Talk to Your Kids About Poop (Before It’s Too Late)

My four-year-old son likes to talk about Poop. He realizes it is a word of great power. If he tells a story, Poop will be an important subplot, maybe even an underlying theme. If he sings a song, it will contain a chorus where Poop is chanted over and over like a drunken jukebox anthem. If my son says to you “Knock, knock,” you need not ask, “Who’s there?”

Because it will be Poop. Poop is the one who is there.

Needless to say, this has caused my wife great distress. One cannot simply go around talking about Poop Monsters and Poop Unicorns, and certainly not at the dinner table. The decree has thus been set in stone: You only talk about Poop with Daddy. (But not at the dinner table.)

So every few days, my son asks me a question of much gravitas. “Daddy, do you want to talk about Poop?”

I say, with a tone denoting the importance of the occasion, “Yes, son.”

And we talk about the greatest of life’s mysteries, one that has troubled both scientists and theologians since the dawn of man. Where does Poop come from? Where is Poop going? What does Poop mean?

And that’s fine with me, because you would not believe the secrets I to which I am privy. Have you ever heard of a Poop Octopus? I have. Can you guess what its tentacles are made of?

That’s right. They are Poop Tentacles.

I listen to my son explain these things to me because I want to hear about Poop Zombies and Poop Balls. Wouldn’t you? I even manage to keep my serious face. But I also pay attention because I have an ulterior motive–I want my son to feel safe telling me things.

I do it for the same reason I tell my son, when he acts suspicious, “You can tell me. I won’t get mad.” ย I say this out loud for two reasons. One, to remind myself not to sell my child on Craigslist when he tells me what he broke. And two, because I’m training my kid to think it is safe to tell me things instead of waiting to get caught.

I don’t say, “You can tell me. You won’t get punished.” Because that might be a lie. And I don’t say “I’ll never get mad,” because sometimes my son accidentally hits me in the–let’s say in the “face”– with a plastic ThunderCats sword, and I might tell him to go to his room. I might loudly tell him to go to his room right now, and he will see said plastic sword again when I give it to him as a wedding present.

I’m trying to convince my son that it’s better to tell me things. I’m hoping one day, when Poop ceases to be his biggest concern, he’ll know who he can talk to.

Because there are problems even bigger than Poop Balls and there are things even scarier than Poop Monsters.

But in the meantime, I’m happy to hear about Poop Cars and Poop Monkeys. Do you know what Poop Monkeys live in?

Trees. They live in trees.

“How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?”

I got my proof copies of Monsters All the Way Down. Because of the finality of this event, it got me thinking about one of the most common questions I get asked: “How long does it take to write a novel?” I thought I might share my own experience about how long it took from a blank page to a holy-cannoli-this-is-really-happening book.

Monsters All the Way Down proof copy

It even smells like a real book.

This is me baring my soul a bit. I know some writers can crank out a first draft in a matter of weeks, but that was not the case with me. I’ll try to keep my excuses to a minimum.

I started this book four years ago. I don’t know the exact date, but I had 11,000 words by June 24, 2010. This was a month after the birth of my son and a couple of months before I left my job for the stay-at-home dad gig. Our baby boy spent most of his time sleeping, and I could write 1,000-2,000 words on a good day. I thought I’d have the novel finished by Christmas.

Then a month passed and I only wrote 3,000 words. The next month, the word count increased by a mere 2,000. I now realized the wild optimism of my predictions. Fueled by Mountain Dew Live Wire, I wrote what I could between my son’s feedings and dirty diapers. I finished the first major section of the first draft on October 25.

As my newborn baby transformed into a bigger baby, I was writing less and less. After my wife fell asleep, I would write if I could. But as often as not, my son would wake up, so I was lying on the couch with him sleeping on my chest. We watched a lot of Cheers together during those night shifts.

I was writing in binges–this was long before I found a routine that worked for me. I finally hit the 60,000-word milestone on August 24, 2011, more than a year after I’d started. Momentum carried me to the end of my first draft on September 29. The sense of relief was overwhelming.

I starting revising and working through my supplemental file. After pulling an all-nighter, I sent out copies of my second draft to my beta reader volunteers in February, 2012. Looking back, it’s absurd I would take that step so early in the revision process. In my naivetรฉ, I thought I was only a draft or two from a finished book. With input from my beta readers, I finished another draft by the time my daughter was born that May.

After months of wrangling a two-year-old and a newborn (and working non-stop every night on Monsters), I decided to use the summer to start another book and work on other projects. The plan was to start sending Monsters out to agents that fall, but caring for two small children is actually quite different than caring for one. I didn’t send out my first round of agent queries until February, 2013. The final product weighed in at about 86,000 words.

Without going into the details, I received exciting emails followed by disappointment. It was in March, 2014–after a four-month wait to hear that my most prospective publisher decided to pass–that I decided to self-publish my novel.

Finding a great cover artist ended up being easy, but the copy editing took longer than I expected (but the end result was worth every penny). I jumped through all the hoops, and I put a few of my short stories up for sale on Amazon and elsewhere to learn about the process. I’ll eventually blog about what I’ve learned about book layout and creating ebooks, and I’ll share some of the problems I had so that others might avoid them.

