Today, with the Missoula Marathon fewer than two weeks away, it seems appropriate to run this guest post from J.J. Hensley, whose debut novel Resolve takes place during the Pittsburgh Marathon (which he ran). Hensley’s topic really resonates with me as it comes during a recent spate of family visits – wonderful, but challenging in terms of writing. His post is a good reminder about priorities:
Why Tiny Pink Shoes and Writing Do Not Mix
Three months. Nobody ever believes me, but it only took me three months to complete the first draft of my novel, Resolve. If it sounds like bragging, I certainly don’t mean it that way. If anything, it’s a self-criticism of my lack of a writing process and how I tended to selfishly sit at the computer, block out the rest of the world, and type furiously as thoughts of plotlines and characters in a fictional world swirled in my head. Most of the concepts for the book were generated in my mind as I enjoyed my hobby of distance running or as I quietly sat in the car and cruised down Pennsylvania roadways commuting to and from my “real” job. Those moments were my “me” time when very little came between me and my mental writing. Words simply sped along unimpeded down various routes in my brain and came together to create a coherent story.
You may have noticed I’m using the past tense when referring how I went about things. It was a different time. It was simple. It was serene. It was madly productive. Now, all of that has been crushed like a bug… by tiny pink shoes.
Much like distance running, writing can be an extremely selfish endeavor. It takes time to type the actual words on the screen, much less proofread, edit, revise, and then repeat those steps. Even when you are an inherently fast writer, like it seems I am, it takes a great deal of effort to compose a novel. While I was putting Resolve together, I spent entire days at my computer and often lost track of time. Additionally, behind the scenes, I was spending a lot of that “me” time devoting energy to the project and that was time that was not going to my wife and friends. It’s hard to derail someone when they are that entrenched in an undertaking. It takes something monumental to get them to change course. Something hard-hitting. Something that demands attention and won’t take “no” for an answer. Something like – a baby.
I wrote Resolve, which was my first attempt at writing a book, in 2010. Throughout the end of 2010 and much of 2011, I followed that up by completing another, yet to be published, manuscript of a thriller. In the final months of 2011, I completed approximately 30,000 words of a third book and then she happened. She… is awesome. I’m sure any parent can relate, although I’m positive my child is more amazing than yours. She says the word, “butterfly” in the cutest possible way. It’s something like “bufflyyyy”. She touches my nose and informs me that it’s my nose. She’s 20 months of awesomeness. I take her for walks. I teach her animal sounds. We read several wonderfully illustrated books per day. Oh… and did I mention it is now 2013 and I’m currently about 30,000 words into writing my third book?
Those full days of pounding away at the keyboard are gone. For the moment, I try to type a couple hundred words whenever I have time. I also have less time to run, which is one of those times I mentally write. At least I have the commute, right? I do, but that is time I can be talking with my daughter (who is busy throwing her shoes and socks around the car) and teaching her new words by singing kid’s songs. I could try to carve out some quiet time at home, but let’s face it… the Hungry Little Caterpillar isn’t going to find food all by itself! Somebody, needs to be listening to Dr. Seuss as he explains that Aunt Annie’s Alligator begins with A, A, A.
So, how does one write while being an active participant in a child’s life? I sure as hell don’t know. I know if I didn’t have a “real” job it would be much more plausible. But, the reality is there are very few authors who are strictly writers. Most of us are teachers, cops, nurses, reporters, computer technicians, accountants, bartenders, or graphic designers. We write as a hobby and hope for the best. We expect to be able to crank out thousands of words in what we consider a reasonable amount of months or years.
When our time at home is consumed by our children I think we have to reset our expectations. I may never complete a book in less than 6 months again. Even when my daughter gets older, I can’t see myself diving into my writing the way I did previously. Lately, I’ve had to walk away from writing for weeks at a time. When I come back to it, it takes me some time – time I don’t have – to get back into it, but once I start it’s like riding a bike and things cruise along. Then, it’s time to fix dinner for my daughter and everything comes to a screeching halt.
I’m not complaining one bit. I absolutely love being a husband and father. There isn’t one day that I wish I was writing rather than listing to my little girl loudly mispronounce “fork” in the most obscene way. Do I miss writing on a regular basis? Sure. Am I looking forward to the days when my daughter will want to occupy herself for an hour and doesn’t want my attention all of the time? Meh… maybe a bit. Until then, I’ll plod along a couple hundred words at a time. Maybe for every minute I lose in my writing, I gain a lifetime of experiences that will somehow factor into future literary efforts. Maybe that is how writers who are new parents should look at things. It’s research. Life research. For those of us who write in the various fiction genres parenthood allows us to experience aspects of life that we use in our books anyway. Think about some of our quotes when dealing with a toddler:
Where is your other shoe? – Mystery
You didn’t eat that rock, did you? – Suspense
Please stop screaming and crying because the bird flew away. – Drama
Can you stop taking your pants off at school? – Tragedy? Comedy? Hopefully, not Romance
For the time being, I’m going to consider the first three years of my daughter’s life a writing sabbatical. I’ll write what I can, when I can. I have to believe that anything I write after my child’s early years is going to be better, or at least have a different perspective, than my first novels. For me the biggest thrill in getting published is that twenty years from now, my daughter will be able to pick up a book and see it was dedicated to her. However, I think it’s just as important for her to remember I was always dedicated to her too.