Taking Off the Writer Hat

I’d like to apologize in advance, in retrospect. Looking back, a lot of my posts have been far more in the way of “life of the writer,” than they have been about writing as a craft. Becoming a father has dramatically narrowed my existence, and I’m still coming to terms with the machine-gun changes (don’t tell me that lasts for decades. I really don’t need to hear that.) If this is a problem, please, let me know in the comments.

I’m not quitting writing (I can quit anytime I want *sob*), though you’ll be forgiven if you don’t really notice the difference. Times come when you have to switch jobs, at least temporarily. For those of us in the real world, this is a daily event. For example, I’m a short order cook at least a couple of times a day. Then I’m a nanny. Then back to cook. Barista. Write- nope: back to nanny, as that stench is more potent than simple boy-farts. Housekeeper. Etc. For anybody who has had the unutterable pleasure (un-utterable, I say!) of parenting a toddler, this should come as no surprise.

Wee Dave’s doing well. He calls everything “dada,” so I can’t tell if he’s talking to me, or making surprisingly astute comments about early 20th C. avant-garde art. He’s showing a tendency to test the structural integrity of thing with his head, which is a bit distressing, to judge from his subsequent behavior. But, c’mon, kid, the thing’s proportionally huge (not to mention just large) so the odds are good you’ll whang it into something during the day. He’s walking almost everywhere, and seems to be losing his suspicion of nature.

Mrs. Dave is likewise doing well, as is Working Title #2, to the best of our knowledge. The tiny creature seems just as active as Older Sibling was at that stage of development. Dave, on the other hand, is quietly dreading WT2’s appearance in a few months. Dave, you see – the writerly Dave, rather than the wee one – already doesn’t really get much done on the creative front. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen when there are two of them. Hopefully, I’ll spend less time mucking about on the Internet. That can’t be healthy.

Of course, it may not matter. This whole writer thing doesn’t seem to be panning out for me. I mean, sure, I’ve gotten some good reviews of the few things out there. I’ve got reams and reams of- wait, that doesn’t work in this new, digital age. I’ll come in again, shall I? I’ve got files and files of words in all manner of worlds. I’ve got people who actually want me to write.

It’d sure be nice if some of that happened, y’know?

I’ve been re-reading Larry’s Ask Correia essays (link to the first one), in which he imparts, with blunt force trauma, his understanding of what it is to be a writer. I enjoy Larry’s take-no-prisoners style of explication. I’ve love to see him revamp or expand the list (in his so-copious free time) but I’m not holding my breath. He’s got more important things to do. Like write.

In Number 14, the Big C lays out what it takes to be a professional author: work. And lots of it. Dedicated effort in the pursuit of goals. He also takes time to blast the notion of writer’s block, which I’m a little ambivalent about. I haven’t written much fiction recently. As Mrs. Dave pointed out to me (not so gently) “writer” is a secondary occupation right now. About to get more secondary (see above). “Daddy” is much higher on the list of priorities, most of the time. (Again, see above.)

Enough so that writing falls a bit by the wayside, as well as things like keeping the house neat. Which brings me – finally – to the point of the post. Life is complex, and often complicated. Adulting is hard. There are bills to pay, work to be done so one can get paid sufficiently to pay said bills (and keep one in internets, scotch, and ammo). Domiciles need to be kept to a minimum of filth. The usual.

As we do all the things to keep body and (probably) soul together, the grind eats away at the energy we can direct toward other, more fulfilling purposes. This is just basic stuff: spend all day cleaning, and you don’t feel much like writing. At least, I don’t. And then there are the habits. The patterns we get into as humans that simply become background for the day-to-day. Our house was … cluttered. Not filthy, and by no means unlivable. But … there was far too much stuff, just kind of out. Stacks of books, papers, himself’s toys. The detritus of life. And then Mom and Pop Dave (we’re a Dave kind of family) visited and we ransacked the place, and now things are open, and clean (and more importantly, cleanable), and the reduces visual noise is an enormous reduction in my day-to-day stress. One that I hadn’t realized was actually there.

