NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Part 4: Bedtime.

It’s a cliche, right? When your kid is born, there’s this pivotal moment when they first wrap their tiny hand around your finger. Your heart melts, and in an instant you feel an unbreakable bond with this baby that can barely open its eyes.

But come on, is that really how it goes down?

Yup.

Well for me, at least. I can remember this exact moment with both my girls. And I’m grateful for that – I know it’s not like that for everybody. But I will make one slight modification:

For me, the moment my daughters won me over wasn’t when they grabbed my hand. It was when I tried to take my hand away, and they tightened their grip.

And now this is what I’m dealing with:

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It’s crazy to think of the number of ways bedtime has changed over the past three years. I remember the first night when our family grew from two to three; I was lying on the couch in the hospital, staring at my daughter through the clear bassinet while she slept. It was dark; aside from the faint glow of the hospital equipment the only light I could see was a thin fluorescent line coming through under the door to our room from the hallway.

Still, I could make out the newest member of our family. Tightly swaddled (not by me, my swaddle game was pretty weak in the early days), I remember watching her lying on her back, motionless at first. Then she began gently raising her toes and her head, then relaxing flat again, starting her first day off right with a few baby-crunches. I was happy and relieved and wondering what I was supposed to do when she woke up.

Since then bedtime has changed more times than I can remember. I remember pacing the floors of our condo in the wee hours trying to do the “5 S’s”, taking her out on the balcony, putting her in the Baldwin Bassinet, then the mamaRoo, then the Rock n’ Play, then the Pack n’ Play… hell she even slept on the Lay n’ Play once.

And finally, the crib.

The crib is when I start to remember the details. That’s when she started to fumble around with the pages of Giraffes Can’t Dance. That’s when she grew hair, hair that smelled so good after a bath as I rocked her, singing to her until she buried her face in my shoulder. Then she’d start snoring, and I’d try to get up from the glider without her feeling anything, hoping she’d float in my arms like a cloud to the crib mattress below.

Then she got bigger. We had to lower the crib mattress, which made things way more difficult. I always felt like I had to make a choice to either 1) drop her a few inches above the mattress and hope the bouncy landing didn’t wake her up, or 2) risk ending up like this lady.

And the worst part? Every time I leaned over to put her in the crib, she would suddenly latch onto me like a koala bear.

Or maybe that was the best part.

I wish I saw it that way every time. I wish that, as I pried her tiny arms off my neck, I would remember the day I was prying her tiny fingers off my hand in the hospital, and be grateful.

But I don’t always feel that way. Especially these days, now that bedtime involves two girls who have both figured out how to stretch out every single step of the the process from bath time to brushing teeth to pajamas to reading to getting in the bed to actually going to bed. And it’s easy to become jaded when all you want is to just have an hour to yourself, maybe hang out with your wife before you crash and do it all over again the next day.

Well I have good news, I guess. That crib/koala problem? That’s over. Because my oldest is in a big girl bed now.

I’ll never put her in a crib again.

And that’s what I need to remember. With all the things I complain about, there are other things I’m going to miss. I need to be present and try to enjoy them.

Easy to write, hard to do.

But I have to try –  because she’s growing up so fast, and although I have an equally adorably one-year-old waiting in the wings who does plenty of her own cute stuff to keep me occupied, she’s growing up too (even faster, I think).

They all grow up. That’s the goal.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I can “Be A Better Parent.” But now I’m thinking I should rephrase the goal. I don’t want to be a better parent; I want to enjoy parenting more.

So maybe the next time one of my girls tightens her grip, I’ll let her hold on a little longer. For both of us.

NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Part 3 – Dad Guilt.

My wife gave me this a while back:

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And on some days, it’s my favorite coffee mug. I’ll even pull it out of a dirty dishwasher and hand wash it just so I can use it that morning.

If I feel like I did something awesome that morning or the day before, I gotta go with the “Best Dad Ever” mug. Maybe I was able to clean the girls room before they went to bed (because as we all know, once the girls are down their room becomes an impenetrable fortress, and going in there for any reason other than to get them back down is strictly forbidden). Or maybe they just slept through the night and I’m somehow taking credit for that. Maybe we went on a big outing that wasn’t a total disaster, or maybe we’re just making waffles.

On those days, I love this mug. But there are other days when I don’t like it at all.

Because some days I don’t feel like the best dad ever.

My wife was the one who suggested I write a post about “Dad Guilt.” “Mom Guilt” certainly gets more press (when I Googled “Mom Guilt” I got 567 thousand results, “Dad Guilt” got closer to 10 thousand). And to be fair, I think Mom Guilt can encompass a broader range of issues. After all, moms are the ones who actually have the baby and everything that goes along with that, and there are a host of other challenges that women face that can contribute to Mom Guilt (postpartum depression, traditional gender roles and income disparity, to name a few).

