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Monday, January 15, 2007

Five Tips for the Writing Dad (or Mom)

My alarm goes off at five. I get up. Flip on the coffee, stumble to the computer, and blink myself awake while the computer hums through its startup. I read a little of my work from the previous day and begin to fall into the clicking rhythm of creation.

When the coffee burbles, I go fill a mug and find my daughter standing in the hallway.

“Daddy, I’m scared,” she says. “Can you lay with me?”

There are two kinds of writer’s block. Internal blocks and external.

Those writers with internal writer’s block are their own worst enemy. They block themselves. They run out of ideas. Or they get anxiety. Or they self-edit so much they can never write more than a paragraph or two. The solution to internal writer’s block is simple. Start writing. Shake it off, and get back to work.

I have external writer’s blocks. One of my blocks is two years old and the other is five. And I love them even more than my writing.

Which is the problem. If I have to choose between being a writer and being a dad, I’m going to choose dad every time.

But that isn’t healthy for me. I need to write. In a certain sense, God has called me to write. I don’t want to bury the talent he’s given me--like the man in the parable did. It would be irresponsible and short-sighted of me to think the best way to be a dad is to stop writing. Even temporarily.

I’ll say it again: writers need to write. I even think our kids need to see us writing. I explain to my kids that I have two jobs. This is true in a sense. My employer pays me to research and edit. And in my spare time (ha!), I have a second job as a freelance editor and writer.

It sounds good when I’m talking to my daughter about why she needs to play quietly for an hour while I write an article for Gina Conroy. But in my heart, I know there’s a big hole in this argument. Second jobs are supposed to make money. This job makes very little money. In fact, I’d make more money flipping burgers.

Oh, sure. Writing could pay off big someday. For now, though, I’m just happy to have readers. And I'm ecstatic if my writing finds print in a magazine that pays with contributor’s copies.

Of course, I can’t eat contributor’s copies. Neither can my family.

And now I’m getting around to the real problem. Sometimes I feel like writing takes me away from my family.

If you feel that way, these five tips are for you:

1. Stop expecting words to make money. Writing is a gift. The process of writing is a gift to the writer, and the product of writing is a gift to the reader. Even if there are only one or two readers.

2. Let your family be your readers. Tolkein developed much of his middle earth mythology while telling stories to his children. C. S. Lewis began Narnia as a gift to a particular young girl. If I treat my writing as a gift, I can give it away to my children.

3. Be disciplined about your gift. Schedule time to write and enjoy being a cocreator with God. It is an act of worship, and it deserves a time slot in your daily calendar.

4. Talk to your kids about your writing time. Explain what you are doing. Talk about the parable of the talents. Be transparent about your process and share your work. Obviously, this works better with a five-year-old than with a two-year-old. But two-year-olds take naps. Two-year-olds go to bed early. Heh heh heh.

5. Don’t make an idol of your writing . . . or your children. I try to make my writing time sacred, but sometimes my daughter gets scared early in the morning. When that happens, I need to stop writing and take care of her. On the other hand, the universe doesn’t revolve around my children. It is okay to tell them that I’m choosing to write rather than play another game of go fish.

Marcus Goodyear is the editor for The High Calling and Faith in the Workplace. His blog can be found at


Mary said...

Welcome to Writer...Interrupted!

I so identify with this post...external blocks surround me! Thanks for sharing your such a delightful read!

pandacanup said...

Great post Marcus. Glad to see you contributing here.

Mark Goodyear said...

Mary, thanks for the comment and the post about Windows Live Writer over on your blog. I'll give that a try. (Always looking for easier ways to add images.)

pandacanup, thanks for words of encouragement. I look forward to writing here in the future. Y'all need a little more testosterone around here. ; )

Anonymous said...

Alot of good wisdom here, Mark. Worth marking!

Heather Ivester said...

Thanks for this post! It was encouraging for all of us parents who write.

I've been writing adult inspirational non-fiction for the past two years, but really what I love to do is read fiction out loud to my kids -- this connects our hearts. And the more fiction I read out loud, the more I keep adding to my own novel in the works.

Connecting with my kids helps keep my own dream alive -- though it certainly doesn't contribute to the family income!

Gina said...

Great advice! I've been learning to balance family with writing and I'm getting better at it.

And I also involve my kids in my writing. My boys have really helped make my juvenile adventure book, more exciting. Though it was a blow to my ego when my oldest read it and told me it was boring and needed a gun fight or something. He was right! It's more exciting and there's a chase with guns!

Mark Goodyear said...

Ted, you posted here too! You're awesome.

Heather, at the end of my life I hope people say that I was an encouragement to them. Thanks for your words. I love reading to my kids too--it's the only thing I completely indulge them on. I figure you can't read too much to your kids.

Gina, that is hilarious. Your son reminds me of my philosophy in movies. The more explosions the better. I can see people talking and having relationships anytime. But gun fights and sword play and explosions--I never get to see that. I think your son and I would get along.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tips, Mark, and well-put, too.