Monday, January 27, 2014

Know your competition. (And what the heck is a "friendover"?)

Middle grade boys like to compete. Who's stronger? Who's faster? Who's smarter? They constantly gauge where they fit in among their "group", and I recently found that I do the same with myself among my fellow writers. And I have been found wanting.

But a while back, while researching agents for querying, I came across a piece of advice that has stuck with me. I can't remember the particular agent, or even the exact quote, but an agent had written something to the effect of "...eyes on your own paper." I believe she meant, "Don't compare yourself to the writers who surround you." And I've thought of that advice a lot lately.

But that's hard. And you know it!

Everywhere we look, there are writers with agents, writers with new book deals, writers throwing down 3,000 words (or more) a day and writers who we KNOW are succeeding with their goals and dreams.

But then there's me. If I get to write late at night a couple of days a week, I'm pumped! (I'm thinking of changing my twitter handle to "@MidnightWriter".)

If I wrote every day for a week, for even three hours each day, I'd be making great progress on the books which burn inside me!  But my house would look (and smell) like the city landfill and my wife and kids would disown me. (No, that's not true. Only my wife would disown me. My kids wouldn't notice the mess.)

So, thanks to that agent's bit of advice, I've given myself permission to be husband and dad first, and writer second. With that attitude, it's easer for me to be happy for another's success and not get down on myself. My writing life has more balance that way, and I'm more relaxed because of it.

It's not easy to not write when I want to so badly, but I have to face my reality.

Don't get me wrong. I'd love to be able to spend my day skipping from my computer (where the masterpiece unfolds) to the tea kettle or the back deck lounge chair with the furry feline companion purring contentedly on my lap while I contemplate a current plot twist, a clever play on words, or something equally literarily fulfilling. (Literarily is such a lyrical word. If it doesn't exist, it should.)

Instead, I juggle a baby, or a toddler, or a baby and a toddler and hop about picking up dirty dishes, spilled cereal, wet towels and filthy clothing while I pray that the baby and the toddler will have an overlapping nap. With that 30 minutes, I could slam down some serious wordage on the current ms!

And then I remember what is most important in my life. (And it's not a clean house.) Thanks to that agent's words, I allow myself to write in the fashion which works for me. A few minutes here and there. Maybe for an hour at the library or coffee shop - if I can get a babysitter for the little two.

But overall, I give thanks that I have a large, wild and untidy family with near constant sibling squabbles and tenacious teasing. When I lighten up and accept who I am as a writer, with the limitations imposed by choosing to have a large family, I begin to notice some pretty good material.

Not only do the middle graders in my family say and do some interesting stuff, but so do the "youngers." I observe how they interact, what they say and when they say it, their tantrums, jokes and tears. And when their friends come for play dates - I mean - "friendovers" (I was informed that "play dates" is a term used for the "little kids" in the family), I get more dynamics with interesting behaviors all around.

And if I stay up until 2:00 a.m. (or until one of the babies wakes up) punching down letters to a blog post or my latest WIP, then so be it. It's what I can do right now at this time in my life, and it will have to be good enough. So I'll be satisfied with enough.

After all, I'm only trying to make myself better, not beat you at the writing game. And while you're struggling with your own babies and spilled cereal, try to remember your reality, and let yourself write within it.


Daniel Kenney said...

Robert, Obviously I know exactly what you are talking about and what you are going through. There are really tough weeks, weeks when the mythical overlapping nap never takes place, when life happens and not much valuable occurs with my writing. And my goal, every day is just to do something to "push the boulder up the hill". This was a great post! Thanks, DK

Unknown said...

Wonderful, wonderful post. Eilleen Spinelli (mom of six) once told me to "write in the cracks." And you're right about all the material you're collecting by keeping your priorities straight; Jerry Spinelli (same retreat) shared how directly his daily life influenced and showed up, in his books. With 11 kids, I've had to learn to write here, there and everywhere, too. But when my baby and toddler's naps overlap, I usually succumb to taking one as well!
Oh, and I LOVE the keeping your eyes on your own paper advice, because when you're published, the temptation to compare yourself to other authors only seems to increase. Great post!

Jean Giardina said...

Such a beautiful post, Rob. Thanks for the reminder. I needed it today.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful!!! Thank you so much for the reminder!


Unknown said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing!

Mirka Breen said...

When mine were a baby and a toddler I barely wrote and didn't even think about submitting, so you are uber-productive, Sir. Pat-on-the-back.

Unknown said...

This is just so great! I'm a little worried about what will happen to my writing when my husband and I start having kids, but seeing writers like you taking care of multiple kids and making some progress on your MSs at the same time really inspires me. :)

Greg Pattridge said...

I take tiny steps but I'm always moving forward. It may not look like it at first, but then I think back to last year or the year before. I have grown, and learned, and written (maybe not 3,000 words a day and often not even 3,000 in a month). You do what you have to do with all the chaotic events of life, and a system evolves. I found my solitude at 5:30 in the morning before the day overtakes me with other responsibilities. Fabulous post. Thank you, Rob.

Daniel Kenney said...

Hi Caitlin, I have eight children and I, like Rob, am a stay at home dad. But trust me, when writing is important to you, you do, just like Greg said above, find a way to move forward each and every day. Rob is doing it, so am I. Take advantage of the time you have now but you will be able to adapt once the kids come as well. Good luck!