Writer, with Kids: Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work!

Age of kids: 2 years and one on the way

What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?

My wife got pregnant with my son in February of 2012. At the time I was working a day job as a copywriter, so I just wrote at night for an hour or so, or on my lunch break. In March, I quit my job to go on book tour, then Steal Like An Artist became a bestseller and suddenly it looked like I could get away with being a full-time writer. I had all day to mess around and write. In the meantime, I sold my third book, Show Your Work!

Then my son Owen was born in October, so I didn’t do any writing for a while. My wife was on maternity leave for two months, but then she went back to work part-time in 2013, so she’d be gone for the afternoon, with me watching the kid. This, quite frankly, threw my life into hell. Like all stupid new dads, I drastically underestimated how hard it would be to care for a newborn part-time and get any writing done. I didn’t have an office, so I, very stupidly, put on headphones in the morning and wrote in our loft at the top of the stairs. This is how I wrote all of Show Your Work! and it was a complete nightmare.

Eventually, by the end of 2013, my wife had quit her job to watch the kid full-time, and we converted my garage into an office. So 2014 has been spent in relative comfort, working most of the day in the office, with the music (and the air-conditioning) cranked. That said, 2014 hasn’t much of a productive year for me, as I put out the book, and there’s something about a book release and tour that just pretty much screws up my whole year.

How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?

I try to keep really standard hours. Every morning we have breakfast, read a little, then go for a walk. I usually make it out to the studio by 10AM, then I break for lunch, and go back out there until 5:30 or so. Then, I try as hard as I can to just be around, and leave work outside. It’s a really nice life, but it’s not exactly easy. There are still a lot of distractions — it’s hard to go out to write after lunch when the kid is crying and wanting to play with you. I dream of getting an office in town somewhere, putting on good clothes and driving to work.

How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?

Well, it’s changed EVERYTHING, but I’m not sure I can totally pinpoint what it’s changed about the work. You can definitely detect parenthood themes in my poems. It’s given me a different perspective on creativity — for years, I thought hard work trumped talent no matter what, but now I think that we’re born with some stock talent, and then it takes a lot of hard work to pull it out. My favorite phrase is “DNA and daily life,” which comes from the book A GENERAL THEORY OF LOVE. A lot has to do with DNA, and then how you compliment that DNA with your daily life.

I like to think that it’s made me a more thoughtful, kind, humble person, but honestly, I think having (young) children dredges up all sorts of stuff in you that you’d done a good job of suppressing. You know that Lou Reed song “I’ll Be Your Mirror”? That’s kind of what children are. You see all parts of you in them — the good and bad.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?

Just the time. All the time lost to diapers and feedings and everything else. Just the “admin” work of having kids, you know? Tim Kreider has a wonderful piece called “The Referendum” in his book WE LEARN NOTHING where he talks about how his married friends with children just can’t fathom the amount of time he wastes. Your time just disappears. It lights a fire under your ass.

Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?

Don’t expect to get anything done in the first two months. First two months are just survival mode. It took me a full year to be truly adjusted to things, honestly.

When they’re of age for sleep training, TRAIN THEM. Get them on as strict of a schedule as you can, and stick to it no matter what. Getting a regular sleep schedule is crucial, because then you know when you can work.

Write every day, but if you can, just lower your expectations for a year or two until you can find your groove. Go easy on yourself and enjoy your family.

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2 comments on “Writer, with Kids: Austin Kleon
  1. alisabel says:

    I perfectly understand your spiritual experiences. When my daughter was a year old, I realized that he did not have the right to cheer, to have a rest or do nothing. I cried in frustration.
      Helped me a lot of experience gained in childhood. I was 4 years old when my sister was born. And it was a bloody share experienced mom, toys and loving adults. The essence of this experience to share the most expensive.
    Now my daughter is 12 years old and I accurate peep how it changes and grows. I really wonder how it changes and grows.
    With creativity was much more difficult. I am an architect. In the region where I live there are two types work to earn money without work or creativity illusion architecture with low pay. For myself, I shared the hobby and do not make money on it and do the work that is in demand by earning money. This allows me to maintain a family and maintain their interest and their hobby.
    I no longer add strength to my belief in the words of your book “Steal like an artist,” look for a job that leaves time and energy for creativity.

  2. Elle Jacklee says:

    Love his honesty and, frankly, courage, to say that having children makes for a nice life but not an easy life. As a mom of 2, I agree wholeheartedly. I love my life and wouldn’t want to live without my children. But parenting is definitely the hardest job anyone will ever have while also being the best job. My children also inspire my writing and, without even trying, they remind me there’s always time for a little bit of fun!

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Writer, With Kids