The question comes from Susan Henderson, of LitPark and beyond fame: How does a writer balance writing time with family/relationships? And particularly, how does a writer justify spending so much attention on a project that brings in no money and in fact may never sell at all?
“My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away.”
I wrote my book “The Delivery Guy,” in my Nissan pickup truck. I wrote it before Chinese food deliveries. I wrote it after pizza deliveries. I wrote it at stop signs and red lights. I would pull over to the side of the road, hit the flashers and write as traffic passed me.
I could never justify blowing off making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my daughter to write a poem or work on a book. That means that there is not all that much writing done in the afternoons, after school, which is when my daughter is mostly with me. You have to pick your times, in my opinion, when you have kids, to follow your passion. The kids come first. I’ve lived my life by the Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s In The Cradle.” This means that I’d rather be a struggling writer living day in day out with my kids in a small apartment than be a famous writer living in a big house in a big city who never sees his kids.
I write in the morning: it’s mostly quiet then. My dog understands that he is to leave me alone. The cat never much bothers with me anyway. The kids are in school. This is my time. I make the coffee. I swallow the pills. I drink as much water as I can stand and I sit down to the laptop. Also, I carry a notebook and a pen whereever I go. I have written some nice poetry and started and finished a chapter or two in the bleachers at Little League games, when my son was playing, and on the deck at the horse stables where my daughter rides.
I cranked out a poem at my oldest boy’s high school graduation. I have written poems at the bowling alley and the car wash. The notebook and pen are a great tool for this writer. It is my “job” to have them with me, wherever I go. I never know when that poem will hit, when that event will occur that will become part of one of the books that I am working on. I don’t write fiction, but I do embellish. My kids are normal kids, but when you read what I write about them, you would think that no one ever had such wonderful kids.(Hmmmm, and maybe they haven’t!!)
It helps in balancing time between writing and raising kids if one of your primary subjects is your kids; which is true in my case. I don’t have to shut my children in their bedrooms, or me in mine, if I am looking at the kids for stories to tell, though it was never really a conscious thing to write these “family values” stories that I have written. The process just occurred as life was occurring, as we went from diapers to Little League to Jr. High and High School.
I write about the dog and the cat, also. They say write about what you know. I know my immediate surroundings and the kids, the dog and the cat are almost constantly about me.
I decided a long time ago that I would be either poor or rich and that decision was based on the fact that I had finally come to choose to be what I had always wanted to be: a writer. I would be miserable being a wealthy doctor. I would be depressed being a rich lawyer. I’d be very unhappy being a well off accountant. I don’t want to sell cars. I don’t want to sell vacum cleaners, houses or life insurance. I want to write. The odds of my having a best selling book are probably about the same as the odds of me having a number one record. (I dabble at that too. See www.myspace.com/mikelkband for a sample.) It is not the money that motivates me to write. It is something deep inside that wants to come out. I get high writing; and I don t wind up in drunk tanks or mental institutions for it.
There is nothing wrong with money. (Oh Gosh, we could get into such a deep deep philosophical debate here.) And there is nothing greater, in my opinion, than paying your rent with a book you wrote or some songs that you sang. I find such notions and ventures purer than selling winnebegos.
So, if my primary focus is my kids(and my dog and cat) and I don’t neglect them to write the next big poem or the all Amerikan memoir, I figure that I’m cool. My kids don t ride in limos. We don t have a private jet. There isn’t even a swimming pool at the apartment complex that we live in, but my kids are living health, happy normal lives, with their Dad eeking out a living doing this doing that, doing whatever allows him to feed his kids AND to write.
What’s wrong with that?
ps I have a decent mechanism by which I know that I may have spent too much time in the mornings at the laptop. My dog, Morisson, will come and stick his nose between my wrist and the computer mouse, pulling my hand off the mouse. I guess that it is his way of telling me that that is enough Mikel that is enough writing for today, come take me for a walk.
Mikel K is a father, a writer and a poet. You can read a nice portion of his book, “The Delivery Guy,” at www.185cool.com/mikelkpoet under “word of…” You can read him daily at “The Daily K,” at the same website
and at his blog at www.myspace.com/mikelkpoet. Mr. K has to go now and feed the dog.
