Balance

Mike MacLean

My wife is nine months pregnant, due to give birth any day now.  While we have the usual doubts about parenting, we’re excited and happy for this new chapter in our life.

I have only one real fear.  What will happen to my writing?

As it is, my time is spread thin.  Between the day job, my martial arts studies, quality time with the wife, and the blog, my fiction sometimes gets pushed to the side.  And now, there’s going to be a little one in my life-a beautiful, crying, crapping, burping little one.  Just one more demand on my time.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned.  After all, writing doesn’t pay the bills right now.  Writing isn’t going to change a diaper.  Writing isn’t going to hug my wife.

So where does writing fit in the grand scheme of things?  How important is it?

I remember a 60 Minutes interview with a famous playwright whose name now escapes me.  When asked about the balancing act between his family and his work, the playwright responded, "Art comes first… Always."

While I don’t agree, I understand the sentiment.  To give up on writing, would be giving up on a dream.  Losing hold of it would mean losing a piece of myself.  That’s a short road to bitterness.

How good a husband will I be if I’m unhappy?  How good a father?

Putting writing aside simply isn’t an option.  In fact, I feel more and more that I must make it a priority.  The question becomes, where do I find the time?

So I’m reaching out to you once again murder fans.  To the writers out there, especially those with day jobs, how do you keep the balance?  How do you keep writing a priority when life gets in the way?

Happy Easter and enjoy the ham.

Mike MacLean

20 thoughts on “Balance

  1. Alex Sokoloff

    Well, Mike, this personal life vs. writing is a touchy subject for me – as I said yesterday, the darkest moment in the Grand Masters panel for me was the “No wife, no career” idea.

    Of course, for women it’s a whole other story than for men, if you listen to Simone de Beauvoir: “You must choose between the book and the baby.”

    I made that choice for myself a long time ago. Is it a false choice? I honestly don’t know. Heather Graham has written 125 novels and has five children and she literally started out typing with one hand as she held a baby in the other arm.

    I don’t think I have that in me.But honestly, I never had much drive to have children (maybe none) and I did have this other drive.

    Anne Tyler says that when you have children, you write more slowly, but you have more to write about. I think that can be true, if you make it true.

    But I’ve always thought that you have your priorities in order, and I think that you’ll be fine.

    Reply
  2. billie

    Mike, I have been writing since a very young age, but when I got “serious” about it in my twenties, I barely finished anything. If I did finish a piece, I rarely made it to the business of revision.

    I can honestly say I didn’t write a word from the time I was pregnant with my first until my second was nearing 2 years old. That was about a 4 year span of time I didn’t write.

    At that point I returned to writing with a drivenness I had never known. I’m not sure whether it was having children or not writing for 4 years, or the combination, but something shifted in that time and my writing has soared.

    I suspect if I had been actively finishing work before the children I would have brought that through the pregnancies and births – as I’m certain you will. I wouldn’t be surprised if you discover even more writing energy on the other side of this process.

    The main thing you have to do is carve out whatever time you feel is reasonable/doable for your writing and guard it with your life. Once you have children they will spread into your entire being, as they should, so it’s your job to put up the guard rails for your writing.

    The first year I wrote, it was for 4 or so hours every Thursday night in a coffee house. I got amazingly good at saving up the “good stuff” for that night – I could feel it flowing on Thursday afternoons. I think the creative voice will cooperate if you give it space and keep it steady.

    And if you don’t have one yet, buy a baby sling and learn how to use it. ๐Ÿ™‚ If you’re lucky your baby will be like my daughter and love being snuggled inside the sling against your warm body – while you write, hands free!

    If your baby is like my son, well, I didn’t think of this at the time, but you might have to get a digital voice recorder and dictate your book while walking at a fast pace in a dark room with Dire Straights playing loud in the backgound. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Either way, you’ll find the balance.

    Reply
  3. Mike MacLean

    Alex,

    Iโ€™m curious about the โ€œNo wife, no careerโ€ line. Surely, a significant other can be a great source of inspiration and support. But were they also speaking in terms of economic support? (Stephen Kingโ€™s wife apparently supported him for years while he built his career and honed his craft.) How does that apply to someone like you already making a living writing?

    Billie,

    Thanks for the advice.

    Iโ€™m imagining writing scenes of horrible violence and bloodshed with a baby slung to me. I should start saving for the therapy bills now.

    Reply
  4. pari

    Mike,You just do it. You find moments to squeeze in that creativity. You have to. The need to write doesn’t change even though the need to parent may overwhelm you at times.

    I remember working out plots while walking a screaming baby back and forth in the middle of the night.

