A Dad and a Writer – Year One

What a year it’s been. Also – it’s been a year already!?!

Having a kid is life-changing. Forget everything you think you know about fatigue, time management, or even motivation: there were many, many evening in the last year when I could barely fire up Twitch to look at someone else play a game. So writing… yeah, not that easy to fit in the schedule.

Don’t get me wrong – my son is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. But there’s no pussyfooting around it: if you’re trying to take a fun hobby and make something more out of it, the first year with a baby is the worst possible time to do it.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have tried to get Book the First published this year. It became an additionnal source of stress and fatigue at a time when I couldn’t really afford it, and I was too tired to assess my manuscript properly and to write good queries.

So I think I wasted a good opportunity there. But on the other hand, few people ever get their first manuscript published. And while in a sense I lost a year trying to pitch a book that probably never had a shot at finding an agent, the truth is that I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot with that year anyway.

On the plus side, I think I’m a pretty good dad. And I’m honest enough to admit that I should have ramped up my productivity, oh, two or three weeks ago. But it’s hard to come back from time off when you’re the only one putting pressure on yourself.

Well… let’s look forward, shall we? I have goals for the next year, but I want to do a better job at juggling all those responsibilities and sources of stress. I have to avoid that soul-crushing crunch time and those late-night writing sessions, and instead make good use of the time I know I can devote to writing without driving myself insane. Since my son is now going to daycare five days a week and my girlfriend going back to work soon, there will be dedicated writing time slots.

Now it’s on me to use them like an adult.

A Dad and a Writer: Month 10

I went back to work this month. Paternity leave was great, but it’s unfortunately not infinite. But I’m thankful for the rest, especially considering that the month turned out to be very, very busy with uninteresting stuff.

That said, I’ve tried to keep to a stricter schedule this month, and it helped with writing. In a way, being at work helps, because it gives structure to my day. Admittedly, the structure is “wake up, help with baby, go to work, return home, help with baby, work on writing/projects for an hour, collapse in bed”, but it’s actually more productive than “wake, do random stuff, go to bed.”

Honestly, by this point, if all I did was write a novel, I’d be able to progress at a slow, but satisfying rate. Having a 9-going-on-10 months old baby is not actually that much of an impediment to writing. Taking care of a three-months-old baby is mentally draining in a way an older kid isn’t: you’re constantly stressing out over everything, and you can’t see an end to it. By contrast, by now my son can communicate if something’s not well, he makes constant progress, and he can play by himself (with supervision, but still.)

And… he’s starting daycare. Which means my girlfriend will finally have some time off, which means she’ll eventually be able to help with household chores, which means *I’ll* be less tired… (plus, I usually have a day off during the week, so I’ll actually have one glorious day a week to write uninterrupted.

But even if I didn’t…. for the first time in nearly a year, I’m convinced I’ll be able to write regularly for the foreseeable future. Not as much as I’d want, and I suspect I’ll get frustrated by all the weekly days off I can’t manage to turn into full days of writing, but having a second manuscript finished no longer seems impossible.

 

 

A Dad and a Writer: Month Nine

This month has obviously been easier for me, what with the whole “paternity leave” thingy. Then again, I was exhausted, so maybe it’s a wash.

On the baby front, it’s been a fun few weeks. Lots of small steps forward (that translate to a few more seconds of free time every day.) We’ve made the switch from formula to cow milk, my son can now sit up without support which makes bathtime less time-consuming, and so on.

I’ve been able to put in more time on the “becoming a writer” front as a result. Not as much as I’d like, because I wanted to give this blog more attention and because I’ve taken on some paying writing work, which means that Book the Second is still progressing at a snail’s pace.

But the real lesson of this month is the importance of setting up a writing schedule and sticking to it. It’s a good approach to writing in general, but it’s never so apparent that it’s really a necessity as when external pressures play havoc with your time.

