?” How to I cultivate that resilience so that even when things aren’t good, when I sit down at my desk to write, I write?”

Here was her answer.

“Here’s the thing. We’re all going to die one day. Could be an hour from now or a decade from now. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. When I need motivation, I ask myself what it is that I’d like to have been doing in the days or moments before I died, and honestly, if I could die knowing I gave everything I could to achieving my goals, then great. I’d die happy. You have kids, which does make it harder; you want to have a balance, because on your death bed, you don’t want regrets about that either. Most writers with dayjobs and kids get up really, really early. I get up at 5:30 in the morning, no later than 6am if I’m feeling sullen. I get a lot of admin stuff and blog posts and such done first thing. It may turn out that you need to get up at 5am, or 4:30 am. And when I am like, “Arg, this sucks!” I imagine being on my death bed, not having done all I could to achieve what I wanted, and I think, wow, that would be way worse than getting up at 5am, and I get up.”

In some ways, this advice was about the physical how, rather than the mental how, but at the same time I took it to heart. I hadn’t been getting enough done in the evenings. So I’m moving my bed time earlier, and also moving my wake-up time earlier. So far, it’s working, perhaps because it coincides with us getting KRH to bed far earlier. I don’t know if my bed time is sustainable, but whatever I have to do to carve out time to write without taking time from my family, I’ll do it. But it’s also advice about the motivation behind the writing. I think I needed that as well.

In the mean time, I’ve started rewriting Cloudbreakers.

2nd draft

7% Complete
6,354 of 90,000 words

January’s fuel

Last week, I briefly mentioned the idea of refuelling my creative engine. As a writer, I can’t exist in a vacuum. I am constantly influenced by the media I’m taking in. I need this. I need to keep inspiring myself with the work of others, and seeing themes and exploration of ideas. When I read a great book or see an amazing movie, it tends to stay stuck in my brain for days. That’s how I know it was excellent. When I’m not doing consuming these things is when my engine tends to lose power. So if I’m smart, I keep myself well fuelled.

I used to write book reviews in this blog, but I don’t think that was a great use of my time. Instead, I’m going to start doing a semi-regular review of the media that’s gotten into my brain and stayed there. Here’s what did it for me in January. I’ll keep things spoiler free.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Rogue One was a flawed movie, but I loved every second of it. It was different from every other Star Wars movie. It set out to accomplish something else, and in my mind it succeeded wildly. The ending, in particular, was probably one of the most intense and excellent climaxes I’ve experienced, and kept me on the edge of my seat (not unlike another favourite of mine, Fury Road). I hope this isn’t the last Star Wars movie that has an emphasis on the war.

hqdefaultRimworld: I mentioned Rimworld last week. Video games occupy a bit of a strange space for me. As the primary waster of time in my life throughout my late teens and 20s, I regard them with some suspicion. On the other hand, some of my favourite stories have come in the form of video games (I’m a huge fan of older games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and later games like Dragon Age: Origins). Furthermore, video games are my primary stress response. Nothing helps me turn off fear, anxiety or worry like immersing myself in a game, in a way that TV or a book doesn’t. I’ve cut down the amount of time I play games a lot from earlier in my life, but my attempts to stop playing them entirely have failed. So I regard them as useful, so long as I’m careful.

Anyway, Rimworld is my current obsession. It’s a sci-fi colony simulator, similar to Dwarf Fortress but a lot more accessible. It’s still technically in alpha, but it’s by far the best-polished games I’ve enjoyed and is fully playable. If  you’re into management games, then this is probably up your alley. I could play it all day if I’m not careful. Also, fuck megaspiders. You can grab Rimworld on Steam.

Voltron: Legendary Defender: I will admit right her to being possibly the world’s worst TV watcher (to my wife’s eternal frustration). For some reason, my brain regards TV as a waste of time (while wanting to play video games instead). I don’t really like watching one episode a week, but I also don’t have a lot of patience to watch a bunch of episodes in a row. I can start watching something, really enjoy it, and just never continue. So with all that said, I’m really enjoying the new Voltron series (from my point about 6 episodes in). It’s fun in a Avatar: The Last Airbender sort of way. Now, we’ll see if I actually keep watching it, but for now it makes the list. You can watch it on Netflix.

There are no books on my list this month. I spent a lot of my time reading non-fiction. Even though they aren’t really creative fuel, I should mention Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. I’m a huge fan of their work. I would go so far as to say their emotion thesaurus is essential.

2nd draft

0% Complete
of 90,000 words

Right now I’m working on re-plotting and other background work. I’m hoping to have this rewrite knocked off by the end of March. We’ll see how it goes.

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.



50% Complete
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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.