"The Somber Enemy"

Thanks to Rita Mae Reese for suggesting this blog post.


One side-effect of being a full-time writer is that I’m also the stay-at-home parent for my two sons, ages 5 and 2. They impinge on every single moment of my day, especially the younger one, since he’s underfoot almost constantly. My wife works in an office 45 minutes away and spends her days conversing with adults; I know way, way too much about The Fresh Beat Band.

A famous poet–I’ve searched and searched, but can’t find the actual quote–said something to the effect of, “My poems are short because I have children.” Man, do I sympathize. I’ve gone from entire days of sitting lazily in my underwear writing page after page, to scrambling to get my thoughts down during the twenty-three minutes of Ni Hao Kai Lan. Most everything you read by me these days (including this blog post) started as a brief note typed into the body of an e-mail on my tiny Acer, chosen because it fits in the younger son’s diaper bag. I’ve had to master the trick of writing amid hoardes (okay, only two, but they’re overachievers) of children screaming, running, drumming and fighting. I can stay reasonably on task while simultaneously shouting things like, “Get the lightsaber out of your nose!” But I wouldn’t call it easy.


(The Squirrel Boy, pre-nasal insertion.)

Of course I worry that it’s going to show in the final product. A writer’s greatest tool is his/her ability to concentrate, and mine is dangerously overextended. Will my next novel be a sloppy compendium of half-assed ideas that I simply lacked the energy and opportunity to polish before deadline? Obviously I hope not, and I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen. But I have no problem imagining that to be the case. Cyril Connolly said, “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” and on my worst days I see the chilling wisdom in that.

But luckily, there’s a significant upside. One is motivation: knowing that you have tiny helpless human beings dependent on you is great for kicking your ass into gear. The other, surprisingly, is clarity. When you realize that what you write today is part of the legacy you’ll leave your children, then it helps keep you focused on what you really need to do. I may never write a best-seller, but I feel that my published work will let my sons know me better when they’re adults.

And if I do happen to write a chart-topper, I’ll have a clear conscience about it.


(The C-in-C expresses his critical opinion of one of my first drafts.)

Posted on by Alex in children, writers, writing

3 Responses to "The Somber Enemy"

  1. Dale

    Alex: Great piece, great quote…"knowing that you have tiny helpless human beings dependent on you is great for kicking your ass into gear." It's ironic to me that I got more fiction writing done in my "spare" time when I worked an 8-5 job downtown than I do now that I work doing journalism at home.

  2. Deborah Blake

    GREAT post! (And seriously cute kids.) I have a hard time writing when there are other people around (no coffee houses for me)–I can't imagine trying to do it while simultaneously riding herd on two young children. (My CP copes by getting up an hour before everyone else to write. And she can't wait until school starts again!)

    Having read so much of your work, it is hard for me to imagine you writing anything that is less than stellar. But if you do, we'll definitely blame the kids :-)

  3. Melissa

    I definitely hear you on this, too, and I just have the one kid. (But she's an overachiever.) I personally know everything there is to know about Sesame Street. Luckily I have a sympathetic husband who lets me go to the coffee shop two days a week to write – if I wasn't staying home with Mattie, I would be approximately 20 pounds lighter thanks to fewer giant cookies and chai tea lattes. Oh well.

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