Writer, with Kids: Benjamin Parzybok

Benjamin Parzybok, author of: Couch, Sherwood Nation

Age of kids
: 7 (girl) and 10 (boy)

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

Before kids, I did a thing which seems right out of some writer’s daydream, which is pick up and move to Ecuador. My partner and I both wrote full time there for six months, and I got the first draft of my book COUCH out of that. I’d wake up, make coffee, and write until I was exhausted/starved; usually around 1-2pm. Then we’d go eat a huge lunch. Repeat. We did it on a tiny budget. When we returned from Ecuador I went back to work, but I’d write long evenings, sometimes until early in the morning.

When I had children, I pretty much stopped writing. There’s lots of reasons for this. I had to be the full-time provider and was still figuring out how to do that, we were always ragged-exhausted, and it just didn’t seem as important. That lasted a few years, more years than I’m willing to admit. They were dark times, and beautiful/amazing/wonderful times, too. I’m not sad I did this, but am very happy I found my stride again. By the time COUCH was published, I hadn’t written for about two to three years.

I started writing again after a long trip to Brazil. My family let me stay there solo two extra weeks to kick-start a new novel (SHERWOOD NATION). The amazing, unexpected side-benefit was that I came back very jet-lagged and did not allow myself to lose that jet lag for a long time, waking very early in the morning to write. I continue to do this: Wake between 5:30 and 6:00am, write for an hour, and then make the kids breakfast and lunch before they go to school. Some days I wake at 6:40, hungover and sleep-deprived, and they can be my absolute best days, where I bust out 400 words of crystal prose. The most important thing is to show up, no matter what.

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

My kids are big readers, and my partner is a writer/artist as well, and exceptions are made for everybody. That said, I try to keep as much work as I can to hours when none of them are awake. When they do wake and come sleepily down to breakfast, sometimes I’ll vet an idea I’m working on with them. I really want the art, and I feel like it’s necessary to emotional survival, but more-so is the family. So they come first.

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

That’s a good and complicated question for which I’m not sure I have an answer that’s easy to summarize. SHERWOOD NATION has passages by a character who is a parent. I loved writing those and I don’t think I could have written them without knowing that experience. But what else? I feel deeper as a human, more battle-worn, and more a veteran of human dynamics, but am I really? Or have I just cleaned up more shit and made more cheesy-eggs than a non-dad? I have one book on each side of parenthood. One is lighter and playful and funny. One is dark and complex with, I hope, some humor still. Is that parenthood speaking? I’m not sure.

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

Time. OMG, time. Since I don’t rely on writing as an income (though it can be a nice bump), I balance a full-time job (I’m the founder and CTO of the boot-strapped tech startup, Walker Tracker), raising kids, being a partner someone would want to actually live with, with my work. For me, that means either 1) Going to bed early 2) Sacrificing a hell of a lot of sleep. It’s usually the latter.

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

Absolutely, though I fear it’s advice everyone has already heard a thousand times: Write every day. Even if for only fifteen minutes. Even if you’re raw and beat-up and your creative impulses feel like that spider your child worked over with her hammer for half an hour. If you’re blocked on one project, start another. Screw it; if you’re blocked on everything write your name over and over, as many times as you need to. Finish everything. Don’t despair.

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Writer, With Kids