What is it like to write with children? I’m not talking about an elementary writing program. I mean being a novelist and a father with four children still at home? Let me tell you—it’s horrible.
At a recent speaking event Brandon Sanderson was asked how he can be so prolific. He is known to have published between two to three thousand pages in novels (really good novels) in a year. He said he doesn’t spend a prodigious amount of time writing. He will write for maybe eight hours in a day then enjoy an evening of computer games or some other entertainment. I laughed when I heard this. From my viewpoint if eight hours isn’t a prodigious amount of time then what is?
Because my writing earns little money yet, I have to look to other means to house and feed my kids. This means my writing time is squeezed between other activities. After I park the school bus at the end of the morning run I head over to Arby’s, buy a sausage biscuit and a hot chocolate, then take out my laptop and write. I have to ignore the older fellows who meet every morning at the table next to mine to complain about people who believe in man-made climate change. I’ve learned to focus and write. I get about an hour and a half in before my thirteen year old daughter shows up. She’s finished her morning class at the middle school and waits for me to take her home where she will finish her schooling. We don’t leave for another hour because my fifteen year old son has a second class at the high school before we pick him up, too.
When my daughter arrives I may or may not get more writing done. My daughter loves to talk to me. She is an observant, thoughtful girl who loves to read and write. She likes to tell me stories about the people and events in the class she was just in. She likes to discuss the book she is reading. Currently it’s the Fellowship of the Ring by Tolkien. Sometimes I sigh and look pained when she slides into the seat across from me and starts talking. This is because usually the creative juices have just started to flow by the time she arrives. It’s irritating to have my concentration broken just when I’ve started to get productive. She knows I am trying to write and does her best to keep her chatter brief. I’ll give her two dollars to buy some French Toast Stix. Then she will settle in, open her book, eat French toast and read. All too soon we have to pack up to pick up her brother and drive home.
I don’t have to leave to drive the afternoon route until 2:00 pm. On the clock that gives me three more hours. It doesn’t work that way. It takes time to greet the wife and then settle into the home office and find the creative thread again. Soon after I’ve found my way back in to the story the door to my office will open and wife will come in. She will pull over the stool and sit so she can discuss family matters. After she leaves and I am getting back into the flow I get a call over the intercom. It’s my sixteen year old son. He wants to tell me that he’s found really good Frisbees for $10.00 online. That’s great. I can foresee good times out in the back field. I might have half an hour left before I have to leave for the afternoon bus route when my seventeen year old daughter knocks on the door. She stands before me and in her cheerily animated way tells me about the structure of our government. She is studying for the GED and gets excited when things become clear to her. Then my writing time is up.
Reason tells me this is no way to write novels. I have to agree. Under these conditions writing novels is difficult to impossible. What is the solution? Someone close to me suggested that I put the writing urge aside for a few more years, go get a regular job, and finish raising my kids. Then I can write to my heart’s content. Basically he is telling me to quit writing and pretend I will get back to it later when I have fewer interruptions. There are many who take this course. Most never write anything.
Another solution is to live more strictly. I need to lay down household rules. My wife should make the twenty mile round trip to pick up the kids in the mornings so I can go straight home and write. Then, once I’m in my home office no one, that means no one, is to bother me until noon.
I’m more willing to consider this second solution than the first. Writing is not a hobby to be off until retirement. Writing is my art, my drug that I need in my life in order to survive as a whole human being. The second solution has some credence? It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask for an uninterrupted block of time to write. Can’t my family wait until after noon to discuss their lives with me? There is still a lot of time in the day left.
I’ve looked into this using what little right-brained ability I possess. At first glance it makes perfect sense. After a closer study it falls apart. There are nine more productive hours in the day after noon, but I am accessible for very few of them. I have to drive my afternoon bus route, then my evening bus route. Intermixed with this my wife is running kids to dance. Other of my kids are running to youth programs. I have play practice. No, there is no reliable “talk” time in those hours. This is why my family comes to me when they do.
There is the option that I enforce my “no interruptions” rule anyway. I have novels to write, for Heaven’s sake. I deserve my shot at producing great art before I lose a clear mind and die. Leslie Norris, my creative writing teacher in college, told me of a writer he knew who enforced his no interruptions rule with no exceptions. He would miss family gatherings if they fell in his writing windows. I don’t know who this writer was. I know I hope he found literary success for his sacrifice.
I am not willing to make that sacrifice. Good family relationships are priceless for the joy they bring. I could not create a novel perfect or successful enough to replace what my family gives me. This sounds like a meme, but there are those of you who really know what I mean. I have a wife who loves me and teen age children who actually enjoy talking to me. Only a fool would believe there is a good reason to throw that away.
On the other hand I won’t give up my art either. My family has not asked that of me. If I stop to discuss family matters with my wife or take time to listen to a story from my thirteen year old it does take me longer to write my books, but I still write them. I’ve already written two novels under these conditions—Joey and the Magic Map and Jacob and Lace—and am in the middle of writing The Magic of Rosalie. If the readers could hear the daily agenda my wife discussed with me in the middle of the pirate scene in Joey, or see my daughter dancing pointe for me in her new ballet shoes during the City of Rocks scene in Jacob it might annoy them. The truth is that I am usually annoyed by the interruptions, too. But as I look at the finished novels in my hand and remember the interruptions from individual family members, the novel and the family become intertwined. Writing my novels becomes part of my family experience. My family experience becomes part of my artistic endeavor. I don’t want it any other way.