I love being a writer-dad, without question. I have three children. Young children, ages of 7 years old, 3 and 8 months. Two girls to start with, then a little lad tacked on the end. I’m 35, and married. So life is busy, before you even try to do anything with it.
Writing full time came along at 31, when we just had the one child, who, then 3, sort of understood what daddy was doing, but had no idea why daddy might need a bit of quiet time to get things done. She still could see me, and wanted my attention. I had to learn straight away that discipline was going to be the biggest attribute if I was going to make a decent fist of this.
I set myself a target then, which I still stick to now – namely, that by hook or by crook, whatever is going on that day, you’ve got to hit 2000 words written. It doesn’t matter if those 2000 words are a burbling stream of incoherence – as long as you’ve banked them, you’re moving forward. I picked that target as it was realistic, and while still an achievement, it was an attainable one.
Once I’d cracked that, the next thing was to work out where I was to work at home. This was the hardest one, as, believe me, there is nowhere a three year old won’t find you. I made a den in the attic – busted soon after, with wailing from the bottom step. Hide in mummy and daddy’s bedroom – not long before little one storms in, or mummy has to come in too because one or both have got vomit/poo all over them. Sneak into the garden – come on, this is the UK, I’d only work a handful of days a year…
So I had to adapt constantly, and train myself – harking back to that vital discipline again. A lot of writers need a perfect chair, setting, or room in which to write in. Writer-dad’s with young kids can’t afford such luxuries if they want to get anything done. You have to write whenever and wherever you can, with the clasps to your process ajar ready to be bust open whenever occasion permits. Now partially-trained, I can grab five minutes writing in the pitch black under a bunk bed while one goes to sleep, or bang out a few hundred words while they are in the bath before I have to fish them out. As Bear Grylls said famously – improvise, adapt, overcome. You want to be a writer, and you want to be a dad? Get to it, no time to be precious about it!
Once I’d got any preciousness about the process out of the way, and the discipline of sticking to a word count, I could then really enjoy how lucky I am to be a writer with young kids. I take them on the school run most mornings, then sprint home to write horrible things, taking occasional breaks to tickle the young lad, who’s the most easy-going of the lot. I’m usually there when they get home, and get to play a really hands-on role with their upbringing – something I know that a lot of dads aren’t fortunate enough to do. I count my lucky stars.
The hardest thing sometimes is to switch off – like, for example, you’re in the midst of writing an especially grizzly murder, the characters are all pulling in different directions, but you’ve got to go and watch Peppa Pig buy new red shoes for the bazillionth time. It can be hard to let it go, and I’m often quietly wrestling with plot points in my head while doing far more child-friendly things. I suppose that is the next evolution in my writer-dad-development – learning to leave the writing on the page. As in life, you never stop learning!
Most importantly, however, is the role of my wife as the young ones’ mother. She is the tireless, behind-the-scenes engine room that makes all this happen – and this writer-dad would be lost without her.
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