Dad the Writer 3: Soul

Father, husband, writer...
Father, husband, writer…

August 10, 2015

This is the final installment (for now) of “Dad the Writer.” We’ve gone over how to keep mind and body sane and healthy while you juggle being a parent and an artist. Obviously, as cliché as it sounds, we end with keeping the soul sane.

Whether or not you believe in the soul is immaterial. If you’re an artist, if you want to create something, make an idea tangible, then you have a soul. Maybe you didn’t have one before you started. If you’re reading this and want to be a better artist, congratulations. You have a brand new soul.

It’s not enough to simply be good at something, though. It’s also not enough to keep your mind sharp. Anyone can sit at a computer and just type at normal speed, maybe even half speed, and write a novel within a week or two. Anyone can buy a camera and take pictures of animals, landscapes, and people. Anyone can shoot videos or write poems. Doing any of these well, though, is another matter. That takes practice and dedication.

And a healthy artist’s soul.


the artist by samuel123 on DeviantArt

A healthy artist’s soul means being willing to fail. Again. And again. And again. If you’re doing whatever you’re doing for the chance to get rich, you’re doing business, not art. You’re looking at trends and what’s hot and jumping on the bandwagon. You’re not creating. You’re selling. Creating something that rings true to people, something that can last generations and change people’s minds, something that has, for lack of a better term, a piece of your soul, is difficult.

This takes time.

No piece of writing is ever good on the first try. Or the second. Or the third. Maybe, a handful of times in your career, you’ll stumble onto the perfect line, the perfect shot, and that’s fantastic. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it requires patience and determination. And failing is the last thing artists want. I know it’s something that gives me nightmares to this day. I’m afraid of creating something, pouring my history and my troubles into it for others to see and learn from, and then finding out it’s complete garbage.


creativity ? by wesso85 on DeviantArt

Do not be afraid to fail. You will. Just remember that your work is not final until you put it out for the world to see. You can make changes, go back and redo your work, or do anything that needs to happen in order for your art to be better. Embrace failure, but reach for perfection. And don’t be disillusioned when your work isn’t perfect. It never will be. Every writer, for example, can look at old stories and find mistakes. I look at my work from even six years ago and find not just errors in grammar but also plot holes and clutter that I would strike out in the first editing session today.

Just think what you’ll learn in another six years.

Your work does not have to be perfect, just as perfect as you can make it at the time. At some point, you need to stop and say, “It’s done. I can do nothing else.” Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life checking work that needs to go out and be seen.

Which brings me to one of the Ultimate Truths About Art™ that you need to understand to keep your soul healthy.

You will always improve, as will your work, if you have dedication and support.

Surround yourself with people who can encourage you, be honest, and promote your growth. Find those who will give you honest feedback, and maybe a little ego-boost, when things get dark. You need someone who will tell that your work is the greatest thing in the world even if you don’t believe it. Balance this with actual criticism because constant failure can wear you down.


Creativity by BFXWalker on DeviantArt

It’s not easy to have that kind of dedication and will. That, like anything worthwhile, takes practice. So go ahead and fail. Cry. Drink that six pack and pass out. Cry again. Curse the day you thought you could do this.

And try again. And again. And lean on those around you. The loner artist is a myth, a romanticized idea that rarely works. You need that support to keep you grounded or your ego will kill you one way or another. If you gain an audience, it will make you think  things are easy and you’ll flounder. If you don’t do well, it’ll tell you it was never meant to be.

Use your support network. Use your loved ones. Bring them along for the ride.

And now, to help you pass the time between reading and working on your own work, here’s the trailer for a feel-good family movie about parents and their children.

Okay, maybe not so much.

Dad the Writer 2

Father, husband, writer...
Father, husband, writer…

July 22, 2015

In continuing last week’s “Dad the Writer,” I need to point out that keeping mentally active is not the only thing needed in order to be an artist and a parent. Yes, you need to keep sharp, but your body can suffer if you neglect it.

While many of us would be happy living on a diet of tea or coffee and whatever we can throw in the microwave, very few of us have the Kryptonian physiology to not die after a few years of this. Luckily, my wife and I have some experience making do with small budgets and trying to eat healthy, so these habits very much informed our current situation.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I dropped the ball when it came to taking care of myself. After the baby was born, and even about a year before, I focused so much on work and taking care of my then-pregnant wife that I did gain weight and neglect my exercise. Now, with the Little One more or less in a stable schedule, my wife and I are getting back to a routine to better ourselves.

I’m by no means a nutritionist, but I have found a few things that work for me to eat healthier and not go on some fad diet, and I’m not a personal trainer, so take my advice with a grain of salt. Just because it works for me, doesn’t mean it can work for you.


Writer by claire-eyhe on DeviantArt

Learn to Cook

Most of us are more than satisfied with just opening a bag and mixing in water or simply putting a plate into the microwave. That might do in a pinch, but I discovered many years ago, long before I’d even met my wife, that learning to cook means having control over what you consume. Diet sodas and even “healthy” meal options often pack in the sugar to mask the fact that they’re basically cardboard.

It takes a little time, but you can choose exactly what you put in your body, and cooking is a good way to de-stress or at least step away from work long enough to refresh your mind.

