The Hack Chronicles—The Dadonauts: Time Management
For a writer, time is the enemy.
I mean, it is for everybody. You’re not going to get to do everything you wanted to do today, even if what you wanted was to burn through both seasons of Fortitude while scarfing down a couple of pizzas. Because let’s face it, all those carbs you’re chugging down are going to make you pass out or have digestion issues somewhere around episodes 7 or 8 of season one, and you’re going to have to do some re-watching and there’s no way you’re going to be able to fit both seasons in a single sitting.
Anyway, for the sake of the column, let’s pretend for a few minutes that writers are the most important people on earth and time is constantly fucking with us—especially when we’re on deadline. During those grim moments when the work you’ve put off for the past three weeks is suddenly due in 5 days and the minutes seem to be screaming into your ear telling you what an idiot you are for not getting this shit done sooner!
Not that anyone ever does this.
When you have a kid, though, you have to tell those panicked, egotistical invisible voices to shut the fuck up. When it comes to kids, they’re the top, you’re the power bottom, and sometimes your ass is going to hurt because the only time you’re going to have to write is when your little Hitlers are comfortably snoozing, or in worst case scenarios, when they’re binge watching Little Einstein’s. I’ll be blunt, I suck at time management. But then again, I live in one-year-old world, where most of my day is dominated by hours long games of "I’m going to get you" around the dining room table. So I decided to ask some other stay-at-home dad writers to chime in on how they structure their days and see if they’re any better at it than I am (Spoiler: They are).
Jeremy Robert Johnson
It’s two days before my first ever hardcover trade publication Entropy in Bloom is supposed to launch and mark my introduction to a worldwide readership, so of course my son wakes up chugging back snot while green conjunctivitis goop crusts his right eye blind. You get used to it, as a parent, knowing that you’re always on borrowed time and that your plans are folly at best. You could say to the kid, “Dad’s book launches in two days and at this point it pretty much has to be a success or it’s back to the bank job for me, so I just need to get all the new reviews quoted and loaded into Amazon, and answer one hundred eighteen print interview questions for a batch of venues, and schedule three podcast appearances, and figure out how much I’m asking for signed copies (and what size packaging I’ll need for shipping), and put out a request for Amazon reviews. And if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll find time to start a line-by-line edit on my first draft of the next book because I’m trying to Lansdale this shit so that all I ever have to do is be a good dad to you and a good husband to your mom and keep telling these crazy stories to anyone who’s willing to listen.”
But the kid wouldn’t care, anyway, and he’s not supposed to, not really. He’s not my life coach. He’s the person I purposefully added to this fucked-up planet, that’s on me and his mom, and his job is just to keep growing and playing and doing good at school and maybe making some cool houses on Minecraft.
So I adapt every day. I hope for the standard schedule—wake at 5 AM, administrative and marketing work until the kid wakes, get the kid and wife through their morning routines and off to work and school, run a 5K, stretch, then back to the laptop where the Freedom app pops a bright green butterfly logo in my face if I try to do anything but write from 9 AM until the kid’s off school.
Those are great days—I clock about 736 words per hour on average, and I feel like a good person by the time my wife gets home from her insane office job. I don’t take those days for granted. I also don’t expect them, because I’ve learned better. Like the kid being sick right now, his lymph nodes looking like golf balls in his neck, me shuttling him from room to room trying to find ways to keep him both calm and entertained so he’ll actually rest and get better—that’s the kind of thing I’ve learned to expect. Makes me behave accordingly and work like crazy when I get a shot. My best advice to parents (or hell, non-parents) who write would be: 1. Set a schedule and do your best to adhere to it. 2. Once that fails, find ways to seize opportunities as they arise.
Full disclosure: In order to be able to write this I had to turn on Stampy Longhead’s YouTube channel for the kid, which means that right now he’s helping a British guy with a journalism degree make a quarter million a year for playing Minecraft while gently narrating his adventures. I’m one room over, typing and thinking, “Well, the kid needs to rest anyway.” And also thinking about the time J.G. Ballard described his own parenting skills as such: “I made a very slatternly mother, notably unkeen on housework, unaware that homes need to be cleaned now and then, and too often to be found with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other.” And also thinking about how much Ballard’s kids professed to adore him, and hoping my kid, in the end, does the same.
