Writing and Parenthood: Scenes from an Exhausted Land

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MrD and MrX on an adventure.

It’s swimming lesson time. Seven-year-old MrD is in the pool. Two-year-old MrX is up in the viewing gallery with me. I’ve had an idea for a story. I remembered my notebook and pen (for once). MrD is looking up at the viewing window. He’ll know if I’m not watching him. MrX is making a run for it. He finds this hilarious. Somehow I scratch out a couple of lines while chasing. Not sure I’m going to be able to read this later.

It’s early morning. For once, MrX didn’t wake up in the middle of the night and it’s my morning “lie-in” (my wife and I alternate) so I get up early to try to get a bit of writing done. Okay, I’ve only had four-and-a-half hours sleep, but that’s actually pretty good. I grab some breakfast. Too late! The boys are awake. MrD is tired. He wants a family breakfast. “I need my daddy” he shouts, grabbing hold of my legs and not letting go. By the time it’s done, it’s time to get them ready for school / child-minder and drive them off.

We’re hosting a children’s party. We haven’t cleaned the house for weeks. There’s so much chaos everywhere, you couldn’t fit a spare sock in most rooms, let alone eight hyperactive children and their parents. Writing time? Not this week.

MrX is up half the night, throwing up. It’s 2 a.m. and I’m scrubbing carpets with only a few hours until I have to get up again.

You’d have to be mad to have children as a writer. They eat time and energy. They’re brain leeches. They’re not going to listen to “I have to go and write”. And even if you sneak away, your brain is so addled how on Mars are you supposed to hold all those things you need in your head? Plot, character, theme, voice, good writing. You’re supposed to balance them all, intertwine them, tie them together. Even one of those is way too much for a child-sapped brain. You don’t even remember the last thing you wrote or who all those characters are or what’s going on.

I’m driving to school with the kids in the back. “Tell me a story,” says MrD, just like he does every day. So I do, just like every day. Stories of Captain Monkey and Queen Alora (with her pet T. rex), of the upside down land on the far side of the world, of dragon mountain and secret doors hidden in trees that lead deep into the Earth, of Evil Dr. Baddie, the raptor scientist, of adventures and exploration, of time tunnels and alien worlds.

Telling stories to a child as you drive to school makes you an agile storyteller. You don’t have the luxury of choosing your favourite cafe or putting on your playlist or making green tea. You don’t have time to think or plan. You don’t have time for outlines or inspiration. You have to get going, right now. “Let’s have wolves and a baby dinosaur,” he shouts as you’re half way through a story, and so you do. “Why don’t they do a spell to open a door?” “Why doesn’t he get kidnapped by monkeys?” “An earthquake!”

You’re never going to get that kind of enthusiasm from any other reader, the shining eyes, the excited bouncing in the seat, the full-on, undivided attention.

“Let’s write a book together!” he says.

“Your book is the best book ever!”

He proudly puts his copy of your book on his bookshelf, even though he’s too young to read it. He stares at the words and the cover and the illustrations. He wants to know what you’re writing next. He wants to write a sequel.

And two-year-old MrX, who has only managed a handful of words, trundling toward you, clutching a book, shouting “Ree! Ree!” (“Read! Read!”)

You’re a zombie. Your brain is 90% sludge and 10% caffeine. You forget why you walked into a room or where you’re driving to. You don’t even remember the last time you had five hours sleep. (Hell. You don’t even remember yesterday.) Writing comes in stolen moments when you really, really just need to slump onto your bed.

But it’s all made up for when your kid says, “Write me more!”

Being a parent and writing (and having a day job) is hard. Far harder than you’d guess before you have kids. Without kids, you’ll be far more productive. You may even write better. But you probably won’t write happier and your stories won’t matter anywhere near as much.

This was written as part of a Parenting And Writing/Editing Blog Tour. Here are links to the other blog posts so far in the blog tour. (I’ll add more as they happen.)

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb is published on Jan 12, 2016!

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