Respectfully, I’d like to side-step those issues for today’s post and stick to what I know, which is this: I’m a dad, and sometimes I feel guilty about falling short in that role.

Most of the things I feel guilty about fall into a few, broad categories:

Prioritizing convenience for me over experience for them.

I remember coming back to work shortly after my first daughter was born, and talking with a co-worker of mine about the challenges of having a newborn at home. An empty-nester herself, she gave me the following advice:

Keep them dry, keep them fed, and don’t worry about keeping the house clean. It’s been years since my kids left; my house is spotless now, but I’d give anything to have my babies here making a mess again.

And the thing is, I know she’s right. I know that kids are messy, that they’re supposed to be messy and that this is a relatively short window in my life and I should focus on embracing it and being present.

But I don’t always do that. Sometimes, a lot of times, I’m working or doing dishes or putting away laundry instead of playing with my kids. And worse, sometimes I choose activities for my kids based on how convenient they will be for me, as opposed to how stimulating it might be for them. My wife made a “sensory bin” for the girls which they love, but when they play with it they usually make a big mess. I almost never get the sensory bin out for that exact reason.

Also, we live in a condo. It’s a tight fit, and I know I should be trying to get my girls out of the house whenever I can. But sometimes I just don’t. Going outside is a whole thing, and parking them in front of the TV is easier and allows me to get some work done. It’s nice to have my to-do’s checked off at the end of the day, but when I think back to how I accomplished that it often feels like lazy parenting.

Working late

I usually take the bus home. Often I’ll be faced with a decision in the late afternoon to either shut down my computer and catch the bus, or keep working and catch the next one, with the understanding that if I wait for the next one I won’t see my kids until tomorrow morning.

The thing is, I don’t feel guilty about having to stay late to do work every once in a while. Things happen, and sometimes the work I do is time-sensitive and things just need to get done. Paying bills, after all, is a big part of being a parent.

But I really feel guilty on the days when I procrastinated at work, and now I’m faced with a task that needs to get done by the end of the day, a task that I could have started earlier. I’ve definitely missed a few bedtimes because I just didn’t prioritize correctly, and that’s a bummer.

Not wanting to be with them

This is probably the saddest one and also the most difficult to articulate. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like hanging out with my kids.

I can feel incredibly guilty about this. We’ll be doing something that, on the surface, should be a beautiful family moment and I’m just not there. Maybe I’m annoyed about something at work or at home or maybe I’m just really tired.

Or maybe I’m just really mad at my kids. Because that happens. And it sounds so silly getting mad at a two year old whose been arguing with you for fifteen minutes about how she wants her banana peeled but man, in the moment when they’re crying non-stop about absolutely nothing and you’ve tried everything and don’t know what to do you can get really, really mad!

I remember the first time I ever yelled at my daughter, just straight up yelled at her. And I remember she smiled at me at first, thinking it was just another one of our jokes. But I didn’t smile back; her smile faded and she started to cry, and it makes me feel terrible just thinking about it.

Solutions?

I dunno. I usually try to end these on a positive note but the reality is that Dad Guilt is a thing and it sucks.

And I don’t think that feeling bad about making mistakes is, in itself, a bad thing – especially if it motivates us to improve.

I guess the best “solution” I can think of is this: if you’ve identified an area where you want to improve, take a minute to pause and detach. Try to study it objectively (getting feedback from a spouse can help with this) and come up with a plan to do better. Then do it.

And then forgive yourself.

NYR 19-06: “Be A Better Parent.” Part 2: The Dichotomy of Parenting.

I recently read The Dichotomy of Leadership, written by retired navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

Here’s the description from Amazon:

…the authors explain the power inherent in the recognition of the fine line that leaders must walk, balancing between two seemingly opposite inclinations. It is with the knowledge and understanding of this balance that a leader can most effectively lead, accomplish the mission, and achieve the goal of every leader and every team: victory. 

Simply put, in most situations your approach to leadership isn’t going to be clear-cut, which is why leadership is so challenging. There’s always going to be two sides to the story; for example, here’s an excerpt from the book in which Jocko describes “The Ultimate Dichotomy” he experienced while deployed overseas:

It was difficult to grasp, the hardest and most painful of all the dichotomies of leadership: to care about your men more than anything in the world–so much so that you’d even willingly trade your life for theirs–and yet, at the same time, to lead those men on missions that could result in their deaths.

Heavy stuff.

I actually found the idea of dichotomies to be disheartening, at first. If everything is a dichotomy, are there no right or wrong answers? If that’s the case, then what’s the value in even talking about it?

I encourage you to read the book. It does a great job of answering these questions and more, while also providing a healthy dose of perspective (no matter how bad things might seem at home or at the office, at least there aren’t bullets flying around).

I found that studying these dichotomies resulted in two immediate benefits for me:

  1. I began to see them everywhere, which has helped broaden my perspective on issues I used to consider to be black-and-white.
  2. Once I began to see dichotomies, I started to recognize my own inclinations, my “default approaches” to them, and this has allowed me to course-correct in a positive way.