Since I’m on vacation, I’ve allowed myself some time off. But my girlfriend also (rightfully) wants me to spend time with her. I’m also spending more time with my son… which means that my schedule has changed. And so, I end up wasting my free time on the Internet because it’s not my usual writing hour.

Still, progress is happening (and for what it’s worth, catching up on my sleep and taking some actual brain-resting time off does help with my productivity.) And each day brings me closer to the glorious first day of daycare!

A Dad and a Writer: Month 7 or so

A major change this month: we’ve moved my son’s crib back into his own room, which allowed us to also reorganize a lot of baby stuff and furniture. The net result is that we suddenly have a much, much less messy home – which shouldn’t matter, but it helps me focus. Cluttered house, cluttered mind indeed.

It also helps that the baby has settled into something ressembling a routine. I can generally expect three hours or so of uninterrupted time when he goes to bed, which translates to about an hour an a half of creative work (now that I’ve officially sent off my last queries for Book the First.)

Which means that my latest attempt at writing a second book is actually going well. I’ve managed to plan a series, to figure out the plot of the first book of said series, and to put a little over a thousand words on paper in a week and a half. How sustainable that rythm is remains to be seen, but it’s encouraging.

A Dad and a Writer: Month 6 and Change

Two small steps forward, one big step back.

That’s how fatherhood feels sometimes. The big step back, in this case, is the return of the broken nights and the associated sleep-deprivation. It’s a common issue as babies enter their sixth month: they begin to feel anxious when they wake up at night and their parents aren’t around.

It’s obviously hell on my ability to achieve my goals: I have some free time now after my son goes to bed… but I’m often very tired, or stressed out, plus I can’t plan on actually having a long stretch of uninterrupted time to write.

Still, so far, I’ve managed to stay on top of my goals for the year (if barely.) My last few queries are going out mostly on schedule, I’m reading regularly, posting content on time (more or less)… I’m not progressing as much as I’d like on my writing projects, but that’s in large part because I’m focusing on the other parts of my yearly plan.

Besides, I have paternity leave time coming up. I can’t imagine that five weeks of free time won’t let me make some major progress…

A Dad and a Writer: Month 5

As winter rolls in, I’m cautiously optimistic. The baby is growing up quickly, and that’s a much-needed motivation boost. His sleep schedule is also becoming more convenient – he was already sleeping full nights, but now we’re slowly putting him to bed earlier, which gives me more uninterrupted time.

I also think that I’ve turned the corner on accumulated fatigue – by which I mean that instead of finishing every week just a bit more tired than the week before, I’m finally recuperating. In retrospect, that accumulated fatigue was probably also impeding my ability to write in months 3 and 4, so I’m glad/hopeful that’s over.

Hence the “cautiously” optimistic. It won’t take a lot for me to slip back into that energy-deficit trap. Another baby cold, a rough month at work, and I’m back in that low-concentration hell. But as of now, I’m running out of excuses not to write regularly.

A Dad and a Writer: Month 4

It gets worse before it gets better.

That “bring a laptop to work” plan? Sure, it helps with the writing (and general sanity), but I have a short lunch break, and it flat out hasn’t been enough to cover for the otherwise increased demands on my time.

Granted, the worst is probably over: my son got a cold and it passed on to my girlfriend and then on to me, and so I ended up losing a week and a half of writing time first by caring for my family, and then by being sick myself. That’s dealt with (until the next inevitable sickness – did you know babies normally catch about ten different colds during their first year of life?) but, well, that’s a third of the month gone.

Beyond that, the fourth month is a hodgepodge of time-eating progress (my son wants to play more, he talks more, and so on – all awesome stuff that’s a nightmare to a regular writing schedule) and tantalizing visions of eventual increased freedom. I see hints of him wanting to play on his own, he’s rapidly outgrowing milk as a sole source of nutrition (the glorious four-bottles-a-day nirvana is fast approaching)…

But at this stage, they’re still just hints. And so it’s yet another day of having maybe an hour and a half of free time spread over the entire day, and of maybe scrounging another minute or so (we no longer have to sterilize the bottles – a dauting three-minutes task off the list until the next baby!)