Our diet right now is almost vegetarian and focused on greens like kale, collard greens, spinach, and other goodies. We add plenty of garlic, lentils, brown rice, and couscous into the mix and some turkey when we want meat. Once in a while, we’ll go for actual red meat, but this is a treat, both for nutrition’s sake and for health’s sake. Sodas and anything processed is also right out.

Alcohol? Well, in reality, we should cut that out to a drink a week, but a little bourbon once the Little One goes down once in a while is a good way to help the day just melt away. Suffice to say, though, that any sort of mixed drink goes right out the window due to the sugar.


Cooking by pianorei on DeviantArt

Works Out for the Meek

You want to know how I lost twenty pounds in a few weeks once? I walked. A lot. At least an hour a day, five days a week. Yes, I did also cut back on sugars and soda, but the main thing is to keep moving. That sounds easy enough when you’re taking care of a tiny human learning to walk, but you need to combine it with something else.

Given that time is more precious than gold right now, I had to find some way to keep in shape that didn’t eat up the clock. I’m not talking about getting on the cover of Men’s Fitness. I mean doing something to keep flexible and strong and even have some energy and keep my metabolism up. I chose to do tabata workouts because they’re easy, require no equipment (mostly), and they can be done in less than fifteen minutes.

The short version is that you pick a small number of exercises (jumping jacks, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, etc) and do them, one at a time for twenty seconds with a ten second break in between. You do as many reps as possible in those twenty seconds. After you do four exercises, you repeat the cycle once and then rest for thirty seconds or a minute before you start again. Doing two sets takes no more than ten minutes and kicks your butt if you’re not ready for it.


Yoga I by Studio4496 on DeviantArt

Sleep When You’re Dead

I used to joke that sleep was for the week. Well, I’m weak. And tired. And Mattie woke up at 3 AM today and figured it was time to play. A lot.

Sleep is SO important. I didn’t realize until becoming a father just how much I didn’t appreciate it. I’ve been tired before, either studying for tests or staying up grading tests. The difference, I finally realized, was that I could step away from my work. I could just tell myself to go take a nap and come back to it in a few hours.

You can’t do that with a baby.

This is where the focus from the last article comes in. Yes, do the work you need and push yourself to sit and actually write or create something in the precious few minutes you can spare, but if you need to rest and have the chance, TAKE IT. You don’t know when that opportunity will come again. And really sleep. Don’t just lay there.

Seriously. I need a week-long vacation after every tooth comes out.

That’s it for today. Stay tuned for more goodies and, in the meantime, enjoy this trailer for Clown, a movie that was surprisingly creepy, if not silly.

Dad the Writer

The writer's greatest fear.
The writer’s greatest fear.

I’ve written extensively about the many things that a writer needs to do to make time and create good works and excel at his or craft.

That was before my wife and I ushered in Mattie, our precious little spawn.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Mattie to death. Nothing cheers me up more than hearing her laugh. That little smile of hers and her “I know I own your ass” look she gives us are some of the greatest moments of my day.

That being said, our toddler can be such a baby.

Every parent knows this. We certainly knew that any semblance of free time was gone the instant Mattie was born. What does this mean for our projects, though, for my wife’s photography and for my writing? It means we have to work much smarter than before.


Fatherhood by Kevrekidis on DeviantArt

I can write almost anywhere. Give me some paper and a pen and I can outline, draft, and do anything I need. I could do this before, but it’s so much more important now. I can’t just go to the computer and write an idea. Sometimes, I can’t even pull out paper to write said idea. Taking care of baby requires two hands, after all.

Time to get creative.

My wife and I have started using Evernote. It’s a handy way to quickly write down a note or save a webpage that we need for future reference. Because we both have the app, we can share lists, photos, and anything else we need while keeping everything sorted and catalogued for later. Barring that, having paper and pen handy, despite the abundance of thrown food, is still a viable option. I keep a notebook and pen nearby whenever I’m with the little one, and despite the focus needed to keep a little human in good working order, I’ve found that it’s still the best way to quickly write something down and keep going. When I do have time later in the day to actually sit and work, I quickly pull the notebook out and start expanding the notes and ideas, or the outright passages, into Word documents.


SPECTRUM DISORDER // STRESS by melissahooper on DeviantArt

This stop-and-go method to working is tiring, though, perhaps more than actually sitting down for a few hours to type. You can’t focus and let ideas just come to you. Sometimes, it feels like you’re forcing creativity, that the clock is ticking, and you need to get it done NOW. There’s no sitting and thinking and drafting and just letting ideas happen.

While it would be easy to think that any free time should be devoted to craft, that’s not the case. I’m not about to spend every minute the baby is asleep working on my writing. Aside from the fact that we still need to cook food and keep the house clean, there’s also the very important matter of spending time with my wife, talking, just spending a few minutes lying on the carpet and relaxing as the Little One plays by herself. This was one of the mistakes I made years ago, one for which I apologized profusely. Despite the writer in me demanding I sit down to work if I have even five minutes, I need to spend time with my family too. I can’t ignore them or the people I’m doing this for will suffer.

This all means focus is so much more important than before. When I work, I work. Nothing else matters. It helps that my wife and I have our desks next to each other, so that when one of us is working or if we’re both working, we can still chat and share ideas. This also means we need time to relax. Mediation, music, a walk outside, anything and everything to clear the ol’ brain pan before the next mad session. It’s not a perfect set-up, but it works, and discipline is paramount.

Stay tuned for Part 2! In the meantime, enjoy this: