The Writer Who Is Also A Parent

As you may know, I’ve a novel due in the next couple weeks. By the time you read this I may already be done said novel, but I still want some padding during these days to give it a once over and make sure it’s in tip-top shape before it leaps forthwith into the publisher’s open, loving arms. That means, over the next two weeks, you’re going to see a bunch — nay, a bushel — of guest posts here at Ye Olde Terryblemyndes bloggery hut (“Where the Elite Meet to Delete Deceit”). Friday’s flash fiction will remain ongoing, however. Anywho, here then is a guest post from Penmonkey and Munchkin Wrangler, Marko Kloos. His website is here. And don’t forget to follow him on the Twitters.

Somewhere out there, there’s a writer — let’s call him Buck.

Buck likes to write in his special space, a quiet office with view of the garden and the squirrels cavorting therein. He has a certain time for writing — the sacred slot from eight in the morning to noon, when Buck takes the phone line out of the wall and doesn’t answer the door. When Buck sits down to write, he likes to drink his special coffee blend, listen to his special writing music, wear his special writing jacket, and write with his special pen in custom-made notebooks. If even one of those conditions isn’t met, the muse will stay away, because Buck can only work the prose magic when everything is Just Right.

Right now, while Buck is finishing Chapter Two of his SF epic SPACESHIPS WITH LASERS (Volume One of the GALACTIC KABLOOIE tetralogy), his wife is in the bathroom, looking at a pregnancy test that’s showing a friendly little plus sign.

Right now, Buck is completely and utterly fucked.

Being a full-time parent and being a writer aren’t incompatible. Hell, if you truly want to write, there’s no job so time-consuming or tedious that you can’t scribble down 250 words a day in your lunch break or on the subway ride home. Where there’s a will, there’s a word count, and all that.

That said, there’s one thing you need to kiss good-bye when preparing for the job of stay-at-home parent, and that’s the lofty notion that your word count is the primary concern of your day. Your new job description is “Parent and Writer,” not the other way around. Your primary concern in life is now the naturally self-centered little thing snoozing in the bassinet nearby — the one who wants to be fed or changed or snuggled exactly thirty seconds after you’ve opened the laptop to tack some more words onto the first draft of ELVES IN CHAIN MAIL BIKINIS. If your muse needs seclusion, silence, and a predictable schedule to come visit, you won’t see the flighty little bitch again until your kid goes off to college. That’s why you have to flag her down for a little chat the moment you know you’re going to be a stay-at-home parent. You need to convince her to switch to an on-call schedule. If that means pulling the old trick where you offer her a smoke, quickly handcuff her to your own wrist, and then flush the key down the toilet, then so be it. Because from the day you bring your baby home from the hospital, your schedule has been switched to “on-call,” too.

My kids are now six and four. I have been a stay-at-home parent for every day of the last six years. Here’s where I have written in those six years: on a park bench, in the playground, in the waiting room at the pediatrician’s office, on the couch in the playroom, in the bathroom (that last desperate quiet refuge of the parent), out in the backyard on a TV dinner tray, at the kitchen counter while waiting for milk to heat up, and even–occasionally — at my desk in the office. You will quickly learn to steal your writing time wherever and whenever you can get it, or you will see your word count plummet faster than Borders stock.

(It helps to have a writing tool that’s portable and easy to drag into the playroom or to the park with you. Laptops are great, paper notebooks are even better. A composition book with a pen clipped to the spine is less attractive to thieves when you’re out and about, and a spilled sippy cup won’t mean a thousand-dollar write-off.)

Combining a writing job with a parenting gig is tough work, mentally speaking. That kid is a smelly little wrecking ball that will smash your comfortable and self-centered little writing schedule into tiny bits, and then swing around and pound your brain into pudding on the rebound. If you are going down that route, you will need a lot of determination, and a substantial booze supply. That way, my friend, lies madness.

I’m exaggerating just a bit here, because giving new parents the pre-natal heebie-jeebies is one of the joys and perks of being a veteran parent. Sure, a child will screw up your writing schedule, and you will have to adapt to some degree, no matter how docile the little tyke turns out. But in the end, you’ll find that having to do so will make you a better writer.  There’s simply no time for lollygagging anymore. If you have to carve your writing time out of the day in ten- and twenty-minute slices, you’ll learn to pound out the words at a moment’s notice. And if you can manage the brain work that goes into novel-writing while a little kid runs around the room going “OOOWEEE OOOWEEE” for an hour straight, there won’t be much left in this world that can derail your mental train. A veteran writer-parent can crank out prose in the middle of an artillery bombardment, or while sitting in the first row at a Justin Bieber concert.

(There are also the other fringe benefits of the Daddy/Mommy-Wordsmith job. Those puke stains on your t-shirt, and your general hobo-like appearance? Those are a legitimate, respected work uniform when accompanied by a kid in a Snugli. The two cocktails you usually have with lunch? Those are mental health medication now.)

Just don’t get the bright idea of having two kids, and then deciding to home-school them. There’s simply not enough liquor in the world.