So I have to take breaks between writing books. My wife is very good to me. When I’m in the middle of a writing project --furiously working Monday and Tuesday nights, but saving the weekends for our other social plans-- and suddenly our dinner plans at so-and-so’s house on Sunday are cancelled, I will often give her a wheedling smile and say, “So, um, can I sneak away and write, then?”
She will sigh, no doubt thinking that the family could have chosen some other activity besides the dinner, perhaps going to the aquarium, the zoo, the park, the library. After all, our kids are fantastic. They’re up for anything. I’ve taken them out and simply sat on a street corner while they run their scooters up and down the hill, laughing as they zoom down or crying as they crash and skin a knee. Or, in the case of my son, ramming his scooter into the grass hill on purpose, crashing AND laughing. The kids and I have spent entire days inside drawing or wrestling or whatever. As to my wife, anything sounds good except having to entertain the children again by herself, as she has done every day for the past six years. But she’ll sigh, then nod, and off I’ll scurry, closing the door to my office for an hour or ten, depending on how long the inspiration runs.
When I’m in the midst of a writing project, it is my top priority with my free time and this is an accepted truth at my house. That is to say, if something has not been scheduled already (my regular kid nights, scheduled family activities, business trips, family trips, family walks, family bike rides, birthday parties, dinner parties, friend parties, football parties or just random “how ya doin’? parties”) and there’s just extra time lying around --which does happen once in a blue moon--, I will try to take it and bring the novel closer to completion. I feel a rip inside every time I do this, a conscious, difficult choice between spending extra time with my family and furthering my dream of being a novelist. Obviously, I could spend every scrap of time I’m not at work with the family. Or I could spend every scrap of that time writing. The former would make me a better father and husband, and my dreams of being a novelist would slowly fade into just another “you know who I ALMOST became” story that I’d tell at those dinner parties. The latter would produce two, maybe three novels a year. My writing skills would sharpen to a keen edge, and when my children turned twenty they would talk to their college friends about how they never knew their father.
I strive for a balance. It tears into me every time, making the choice either way --to run away to write or to stay and do family activities. It hurts just a little, because I know what I’m losing on either side whenever I steal time. But the rewards so far are worth it. I do not write three novels a year, but “Daddy nights” are a favorite. The made-up story I tell my children before bed about “Gruffy the Griffin” is always news around the house. My daughter is learning to ride a bicycle because I’m there to teach and help her. I get to draw super-heroes with my son, who is a wickedly good artist for a 3-year-old, and my wife keeps telling me that she loves me --and means it. And I manage to finish a novel every two years or so.
So I have to take breaks between writing books and not steal that “extra” time. My wife’s angelic patience is not inexhaustible. But even when I’m pushing swings, or walking along as my daughter strives to master the pedals of her bicycle, I think about the next adventure. Those quiet times fill my mind with climactic explosions of magic, epic swordfights between our hero and the despicable villain who has stolen his power, with tears of longing for our heroine who can never have the man she wants. Those moments of walking and watching my children grow are fertile ground for my imagination. And I sometimes wonder…
What if the balance is a necessary thing? What if I could never write the stories I write without these quiet moments of restraint where I watch the world around me?
That one makes me smile. It makes me smile all the time.