Kevin Sampsell, author of: This Is Between Us
Kevin will be reading at Powell’s City of Books this Friday, 11/15, at 7:30pm. Hope to see you there! (And get there early. It’s guaranteed to be an overflow crowd.)
Age of kid: 19
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
It seems so long ago now! But the truth is I never had a very disciplined writing schedule before my son was born (when I was 27). I suppose I was self-driven enough to write whenever I was inspired, which was fairly often. I’m sure I logged a lot of hours of bad writing, pre-fatherhood. When you have your first kid though, you quickly start learning how to prioritize your time. I remember being able to actually still write a fair amount the first couple of years of Zach’s life. I sometimes hear people complain about those first years, but for me, luckily, they were really great. He was a fairly serene baby, and so dang cute! Through his elementary school and middle school years, I tried to be as involved as I could be, going to school field trips and after-school programs, but when he got to high school there wasn’t as much of that stuff to do, and he (like any teenager) became more independent. I probably wrote more when he got into high school. But really what happens, at any age of your kid (or kids), is you find whatever time you can when you’re not beat down and exhausted.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
My son was not quite three when his mom and I split up. Despite the difficulties that brought to everyone involved, it also made some of my writing, editing, and publishing projects easier to make time for. His mom and I split our time with him with a week on/week off kind of schedule. On my weeks with him, I tried not to plan any writing commitments for myself so I could just do stuff with him. Sometimes I’d still write at night or on my days off from work (full-time at Powell’s) but mostly I’d just cram all my writing stuff and readings/social events on the weeks he was at his mom’s. I found that to be a very good system and it made me miss him when he was at his mom’s and it made me excited about writing when I’d had a few days off from it to be a present dad.
I admit that I’ve broken those rules more as I got busier the past couple of years though. There have been days where I’ve had to get something done by a deadline or I’m just having a good productive day of writing and I need more time. But if we have a plan to do something as a family, I won’t cancel those plans. I’m the kind of person who likes to look forward to something and I get really bummed out if it doesn’t happen or if someone flakes. So I try not to be that person. I don’t want my son to think of me as someone who doesn’t keep their word.
Now my son is older and he may not want to hang out with me as much, so being present when we are together is just as much for me as it is for him. I feel like I’m holding on to the twilight days of my parenting right now. I wrote an essay about it on The Rumpus recently. I’m becoming very nostalgic.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
Parenthood changes us as people, changed me as a person. It made me more caring, and hopefully more considerate. It made me open my eyes more. It made me feel things deeper, so hopefully that reflects in the writing I’ve done as he’s grown up and as I’ve grown as a parent. Parenthood, for those who embrace it, places something heavier inside you–a responsibility to someone, and someones, outside of yourself. I hope that being a parent has made love and life more clear and vivid in my work. And also–being a parent and a writer, you’re always sharing, even documenting, the funny things that happen along the way. Your kids can make you laugh so hard.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
Sometimes I might lose track of financial things. Like, oh, crap, that credit card bill was due today! Just remembering everything can be a big challenge. I think I have a good memory, but I feel bad for parents that don’t. Every parent is busy, whether they’re a writer or artist or waitress. And sometimes your kids won’t remember things either. It’s like you have to remember things for two people. Calendars and a really smart wife help a lot, too.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Schedules and priorities are important. But also, don’t get discouraged (you will be) and don’t make excuses to get away from writing (you’ll probably want to). Meet other writers with kids and grab some writing time during naps and during school and late at night when you can’t sleep or are having weird dreams or when the poem or story you just read sparks something in your own imagination. Go ahead and tell your kid that you’re a writer. Read to them. Celebrate them. Take them to a reading if it’s not too inappropriate. Make them proud of you.