Ellen MeisterDecember 16, 2006
Mikel’s website says he’s a jerk. I beg to differ.
Thanks for posting. Will go read some poems now …
JimDecember 16, 2006
I love your “Cat’s in the Cradle” thoughts, Mikel. That song inspired one of my short stories, by the way, “Paragon Tea”.
It’s always a question of tugs, isn’t it, of balancing self-realization and human connectedness. I admire your awareness… and your sense of balance.
AurelioDecember 16, 2006
Rich is as rich does. (Some people have lots of money but don’t listen to their dog’s wet nose.) Seems to me you live a rich life, Mikel K. The other stuff is just stuff.
Thanks for sharing some of your personal life with us.
Carolyn Burns BassDecember 16, 2006
Cat’s in the Cradle has always been a favorite of mine. Thanks for the refresher, Mikel.
It does sound like you have amazing kids, but you sound like a pretty amazing dad.
mikel k poetDecember 16, 2006
Ellen-Whether I say that I’m a jerk or whether I say that I’m a nice guy, people are going to form their own conclusions!! Thanks for yours. I just ordered your book through Amazon and I look forward to reading it.
Jim–I used to think that one day I would attend Iowa and get a Masters there(maybe because Thom Jones did?) but now I’m more thinking of maybe pursuing a degree at a school in NYC, five or six years from now, when my daughter is out of high school. Anyway, thanks for commenting. I bought your book through Amazon, also.
Aurelio–I bought your book, too. The first three respondees are the lucky winnners!! I didn’t realize there were so many good books to read, here at LitPark. Should we cut Susan in for a percentage?
Carolyn–I just asked my son if I was an amazing dad and he said,”yes.” Both of you can t be wrong. I thank you and I couldn’t find a book by you to buy!!
JimDecember 17, 2006
Mikel, the closest I got to Iowa was a drive across the Mississippi river in 1966 from my Illinois home, just so I could say I’d been in that state. And the closest I’ve been to an MFA education was to drink a few brews at Sewanee Writers Conference this year with people who’ve earned that degree.
That said–Thanks for getting the book. I do hope you enjoy it!
patryDecember 17, 2006
Loved reading this! Sounds like your house and your life are both great places to be.
Julie Ann ShapiroDecember 17, 2006
Sounds like a wonderful place to be. After reading all these stories of families I feel like going back in time and being a kid again for a day or two. Or maybe that’s what I do when I write. It sure feels like playing house all over again.
Susan HendersonDecember 18, 2006
Thanks so much for this great reminder of what’s important. I hope you find a publisher soon!
Gary KembleDecember 19, 2006
Thanks for sharing — it really highlights the realities of being a writer.
When I was younger I was always waiting for the *right* time to write, and so of course never wrote anything.
Then I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and it really galvanised me into action.
Since becoming a dad, I’ve found it harder to find the time, but I always find some time. It may not be time actually sitting in front of the laptop, but instead turning over ideas in my mind.
At the moment I’m on day shift, so I find I get an hour each morning if I get up at 5am. Even an hour each day is great — it keeps the momentum going forward!
Robin SlickDecember 19, 2006
I really enjoyed this and what a beautiful family you have! You have your priorities straight for sure. I didn’t realize you had so much of your book on line and look forward to reading it. I dug what I’ve read so far.
Funny you should mention Harry Chapin and that song. That father was my old man and it was my goal in life to never be “him” even though I’m a her and to this day I can’t hear it without getting choked up.
mikel k poetDecember 19, 2006
Thanks to all who commented. And a special thanks to Susan. My “little girl” will be thirteen on Friday. She asked for a limo ride for her and her friends as one of her gifts. Can you imagaine??!! And she’s going to get it, too!! Too much VH1 perhaps…
My little boy is now a senior in high school, applying to art schools. I’ll soon have no purpose in life, but more time to write, write, write. I think that I write better when I have less time. I’ve always written on the run…good luck to all of you with your writing and with your books. You are a very talented group of nice people and you have made my life richer this week. Happy holidays.–Mikel
mikel k poetDecember 19, 2006
Gosh what a lousy writer…it sounds as if I’m saying that Susan is “my little girl…” Ouch. I should have stayed awake in English class.