In a similar manner, this weekend we’ll be tackling the office, which became a transshipment depot in the Cleanening, and requires … attention. It’s entirely possible that’ll bust open the floodgates, and I’ll be cranking out wordcount in short order. I don’t really believe it, but it could happen (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease).

We as writers often spend so much time inside our own skulls that our behavioral patterns don’t get examined in depth. Take off the writer hat once in a while, and go through your life to see if something can be changed to increase your creative drive. The goal, here, is to get paid for your work. If you aren’t producing sufficient to meet your needs, something needs to change.

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42 responses to “Taking Off the Writer Hat

  1. BTDT. About the stress, Dave? Normal. You’re in a situation where you are not in control, low pay low status job, long hours, social isolation . . . Go read–in a couple of years when you have the time–about what things contribute to stress. Full time parenting has the majority of them.

    Dude? You are creating the future and making it better. Tell that voice in your head that thinks being a stay-at-home-dad is bad to take a hike. Work on the social isolation. If not in the flesh, stay with us online. Do not become more isolated.

    Writing? You may, at this point need to do more day dreaming, forming stories in your head, playing with ideas. And no, that is not time wasted. Eventually you will have enough long stretches of time to start putting words in electrons. And all those little ideas in the back of your head will be there to be harvested. All the joy, the frustration, the exhaustion–all the experiences you are in the middle of will enrich the backgrounds of your characters.

    • I will echo this. You’re building the future, but the foundations you lay now will help ease it for you later on. It’ll feel frustrating for a little while (trust me, it’s only a few years) then they’re off to school. I use the time they’re gone to work (either writing or art, art mostly these days, because commissions) but don’t bundle them off to kindy so quickly. A secure-in-his personality, independent, and ultimately responsible kiddlywink is built in the first six-seven years of life, and they get that from the parents. (I taught the eight year old how to fry sunny side up eggs – ask Sarah for the photo!) Instill responsibility, orderly habits and process in them while young (don’t expect perfection) and it’ll help you and them in the long run.

      But in spite of it all, don’t let yourself get isolated – even digital ‘meet up with the friends’ helps. It keeps ME sane… well, for relative values thereof. They keep telling mums to take their kids out to chat with other mums while the kids run around and play in the park; I remember reading about dads who got the ‘drive the kiddly around till he fell asleep’ forming a group with other fathers who did the same thing – social support. We do the same thing; albeit with just words on the screen, or skype voice calls.

      (Skype’s been invaluable in connecting my family together, especially eschewing long distance phone calls!)

      • Sanity is a roll of the dice (*looks* made the check!), and transitory, at best. I’m fairly well convinced most of the world is mad, most of the time. The isolation is difficult. After spending most of my life living with people (up through the first part of my enlistment) the isolation has been bizarre. Especially for a confirmed introvert. And now I don’t even have alone time for recharging.

  2. I’ve been there. I don’t have time to write a lot right now, but: take joy in the children. They are the center of the universe right now (and don’t they know it) but it won’t always be that way. And the urge to write, I can personally assure you, will not disappear. Might take some work to tap back into it, but we’ll talk when the time comes. 🙂 Relax, stop fighting it, and just work on the family for a while.

    • I’m not sure I have it in me to surrender to the inevitable. The whole notion – much like destiny, or aristocracy – makes me grouchy. I’m not really worried overmuch about the urge to write. It took me years to realize it, but I’ve been telling stories more or less my whole life. I’m concerned about my ability. Skills that decay, and all that.

  3. Probably the worst thing to happen to my own writer’s hat has been my bill-paying career as an editor. After a full day of dealing with someone else’s manuscript, especially if it’s a stats textbook or gene-knockout study, the last thing I want to do is deal with even more words on a monitor, even if they’re my own. Sometimes I win the struggle; too often this year I’ve lost.

    Wee Dave and Working Title #2 are much worthier distractions, though. And having your priorities straight in life is a better achievement than making a daily word quota — or so I keep telling myself. 🙂

  4. B. Durbin

    Two is manageable. In fact, larger numbers are manageable. Just remember to factor in the adjustment period where you’re running around totally confused. And take comfort from this: Because you will have more than one, there will come a point where they *play with each other* and you just have cleanup duty.

    (Seriously, how did she cut up the couch with safety scissors? Oh well, that’s why we got the cheap one from Big Lots.)

