Age of kids: 3 and 5
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
It would be different if only one thing changed at a time, in this life, but it’s all interconnected in a way that can’t be disentangled. That said,
Ideal: Wake up around 5, write until around noon, eat something, swim or run, do some computer work (I don’t write on a computer during the actual writing) to catch up and organize the morning work. Have a drink, read a book, cook, await my wife.
Actual: I’ve always had another job, whether as a ranch hand or security guard in an art museum, or as a temp, or as a teacher, and so my writing has always waxed and waned with various schedules (calving, lambing, the academic schedule). But back before I had kids my wife was in medical school, then doing her residency—that was a period of time where I got a lot of writing done, because I’d often come home from work and she wouldn’t be around for another 36 hours. So I’d say, “She’s working; I’ll work.”
Wisely, she didn’t want to have children while doing her residency. So now if I get home and she’s working, it just means I have two little girls to entertain and feed, etc. They’re not interested in watching me write.
A lot of this and the rest of the questions revolve around money, and time, and how they interact. Which is to say that my wife works harder and longer than I do, and I teach full-time, so we have little time, but sufficient funds to have childcare most days for our kids. For a couple years we had a nanny, now we have daycare. If this were not the case, I think the figuring out how and when to write would be even trickier. But the amount of time I spend teaching (and carting kids back and forth) also cuts into writing in ways temporal and psychic.
So, weekends I hardly ever write at all. I play with the kids, go to swimming lessons, etc, etc.
During the school year, I don’t teach every day, and I try to write a little bit, to stay in contact. I am an insomniac, and tend to wake up in the middle of the night, and so I found myself writing between 4:30-6:30 a lot this year, writing until the girls woke up. I’m a morning writer, not a night writer (and often I’m too exhausted to function once the girls are in bed).
In the summer, when I’m not teaching, I tend to write before the girls get up, take them to school, then write pretty much all day (see “ideal,” above). That’s about 3-4 months out of the year. Not bad. Not ideal.
I had a vision of myself writing with my baby daughter sleeping next to me, many years back. That turned out to not work so well.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
In my case, it’s kind of impossible to figure out how I wouldn’t be present—they don’t really give me the choice. So the fight is always to figure out if I’ll be at all able to be present for my work, or to sink into it (see below). The family always has and demands and deserves priority.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
I guess there are definitely ways that I now have a different kind of experiences to draw on—questions of fatherhood, or of having children, etc, are no longer hypothetical—and I would hope a deeper range of empathy, but that hope is probably delusional. I liked to write about young girls before I had them, and I still do…
The way these children eat clocks is the real force of change. Since my first daughter was born I have been working on the same long novel. At one point it was about 1,000 pages long, and it really took me 1-2 hours just to sit with it and think in order to begin to write or make any changes. Reacquainting myself was hard. And all too often I just didn’t have time to make that effort, to sink in, and so I didn’t do it, I gave up.
So, especially when teaching, it’s important for me to conceive of projects that can be dealt with incrementally, or to break down larger projects in ways that I can attack in smaller pieces of time. Perhaps this is what people talk about when they discuss having children making one more “efficient,” or perhaps my work will just become decreasingly ambitious and successful. We’ll see.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
Time, time, time. Sleep. Figuring out how to stay in enough touch with your work that you don’t resent anyone without having anyone resent you for being in touch with your work.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Write when you’re writing. Figure out some time, however small, and don’t let anything stop you. When you’re not writing, don’t fret.
If you have kids, I won’t presume to advise you. If you don’t, go on ahead and have them. You’ll be glad you did. It will exhaust you. And you’ll know that at every stage, in every moment, that it’s more important to be a decent parent, or try to be, than to be a decent writer.
Also, I hear—though can’t verify this—that the period of time when children want or need so much attention actually doesn’t last forever.