Writer, with Kids: Mike Cooper

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Mike Cooper, author of: Clawback
Age of kids: 8, 12

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

I didn’t start writing until our daughter was born, and we decided I’d be the stay-at-home parent. Back then it was easy. Two naps a day – during the morning nap I’d sleep an hour too, and then I had time to write during the second, not to mention after she went into the crib at night. When it got challenging was after the second child’s arrival. Man, those first six months with a toddler and a baby were hard. I need my sleep. I started dozing off all over the place, like on the floor of the preschool or slumped in a kitchen chair.

I lost a year or two of writing in there.

Now they’re older, though, and I have a few hours to work every day while they’re at school. The usual rule, so familiar to parents, does apply – sloth expands to fill the time available. The real problem is not the daily hours but the constant siren song of procrastination. I really wish I were more driven, or compulsive, or goal-oriented. I try to make up for it by asking for lots of deadlines, but that only works to a point.

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

I hope my editor isn’t reading this, because my basic rule is “family comes first.” After all, the children still depend on me for food, homework assistance, chauffeuring, first aid and everything else. Maybe I’ve just been lucky that a real conflict hasn’t occurred yet.

As for being deep into a project, well, one thing parenting teaches is how to keep more than one ball in the air! And the kids can be surprisingly understanding – so long as their meals arrive as expected.

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

One result of becoming a parent, probably common to all, was that I totally lost interest in reading about violence against children. In fact, noir generally became less appealing to me, as both reader and writer. My first short stories were all fedoras and rain and semi-automatics. Nowadays, although there’s plenty of over-the-top action in my writing, it tends to be cartoonish, even silly.

I’d like to think that parenting experience has made me more sympathetic to the world’s wide range of personalities, emotions and inter-personal difficulties. (My children suggest that it’s merely made me even more rigid and set in my opinions, but what do they know?) If some of that broadened perspective informs the writing, I’m happy.

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

Sleep. It’s always about sleep.

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

Before our first child was born, we had to line up a pediatrician, and the doctor’s office we use was good enough to let us interview several. One of our standard questions was, “What’s your basic philosophy of child-rearing?” The physician we decided to go with – who has worked out great, he’s been wonderful – had an answer something like: “You know, whatever you do, they turn out fine.”

And pretty much the same is true for your vocation – writing or art or anything else. Go ahead and have the kids, they’ll be a joy (much of the time) and don’t worry about the rest. Whatever you do, it will work out fine.

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5 comments on “Writer, with Kids: Mike Cooper
  1. Interesting – like you, having kids raised my awareness of violence against children, really violence against people in general, to ultra-sensitive levels. But I’ve had the opposite reaction as you; that feeling hasn’t made me shy away from it, rather, I feel more like I want to explore it, understand it more. Not sure why that is, exactly.

  2. i love your new attitude that “whatever you do, it will work out fine” – I will remind you of this at every opportunity! :) Seriously, I agreed with just about everything you said. I guess that’s no surprise.

  3. Mike Cooper says:

    Everything works out fine except when it doesn’t, but that’s why stay-at-home parents are paid so well :)

  4. Once, on a plane, I asked my mother why she wasn’t nervous about the take-off. “Oh you know, whatever happens, it’ll be fine.” “What if we EXPLODE IN THE AIR?” “Then we’ll be fine then, too,” she said. I pretty much stopped worrying about air travel after that.

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

    Sleep. It’s always about sleep.

    Yes, yes, yes. Don’t really have much else to add. Sleep is so important in amongst the diapers, laundry, dishes, cooking, playdates, writing, charting, knitting, and everything else that goes into a day.

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Writer, With Kids