    • A friend told me recently that with two, you play man defense. With three or more, it’s all zone, all the time. I believe this is some kind of sport reference (possibly foosball), but he has three, and so I presume he knows of whence he speaks. I dearly look forward to the day they occupy each other. I expect out Nice Things will have to find new homes, at least temporarily. Children are why we can’t have them.

      • Friend said that the third one was the hardest. After that it was “eh, let’s just finish the set. What’s one more.” Which worked – two boys, two girls. She’s still not certain how they managed it.

        • B. Durbin

          My third one is being really easy on me. I’m waiting for the other shoe, honestly. (Of course, when you start off with a kid on the spectrum, later ones are apt to seem easier by comparison.)

  5. When we had our first and went to a family reunion, an uncle said “It’s quite an adjustment, isn’t it.” We both gave him a blank look and I said “What adjustment.” Then he smiles and said “It’s like you’ve always been a parent, isn’t it?” And it was. You grow into it. Sure, it can be stressful, but it’s like stress you’ve always had.

    Don’t sweat it. Life happens. And this is part of life.:

  6. I read the links to Larry Correia’s posts, and find we have different definitions of writer’s block. His is when the writing gets hard or boring or you just want to do something else for a moment. Mine is when the ideas just don’t come. At all. Nothing. With an idea you can write something. It might not be good and your heart might not be into it, but at least it’s something. Without an idea, you’ve got nothing.

    • I can fake the ideas. I have whole bookshelves full of ideas I can file serial numbers off of, not that I’m happy with the notion (I’m debating indulging that dirty, dirty part of my soul (assuming I have one)). I don’t even need ideas, really. I have plenty of projects. Mostly, I’ve lost the creative drive. I stare at the screen for a while and then go do something else. That’s the really frustrating part. Also, watching my friends post wordcounts and talk about breakthroughs and suchlike. I’d like a break-into.

      • My creative drive waxes and wanes with my getting enough sleep. Babies were even worse than sleep apnea, that way.

        • Sleep is … decent. Better than decent, really, assuming it happens on anything like a schedule. Mrs. Dave’s shift roams around, so wake-up can vary anywhere from 0445 to 0700 or so. It’s pesky, but minorly so. Getting sufficient exercise is proving a greater challenge. And then there’s the aforementioned writing space, and the rest of the house, and then finding the time. Also, re-creation, which is proving elusive (the depression). I’m working to whittle the burdens down.

          • It’s wonderful to take a walk with a toddler, and watch them see thing for the first time, and their utter fascination with same. But exercise? No. Three steps, then watch a butterfly for two minutes. Four steps and squat down to watch a toad . . .

            I found a good program on TV. My kids loved what I called “Ladies Dancing” They danced to the music while I did the exercises. See what you can find. Record it for a more useful time.

      • Here’s a free one. He’s a rough man with an unbending moral code of his own, walking the mean streets of a corrupt city in hard times by night… pretty sure it hasn’t been used yet…

        • Oh, and try to work in a bird. Everyone loves birds.

          • And he likes to drink malts. I think.