    Billie’s suggestion for a digital voice recorder is a great one; my mind became a sieve for years after the birth of each of my children.

    The main change that I’ve noticed is that I’m much less precious about my writing time — I grab moments when I can and write what I can. The idea of having peace and quiet — of being in a nice garret somewhere — is lovely in theory but difficult in practice once you have children.

    Life becomes much more unpredictable with kids. It’s a blessing and a challenge.

    But children get older, as main are doing now, and finding the time to write will, indeed, become easier again.

    My best to you and your wife. It’s an astounding adventure you’re embarking on . . .

    Reply
  5. J.D. Rhoades

    First off, Mike, congratulations. You’re about to take the first step on a mind bending journey.

    This “art comes before family” is the sort of thing people like to say in interviews, but in real life, only a complete prick would actually carry through with it. I can honestly say that if I had to give up writing to save the life of my son or my daughter, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. (That, however is about the only circumstance I can imagine).

    I think having kids has actually made me a better writer. It’s given me a longer view of life, a sense of connection to both the past and the future. And it’s certainly made me take myself less seriously.

    Now, as to the practical aspects of time management: I wish I had some advice to give you, other than “give up television. And sleep.” But you may already have done the first and you’re damn sure about to give up the second. An awful lot depends, I think, on sitting down with your wife and getting her support.

    Give Tasha Alexander a holler. I seem to remember her talking about writing her first novel while taking care of an infant. And a fine book it is, too.

    Reply
  6. Louise Ure

    I love Billie’s practical advice and tips, Mike. I’m going to be no help here, as I have neither children nor a day job.

    Gillian Roberts talks about writing her first book for two hours each Sunday, when her husband took her sons to the park. It took a year of Sunday’s, but it worked.

    You’ll find a way, too.

    And would you promise, please, that when your baby is born, you’ll post it right away as a “Special Editon” of Murderati?

    Reply
  7. Tammy Cravit

    Mike,

    Congratulations on the impending new arrival. Having children in a family definitely changes things, but I happen to think most of the changes are good ones.

    Since my partner and I became foster parents a year or so ago, I’ve definitely had to get more creative, and a bit more selfish, about my time in order to keep my writing momentum going. Here are a few of the things I do:

    * Always carry a notepad with you, everywhere you go. I’ve actually been at the zoo with Alex and our kid and stopped in front of the monkey cage to write down my murderer’s next nefarious plot. As notebooks go, I’m partial to the small-sized Moleskine myself, but anything you can carry easily works. I know Anne Lamott swears by 3×5 cards, which are as good a choice as any.

    * Grab slices of time wherever you can. I once read an article in one of the writing magazines where Sue Grafton talked about getting up a half hour earlier and going to bed a half hour later. “You’ll never miss an hour of sleep, and you’ll gain an hour of writing,” she (more or less) said. Works for me.

    * Alone time is good. Alex takes guitar lessons once a week; I carve out an hour a week to go to my local coffee shop and write. Fifteen minutes here and a half hour there really adds up. (Kind of like Everett Dirksen, the famous Illinois senator who famously said, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”)

    * Recognize the silver lining. As others have said, you might write more slowly with a child in your world, but the quality and character of your writing will change because your life experiences are about to broaden markedly. New experiences can only fertilize the writer’s mind.

    * Don’t stop writing. Even if it’s only 100 words a day, don’t stop. I firmly believe that writing is something we do that feeds our souls, and it’s too important to give up. Remember, you can’t give what you don’t have — if your soul is arid, how can you possibly water your family’s collective soul?

    Hmm…I think I need to copy the above list into a blog posting of my own.

    Reply
  8. Mike MacLean

    Pari, Tammy,

    Thanks for the great advice. Seems like we have a consensus. I need to take slices of time when I can. Yeah, I can do that.

    JD,

    โ€œI think having kids has actually made me a better writer. It’s given me a longer view of life, a sense of connection to both the past and the future.โ€ This puts my mind at ease, at least a little.

    Did I mention how cool it is to have you aboard? Canโ€™t wait for your post.

    Louise,

    Maybe, Iโ€™ll have pictures for next weekโ€™s post. My wife would rather get the whole pregnancy thing behind her, so weโ€™re hoping itโ€™ll happen sooner than later.

    We had both our first date and our wedding on Friday the 13th. Itโ€™s kind of our lucky number. Maybe the girl is waiting until then to show herself.

    Reply
  9. pari

    Mike,Tell your wife this:

    Back before I’d had my first, I met a lady here in ABQ who was overdue. I stupidly asked her if she was ready to have the baby. She said, “Pari, I’m in the Valley BEYOND Ready.”