Jeremy Robert Johnson is the Wonderland Award-Winning author of cult hits Skullcrack City, We Live Inside You, Angel Dust Apocalypse, and Extinction Journals, as well as the Stoker-Nominated novel Siren Promised (w/ Alan M. Clark). His fiction has been acclaimed by The Washington Post and Publishers Weekly, authors such as David Wong and Jack Ketchum, and has appeared internationally in numerous anthologies and magazines. In 2008 he worked with The Mars Volta to tell the story behind their Grammy Winning album The Bedlam in Goliath. In 2010 he spoke about weirdness and metaphor as a survival tool at the Fractal 10 conference in Medellin, Colombia.
My time management routine with my son isn’t much different than I imagine any other working parent’s routine. Once he goes to school, I go to work. He’s a kindergartner, so in the mornings, I get him out of bed, make breakfast, and help him get ready for his day. Once I drop him off at school, my work day starts. What I learned from being a stay-at-home parent of a preschool child is that being particular about my surrounding had to go if I wanted to be productive. There’s no such thing as the best time, not having had enough coffee, or the perfect room. Rituals and perfect conditions are an impediment to work. They’re a fetishization of the idea of writing—a way to procrastinate and tell yourself that you didn’t get anything done today because of something external to your desire to create. That’s bullshit. If I am not taking care of my son, I write. If he needs me, he gets me. I wrote my first novel during naps when he was only a year old. If I he was asleep for a half an hour, I wrote, and then it was back to being a parent as soon as he woke up. If you want it bad enough, you use the time you have, and if time is at a premium, you make time. Summer, naturally, means less time for me to do creative work. Still, I write during camps, before he gets up, or after he goes to bed. It’s less time management than acknowledging that the time I have alone is all the time I have.
Bracken MacLeod has worked as a martial arts teacher, a university philosophy instructor, for a children's non-profit, and as a trial attorney. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Shotgun Honey, Sex and Murder Magazine, Femme Fatale: Erotic Tales of Dangerous Women, Ominous Realities, Eulogies III, Wicked Tales, Beat to a Pulp, Protectors 2: Heroes, ThugLit, LampLight, Splatterpunk, and Shock Totem Magazine.
He is the author of Mountain Home, White Knight, Stranded, and Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods.
My life is juggling knives. Knives on fire. Knives on fire covered in malaria. Okay, okay, I’m being dramatic. I should have stopped at fire. See, when you’re a parent, every day is like running through a maze where the walls are constantly changing; the challenges you face, the problems your kids are encountering/creating never stay the same. The moment you think you’ve mastered the whack-a-mole game of taking care of children, a new mole pops up from a hole you didn’t even know existed. And this happens all. the. time.
That said, trying to schedule a work life under such conditions can be…a test of one’s patience. Personally, I crave consistency. I need a routine, a plan, and order. It’s how I function in life and in my work. But with kids? That’s like licking sand and hoping to get to the sugary core. It ain’t gonna happen. Luckily, one of the many, many things my kids have taught me is flexibility. When they’re off school, when the sitter can’t work, when one of them is sick, I just have to roll with it, as difficult as that might be. Every week, I sit down with my writing notebook, and I schedule what my writing times are and what I’m going to work on, prioritizing based on deadlines and what I feel like I can accomplish. Some weeks, nothing goes haywire, and I can stick to the plan. But when things go wrong, well, that’s when I have to adjust. I have to work late nights, I have to shelve that movie I was going to watch, I have to make the best of what I have.
And that, I think, is the key—maximizing every second of time available. In his modern age, whether you’re a parent or not, we all suffer from the plague of interruptions. It could be anything: family, friends, the &^$&^*&@ internet—you name it. The key, for me, is to stay as schedule-orientated as possible and be ready to adjust on the fly. It’s easy to say “well, life happened, couldn’t write today,” or “I can only write first thing in the morning,” or whatever condition you place on punching words on the page. But unless you’re a writer of rare air and can afford a whole lot of luxuries that allow you to write when you want, then you best be ready to work on the fly and squeeze maximum effort out of every second you have. It’s the only way.
Michael Moreci is the creator of numerous original comics series and has written and collaborated on multiple established properties. His most recent original works, Roche Limit (Image Comics) and Burning Fields (BOOM! Studios), were both recognized by many publications as being among the best comics of 2015. Roche Limit was called the “sci-fi comic you need to read” by Nerdist and io9, and Paste Magazine called it one of the “50 best sci-fi comics of all time."
In prose, Moreci just completed the first novel of his sci-fi series, Black Star Renegades, which will be published in January 2018 with St. Martin's Press. He's currently writing the novel Spy Swap for Lawrence Gordon Productions, to be published by Tor Books.
If one wants to be an artist/writer, it helps having a spouse with an MBA. Which is the case in our family. Though we still split bills like a modern family, the lion’s share of kid duty, at least during the week, falls on me. My wife, Justine, works as the director of marketing for a private school, and is often out the door at sunrise. Both my sons, Holden and Jackson Kerouac, are in school and daycare, respectively, but I am charged with getting them ready in the morning, drop offs, and pick up, since my wife generally isn’t back home till after the sun sets (when yoga is factored in).
So what’s our routine like? The longest distance between two points in a working writer/dad’s life is the two and half hours from wake-up to 9 AM drop off. The morning starts with feeding Jackson from the trough. That’s what I call his endless breakfast bowl. The boy is a big fella. Not fat. Just . . . solid. And he doesn’t stop eating. Cereal. Berries. Tree bark. He doesn’t discriminate. While Jackson is at the trough, I argue with Holden about assorted issues, including, but not limited to: why he can’t wear the same ripped jeans that have literally begun to develop a cheese-like film on them; why he needs to eat food; why it’s important to bathe, change underwear, etc. There’s a cartoon out there with a dad duck and a smaller duck, and the caption is something like, “I used to be cool. Now I just argue with a smaller version of myself about why you need to wash your hands after using the bathroom.” It’s like that.
Then there’s the shit. Most of my morning is spent cleaning up shit. The dog, Lucky, who thinks he is being punished whenever it rains—and it’s been a rainy winter here in the Bay—refuses to go outside (preferring to shit on the hardwood). There’s Jackson’s diapers—it’s not uncommon to change three dirty diapers before 8 AM—and, frankly, the boy shits like a hobo. And then there’s the cat. She just shits anywhere but her litter box because she’s an asshole.
During this time, I am usually responding to assorted emails from my publisher, agent, publicist(s)—interview-y writer stuff. Believe it or not, I get a fair amount of fan mail. Mostly addicts wanting to talk because I used to be a junkie. I take this as seriously as I take anything. It’s a debt I owe. But it’s also time-consuming. And I have myriad side projecting, like editing anthologies, or teaching at LitReactor, so sometimes I’m working with students and authors during this time, blurbs, whatever. A lot of writing is not writing; it’s the other stuff. Of course, I use the TV, which in Berkeley, CA, is tantamount to saying I bathe my children in tubs of radiation. I pick Holden up between two and three most days, and at six he’s pretty easy going. I try to get my work done by then so we can hangout, hit the driving range, work on reading, that kind of thing. I pick up Jack Jack (stout and happy, he’s a Jack Jack) about an hour later. Then I start dinner. And it’s usually three different meals. My wife is a vegetarian, and she cries if her salads don’t have a theme (y’know, Asian-themed, summer-themed, etc). Holden eats about three things, mostly bread-based. Jack Jack eats everything. I used to make a separate meat dish for me, because I eat meat. But in the words of Sam Jackson, “My wife is a vegetarian. So that pretty much makes me a vegetarian, too.” The flexibility of my schedule (I owe my publisher one Jay Porter book a year), or more accurately Justine’s nine-to-five inflexibility means I do all the shopping, cleaning (or pay for the maid), and all the finances. The trade off is Justine handles the bulk of the weekends and all the times I am out of town at writers’ conferences. And I go to a lot of writers’ conferences. Writing? I write late into the night.
Joe Clifford is acquisitions editor for Gutter Books and producer of Lip Service West, a "gritty, real, raw" reading series in Oakland, CA. His bestselling Jay Porter Thriller Series (Oceanview Publishing) has received rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among many others. The third in the series, Give Up the Dead, will be out June 2017. Joe is also editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Based on the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and the forthcoming Just to Watch Him Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash. Currently Joe teaches online writing courses for LitReactor and around the country at various conferences and retreats.
Big thanks to Jeremy, Bracken, Mike, and Joe for sharing how their days go.
Over the coming months, I’m going to be featuring stay-at-home moms, our overburdened working parents, and a few grandparents who help take care of their grandkids during the day in similarly themed columns. But, for the time being, how do you schedule your writing day with the kids? Let me know down in the comments.
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