            • It was a raven kind of day. The latest corpse already had its eyes pecked out when the cops found it, and Jake had hastened to assure me that the coroners were sure it was unrelated, just the sort of thing that happens when you leave corpses lying where crows can get at them. “Yeah, crows.”
              I was headed back to my office when I saw the new-age shop across the street had switched out the Yogi symbol for a tree of life banner. And I knew where I was headed next, after ducking into the cigarette store.
              Ceri’s not hard to spot, even in a college campus big enough to host a population of goths and ravers. I flagged her down with a raised hand, and she wandered away from the clump of smokers to fall in with me. “Hey.”
              “Got a question for you. Buy you lunch?” She grinned, which always looked odd on a goth, but I could unfocus my eyes and pretend she was a raver who accidentally dropped a box of black dye in the washing machine. “Purple hair looks good on you.”
              “Thanks! Sure, I’ve got time. As long as they don’t chase my friend out.”
              I looked at her shoulder, and realized the mass of feathers really was a live raven with half his feathers missing. “Looks like he got put through the wringer. If he’s your friend, he’s fine by me. But we can eat outside, just in case.”
              The bird eyeballed me back, but didn’t comment. Ceri skipped along beside me, like all the happy that had been sucked out of the city had been dumped in her little frame. Fortunately, it wasn’t far off campus to her favorite burger joint. I got us burgers – one for me, one for her, and one for the raven.
              She giggled a little as I sucked on my chocolate malt. “Do you really have a question, or did you just want an excuse for a shake?”
              “Hey, I really have a question. Your friend here might know better than you. Guy was found off Lakeshore Drive this morning, and somebody already dipped in to know the last thing he saw.” I contemplated my fries, and offered one to the two shiny black eyes.
              He took it with a careful claw, and contemplated me before eating it. Ceri frowned, and turned her head to watch her friend. “He showed up this morning, looking like a car hit him. I’ve been carrying him around all day, hoping he’d get better.”
              The raven looked up, and croaked, “Hammer.”
              “You got hit with a hammer?” She tore a chunk of burger off, holding it gently up.
              “Nevermore.” It said to her, gulped down the burger, and looked back at me. “Hammer. Claw.”
              “Ah, shoot.” I tried really hard not to swear in front of ladies, even when they were purple-haired and wearing more metal than I had in my pockets. “No, he means the guy got taken out by the Erisian Claw’s main hit man. Which means this case just got a whole lot more interesting.”
              “Riptide.” The raven bobbed its head, and eyed my burger. I fed my feathered informant.
              “He was on riptide?” The raven shook its head, sending bits of ketchup flying. “There for a buy?” That only got me completely ignored.
              I took a long drink, and ate my burger. Ravens, like all other sacred animals, were liable to get pissy if you pressed them too hard. I wasn’t going to make that mistake, especially not with Ceri there to get caught in the crossfire. At least I had a lead, and a chocolate malt. The day was looking up.

  7. Exhaustion is the norm for new parents without sufficient help. Depression can go with it, and NEVER getting ANYTHING done (things get done, but they don’t STAY done).

    If possible, when the little one naps, NAP WITH HIM. You will be more coherent the rest of the time.

    It feels like forever. It isn’t, even if you homeschool like I did. Which is why Pride’s Children is taking fifteen years (that and chronic illness).

    Write what you can. Journal – if you don’t write down the good things, no one will remember them (wee Dave’s first words, his investigating how toasters work, …). Do what you can – and lower your expectations! For heavens’ sake – you can’t compete with those who do NOT have rugrats and curtain-climbers.

    • Y’know, my father – wise man that he is – has made many of these same points. One of the more useful pieces of advice he’s passed on is, “when all else fails, lower your expectations.” I’m enough of a perfectionist that I loathe the notion, but I’m getting used to it. Albeit, slowly and painfully, dragged backward over metaphorical broken glass. We do plan to homeschool, though we’ve got a few years to gear up for formal instruction. In the meantime, we hope to work toward imparting work ethic to Wee Dave and WT2. We’ll see what sticks.

      • When my littles were Very Little, the naps were necessary. Once they started settling into a regular sleep pattern, and for longer, it helped.

        Though, I think with the next one, there’s a good likelihood I shall never nap again, and watch the little bundle of adorable sleep. And sneak in toe-nums. (Can’t have enough of toe nums; those don’t last long!)

      • You’re jumping the gun. Wee Dave isn’t ready for anything except exploring everything he can get his hands and mouth on, and it really isn’t fair to impart work ethic to WT2 – before even viewing the workplace.

        You will learn that your presence, preferably awake and talking back, and reading to them until you’re blue in the face, is all you have to do for years. My husband once provided twelve sequential readings of Goodnight Moon to the eldest, who said, “Again!” at the end.

        Lower expectations until you’re meeting them more often than not (yeah, under the limbo pole with you). Then, and only then, can you raise them a bit at a time, keeping them in the same range.

        I give you permission.

    • It feels like forever. It isn’t, even if you homeschool like I did.

      That’s something everyone tells you, and when they’re babes you don’t quite believe it. Then the next thing you know they’re going off to college. It really seems that fast.

      The time that they’re young is to be cherished, a time for making memories. It will be those memories that last the longest.