    I really disliked being pregnant — felt like a space alien had taken over my body. But being a parent? It’s absolute-f***ing fantastic!

    Reply
  10. simon

    Balance is a tough subject. I made some changes to my life when it was becoming bovious I was ignoring my family. It took the dog to let me know when I’d gone too far.

    I couldn’t imagine how I would deal with a kid and write. This is porbably a reason why I microwave my underpants every morning.

    Reply
  11. Duane Swierczynski

    Mike–huge congrats, first of all. I think you’re going to love being a dad. Okay, the not being able to sleep when you want thing kind of sucks. But everything else is wonderful.

    Just to echo what a few people have said here: You know, I didn’t get serious about my writing career until we had kids. Suddenly, my free time was all the more precious, and I’d be damned if I was going to waste it, puttering away on something I think I would finish. Real discipline kicked in. Two years later, I sold THE WHEELMAN to St. Martin’s, and then I realized why many writers dedicated their books to their spouses and kids. I don’t think they’re essential, of course–every writer is different. But I know they certainly helped kick my sorry Polish ass into gear.

    Reply
  12. JT Ellison

    Mike, I can’t wait to see Miss C.C. MacLean! Definitely do an emergency Special Edition post whenever the blessed event happens.

    I find this fascinating. I don’t have kids but haven’t ruled the possiblity out. I can only imagine the stress that trying to write and care for a child — and doing both well — could bring. But like Dusty said, I think that life may be richer and allow a different level of writing. Not necessarily better, just different.

    Regardless, you’re a writer. You’ll figure it out. I know writing to me is as vital as drink or food, so the words will always find their way to the page. Isn’t that why they invented babysitters???

    Reply
  13. Rob Gregory Browne

    The first couple months are tough after the baby arrives (not that it ever gets easy).

    But you’ll find a rhythm, a time to write — probably in the wee hours when everyone is (hopefully) asleep.

    And even when you can’t physically sit down and write, you can always be writing in your head. When you’re rocking your child to sleep, you can be thinking about characters and plotlines, etc.

    Having a child is a major adjustment, but it doesn’t mean you’ll have to give the writing up.

    Reply
  14. Jim Born

    Congratulations, Mike.

    This is the biggest thing in life. Nothing else is as important as kids. The fact that you’re concerned only means your head is screwed on right.

    I love to write but I love my kids more.

    You’ll see, in a few years you agree no matter what.

    JIm B.

    Reply
  15. Fran

    Let me add my congratulations, Mike!

    And as a parent and step-parent, let me add that you will discover that truth really is stranger than fiction – yes, kids can come up with new and amazing ways to get into things! – and that you’ll find a whole new perspective on what can be used as a weapon. I always maintained that baby poop and some strained vegetables were secret toxic weapons!

    Your life will change in so many ways that once you’ve found your balance and established something vaguely resembling a routine again, that you’ll find the time you need to write. It’s amazing how elastic things can be, even with three full-time jobs: the traditional one, the parenting one and the writing one.

    You’ll be fine, I have no doubt.

    Reply
  16. Stephen Blackmoore

    Add one more congratulation to the pile.

    No advice for you in the child question, seeing as I have no kids. That would be a bad idea. I’m kinda like recalled toys and abandoned refrigerators that way.

    But I do have a day job. And just like any other demands on time you’ll figure out a way to fit it in. maybe you’ll spend less time on the martial arts, maybe you’ll have hte baby slung over your shoulder while you’re dreaming up murder schemes.

    I think writers make it work because they have to. There’s no real choice in the matter.

    Reply
  17. Lori G. Armstrong

    Mike,Congrats. You think you’re prepared? Hah! You have no idea how much your life will change.

    I used to write…then I had 3 daughters in 6 years. I also held down a part-time job and helped remodel house #1. I was so busy I had no desire to write anything. I read a lot, and knew what I wanted to write if I ever got the time. Yeah, yeah, people will tell you if you really really want to do it you’ll *make* the time. Or you’ll do it because you *have* to. That’s not always the case, and don’t feel guilty if you all of a sudden don’t find creating fiction as compelling as you once did. Honestly, for me, for years, nothing was more fascinating than raising my small children. I got way more joy out of them than anything I’d ever done. So I started this writing with a goal toward publication gig later in my life – when my youngest daughter was 3. I don’t regret a damn thing, because like Dusty, I believe parenting has not only made me a better writer, it’s made me a better person.

    The publishing world will always be there. Revel in those first few years of your child’s life and your role in the development of this tiny person who relies on you for everything. Trust me, he/she will be asking for the keys to the car before you know it.

    Reply

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