So there you have it. I expected it to take six months, but it took me three years to finish plus another year to release. There were many weeks and even a few months when I didn’t have the time or energy to work on the book at all, but finishing is worth it. If you take one thing away from this post, I want it to be: whatever your dream is, don’t give up. Even if it takes you years instead of months, don’t give up. Even if you realize the only way your work will reach your audience is if you put it out there yourself, don’t give up.

My father-in-law and I were just talking about the distance between the Want-To folks and the I-Did-It folks. I have to tell you, it feels good to sit back and say, “I did it. Guess it’s time to finish the next one.”

How I Make Time to Write as a Stay-at-Home Parent

I read plenty of articles on establishing a writing routine. Unfortunately, the majority should have a disclaimer: “Irrelevant to parents of young children.”

My last job left me feeling burned out, so when the time came to decide what to do about our first-born, I volunteered to stay home. I reasoned that I would finally have the time and the mental energy to write.

This actually worked for the first few months I stayed at home. I wrote a good chunk of the first draft of Monsters All the Way Down during that time, and I thought I would be able to write and edit one book every year before my children started school. Even with the many long nights and the stress of being a new parent, it was one of the most pleasant autumns of my entire life.

It didn’t last.

I later found out most people thought I was either lying about staying home to write–“He just doesn’t like going to work”–or believed I was crazy to think I’d have any extra time. As soon as my son stopped sleeping most of the day, the time I had to write–and clean, and breathe, and think–disappeared. I’ve met writers who could write with their children running and screaming in the same room with them. Unfortunately, I am not one of those parents.

ear plugs

Free parenting advice: ear plugs take the edge off and add years to your life. You’ll still be able to hear your little angels screaming bloody murder.

I finished the first draft ofย  Monsters and revised it over the course of a hundred inefficient late nights. Some nights, after my family went to bed, I would sit down at my desk and cry, because I knew I was too exhausted to write anything.

After giving up on burning the candle on both ends, I tried working during the evenings after my wife got home from work. That wasn’t fair to her, and even though she didn’t say anything, I could tell how frustrating it got for her after even one night of coming home from work and then being totally in charge of the kids all evening while I sat in my office. So I went back to writing at night.

Of course, taking care of the kids all day and sitting at my desk all night was unsustainable. It took me too long to realize I’m not a very good dad when I’m exhausted. I’m grumpy, stressed, and not fun to be around. This also wasn’t fair to anyone, especially to my kids.

My writing came to a standstill as I got my parenting back on track. But this presented a problem, too. Like many people that love to create, I feel lost and–let’s face it–depressed when I’m not making anything. I still needed a routine that let me care for my kids but also gave me creative time to look forward to.

My solution is Sunday is my Writing Day, and I can’t express how much it has helped me. On Sundays, I get a full work day’s worth of writing. It only works because my amazing wife is supportive, and I’d like to think it’s a good way to make the most out of a difficult situation.

If you’re a single parent trying to write, you are my superhero. I can only hope you have a support system of family and friends to help you by watching kids for if you want to try a weekly Writing Day.

Is writing one day a week ideal? Not for me, but it’s better than the other alternatives I’ve tried. If you’re a stay-at-home parent struggling to make time to write, you might want to try staking a claim on one day a week to be your Writing Day. Here are some pointers, most of which I’m still working on myself:

  • Can’t do a full day? Try scheduling two regular evenings a week
  • Remember that your writing priorities are not shared by others. Be understanding, but be selfish with your Writing Day. In return, give your time to your family freely the rest of the week.
  • Take care of business, but remember there will always be something you could be doing other than writing. Things will keep.
  • Sometimes things come up that are more important than your writing day. Be mature about it and remember there will be other days to write.
  • If you have a Writing Day to look forward to, there’s no reason not to handle as many chores as possible the other days of the week. (I really need to work on this one!)
  • When you are having a tough time, remember that you have a Writing Day coming up. This has totally changed my outlook on bad days.
  • Headphones or ear plugs help drown out the sound of noisy children during your Writing Day.
  • If something comes up that makes you miss your usual day, do everything you can to reschedule it to a different day that week.
  • Even if you aren’t an outliner by nature–I’m not–you can make use of smaller outlines to better utilize your writing time. If I have a complicated section or scene coming up, I outline in my spare moments throughout the week so I can make the most out of Sunday.
  • During the week, find writing-related activities you can do with your children around, like reading good books, working on a blog, or building up your Twitter followers.
  • Utilize a mobile supplemental file to keep track of those beautiful ideas you have outside your Writing Day.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before, so you can get an early start. (This is another big one I need to work on!)
  • Set realistic goals. My last project was somewhat complex, so my goal was 3,000-5,000 words a session. I didn’t always meet it, but I always tried!
  • A to-do list is important for those days you need to accomplish more than writing as much as possible.
  • Any good advice that applies to a daily writing routine applies: eliminate distractions, have a clean work area, be productive, don’t look back.
  • Be the best parent you can be. It might be hard to believe, but your kids are more important than any book.

Setting aside one day a week to write is difficult, and don’t develop any delusions about this being the perfect solution for busy parents. But it has already helped me work toward publishing one book, finish the first draft of another, and finish several short stories. Hopefully it will work until I go back to work or my kids start school.

Watching a book grow by only 3,000 to 5,000 words a week is difficult, but it beats your novel not growing at all. Don’t give up!

I usually tweet about my Sundays with the hashtag #SundayIsMyWritingDay.

What are your methods for finding time to write? Please share below.