      • B. Durbin

        Nobody ever believes me when I say my memory doesn’t work like that. As in, every time somebody says, “I can’t believe it’s been that long!” I immediately think, I can. I feel the whole march of time, with all the years in between. (That’s why I call it a function of memory—I don’t have a “photographic” memory, but it accumulates a good deal more than most.) (Must not swerve into minds-as-geology analogy.)

        As a counter-example, things have always been the way they are. I’ve had my eldest for seven years and change, and feel the weight of all of those years, and at the same time, I’ve always had him. And his siblings, even though I can remember the times before they were born.

        Anyway. Yes, the years will go by faster than you know—if you aren’t paying attention. And the baby time is insanely short. But fie on those who say, “Enjoy every second,” as though that were a standard of perfection that were achievable. People feel guilty enough about hating the bad times (like when you’re covered in biologicals) without people saying You need to enjoy this too.

  8. I am one who wishes you to write! And write you shall, if it’s meant to be, etc. ☺

  9. Sir, I feel your pain. A couple of suggestions based on personal experience.

    1. Have a hobby that gives you an hour or two out of the house, on your own, at least once a week. Hire a babysitter, plan it when Mrs. Dave is at home, whatever – but have a bit of time to yourself, doing something that you enjoy. Make it a project: not just wandering around in a tired daze, hoping for inspiration, but actually planning and doing something specific. The feeling of accomplishment helps to offset much of the daily grind.

    2. Do you shoot? If so, I can believe money for ammo is tight under the stress of a growing family. Drop me a line (my address is in my blog profile). I have decent ammo supplies, and can send you a care package. An hour on the range, burning powder and smelling the smoke, does good things for a male writer’s creativity. (How do I know this? Trust me. I know this.)

    Hang in there, buddy. After all, someone did all that for you, not so many years ago!

    • I sort of have hobbies. I have lots of activities I generally enjoy doing, that I never really get to do. So there’s that. I love shooting, but the same applies. There’s a private club (with a year+ long waiting list, because the range on base isn’t for ) a handful of miles south of us. There’s a public range at a state park about an hour north. For the People’s Republic of Maryland, that’s about as good as it gets. Mrs. Dave and I are working up a plan to get me somewhere I can smell powder. We also have a deal: I get a new gun for each new child. I’m trying to decide between a decent shotgun (which I don’t have) and a decent concealed piece (which I also don’t have). Then again, I want to sporterize a Mosin at some point, which will cost about as much. Decisions, decisions.

  10. julieapascal

    I think that the hardest thing not counting the lack of sleep and brain-pudding is the nature of child care as interrupt driven (I call it) where each task is determined by immediate stimuli. I’m not good at organizing anyway, and not particularly good at doing anything that hasn’t reached crisis (common for people with perfectionist tendencies… you just wait until it *can’t* be perfect and then dash off something “good enough.”). But with children everything happened when it had to happen. There was no plan-ahead. We were spontaneous!

    Consequently whatever personal weakness I ever had in the “plan and follow through” department was enhanced even farther by those years (and years) of stay-at-home mothering. Some people can do it fine… they’ve got their stuff in a row and projects and schedules (kids actually do better with structure).

    There is also a dearth of projects and opportunities to experience *completing* a project. When you’re dealing with house and kids there is no “done” state, only continual do-over and do-again.

    There’s not a lot that can be done about the lack of sleep and needing to react more than act… but I’d try to address both things. Sleep enough, but also make a point of having work or projects that *stay* done once you’ve done them so that you’re acting and completing instead of always reacting and doing-over.

    At least, that’s what I would tell myself, if I could go back and do so.

  11. Two thoughts. First, you might consider your writing habits. For example, that “get in the mood, set the brain, then spend hours ensconced in writing” approach may need to shift over to outlines, notes, filling in a word here or a paragraph there, and other writing that can fit around the interrupts? Second, while I haven’t tried it, dictate into a digital recorder or even smartphone and then auto-transcribe is supposed to work reasonably well, and might be better adapted to writing with wee Dave. I mean, I suspect he’d be perfectly happy to listen to you talk, right? And the occasional extra comments and burps will add flavor to your writing!

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