A Dad and a Writer: Month 3

So, as is painfully obvious from the posting hiatus, this isn’t working so well.

Don’t get me wrong, being a dad is awesome, my son is awesome, and life has been pretty good lately. But there’s just not enough time in the day to do anything anymore!

I’m not worried too much for the long term – we’ve secured a spot for the kid in the quite-awesome Quebec daycare system, so starting from next summer I’ll have entire days free for writing every week. And really, in a few months we’ll be out of the need-constant-attention phase, so I’ll be able to scrounge an hour here and there. But for now… even throwing a quick blog post together is a challenge.

… which means it’s time to adjust. Starting from now, I’m bringing my laptop to work. A thirty minute lunch break isn’t long, but it’s enough to get a few sentences out every day. And it’s really what I need – constant progress every day, so that I’m also motivated whenever I get time at home to write. Because right now, it’s hard to find that writing drive.

Hopefully, we’ll see that word count creep up soon.

 

A Dad and a Writer, Part 3: Weeks 5 through 8

Fatherhood is kicking my ass.

Okay, not really. In fact, things are getting incrementally better now, with the baby sleeping a few more minutes between feedings at night, and especially since my girlfriend and I are getting better and more efficient at all those baby-raising tasks.

In a way, that’s the difficulty I have to face: the excitement of having a new baby has worn off and now it’s the routine of childcare that’s beginning to be a bit of a drag.

It’s the apparent lack of progress that does it for me – usually, there’s a big jump in cognitive and physical abilities at around six weeks of age, but my son was born four weeks early so in our case we have about two more weeks of feed/sleep/feed/sleep/feed/wash/sleep to go through before the next baby level-up.

Let’s be clear: the problem here is me and my expectations, not the baby. It’s funny, because I have the same problem as a writer: I’m super motivated to get started on a writing milestone (whether it’s starting a new chapter, finishing one, or whatever) but I find it very hard to deal with the middle part, since there’s no clear goal or marker of success. I guess that in both cases, I just need to power through until I reach the next exciting bit.

On a more prosaic level, I’m still struggling to find time to work on the whole becoming-a-full-time-writer project. Whenever I can scrounge up an hour or so, I use it to either look for prospective agents, work on queries, or even to actually write a bit, but that amounts to maybe an hour a day during the week once I factor in work and household tasks (and I do need to let out some steam sometimes.) I’m really looking forward to getting a few more minutes back every day, because I do think they’ll make a major difference.

Speaking of which – I have a few more minutes available right now, so that could be an entire additionnal sentence for Book the Second. Quick, to the manuscript file!

A Dad and a Writer, Part 2: Week 3 and 4

Let me tell you, I have this fatherhood thing licked.

(Or maybe it’s the hubris talking…)

We’ve beaten the hydra of household and baby-prep chores down to a manageable level, we’ve plowed through our heavier-than-usual uncancellable social calendar, and we’ve established a new life routine.

I say “we”, but really the big game changer was that my girlfriend now feels well enough to handle some of the tasks. The pregnancy was quite hard (as were the first couple of weeks after the birth) and so I had to cover most of the housework for a while. But now that she’s back on her feet, I’ve found myself with an overabundance of free time.

(Now, that’s not hubris. It’s hyperbole.)

Kidding aside, at least now I can squeeze in some uninterrupted scrivening from time to time, and that has done wonder for my morale. I was really afraid I would have to put my writing career on hold for a year or two. But now, I know I can juggle both fatherhood and writing.

It’s not easy, but at least it’s possible.

And it’s also… surprisingly simple. It’s really a matter of realizing that every five-minute increment of the day counts. Before, five minutes was an entirely optional look at my emails, a glance at the news, or some sort of aimless wandering on the Web. Now – it’s washing some dishes, or starting a load of laundry, or taking out the trash.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly – to the two or three hours a day I need to write. Speaking of which…