What does this have to do with parenting?

There’s a playground for toddlers near our house that has sort of an “Under The Sea” theme. The last time I was there I saw two dads, each watching their kid play on the equipment.

“Dad A” was squatting down right next to his daughter, his hands hovering nervously under her arms as she stood on a seashell-shaped platform that couldn’t have been more than six inches off the ground.

“Dad B”, on the other hand, was watching his son scramble up a giant shark. Watching his son teetering at the top, Dad B had a big grin on his face, almost like he wanted his kid to fall just to see what would happen next.

So, which dad is “doing it right?”

Well for starters, I’m totally Dad A. I’m the dad who pretends to throw his kid up in the air but doesn’t actually let go at the top. I’m the dad who checks the slide with his hand to make sure it’s not too hot before his daughters go down, and is more than willing to hold their hands the entire way down.

And I’ve come to recognize this tendency. So once in a while, I try to course-correct and let go of the reigns a little, because I know my daughters need to experience (and hopefully overcome) challenges in order to grow.

As I thought about this, I came up with the following concept, which I call The Dichotomy of Parenting:

I want to protect my children from immediate harm, but not at the expense of their long-term development.

Once I recognized this dichotomy, I began to see it everywhere.

Take, for example, the use of antibiotics. They’re great for treating and preventing bacterial infections–and yet at the same time, the misuse or overuse of antibiotics can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. So, when should you use them?

The way my wife and I address this dichotomy is simple: we trust western medicine, and we usually punt to the doctors for decision-making. If they prescribe antibiotics, our daughters take them. We still do our homework, but following the doctor’s orders is our default setting. Simple enough, right?

But here’s where it gets frustrating. At this point, both of my girls have developed potentially life-threatening allergies. Allergies are becoming more common in the U.S., and while nobody really knows why they’re on the rise, there are a few emerging theories. One is called the “hygiene hypothesis.”

From the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology:

(The hygiene hypothesis) suggests that living conditions in much of the world might be too clean and that kids aren’t being exposed to germs that train their immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.

And not only that…

Studies have shown that increased antibiotic use parallels the rise in allergy and asthma.

So wait, you’re telling me that the very efforts we’re making to keep our daughters safe, such as keeping things clean and giving them medicine, might actually be contributing to an incredibly dangerous long-term problem?

Wait seriously?

Well… that’s frustrating. It’s frustrating when your kids are sick and you feel powerless. It’s frustrating that my daughters may have to spend their whole lives asking about ingredients. It’s frustrating when I catch myself worrying about inconveniencing others when I ask them to please be careful with foods that could kill my child.

And it’s frustrating that, as I’m writing this, I’m feeling guilty complaining about these things when I hear stories about other parents and other children facing challenges that are much more difficult than mine. And I in turn roll my eyes when I hear parents complaining about challenges that I perceive to be less severe than what we’re going through.

It’s all frustrating. Parenting is frustrating sometimes.

So, what’s the answer?

Well, I think the problem with this dichotomy is that it’s grounded in the idea that the goal of being a parent is to protect your children from harm, both in the short term and the long term. And that’s just not realistic. I can’t make a New Year’s Resolution to “Protect My Kids More” – there are just too many factors outside of my control.

So if protecting my children isn’t the goal, then what is?

I’m not sure. But I think a good place to start is providing them with love and security as best I can, and perhaps more importantly making sure they know they are loved and secure through my words and actions. If I’m coming from a place of genuine love and protection, I’ll (hopefully) navigate the Dichotomy of Parenting just fine, course correcting where necessary based on my own inclinations and circumstances.

Because at the end of the day, whether you’re Dad A or Dad B, if you love your kids, and are making an effort to teach them and be present with them, then you’re doing the best you can. And to me, that’s “doing it right.”

NYR 19-06: “Be a Better Parent.” Part 1: Letters To My Girls.

“Be a better parent?” What kind or New Year’s Resolution is that?

At first glance, kind of a terrible one.

For starters, the subject is fraught with danger. People tend to get opinionated when it comes to raising their kids (I am no exception).

But also it’s nearly impossible to measure. I mean, when it comes to parenting how do I even know if I’m doing it right? Developmental milestones? Diapers changed? Hours of screen time?

What if, despite all of my efforts, my kids still grow up to be totally messed up? Is it my fault? My wife’s? Both? Neither? Does “nature vs. nurture” come into play here?

I don’t have the answers, but I think that the main issue is that these questions focus on raising good kids, as opposed to being a good parent.

And I think there’s a difference. The idea of raising “good kids” implies that there are expectations to adhere to concerning what “good kids” actually are. And I think creating a goal around that is setting yourself up for failure, simply because there are so many factors outside of your control.

But if you focus instead on being a better parent, the job becomes a lot simpler: be a better person, then parent naturally.

My strategy is to focus on challenging and improving myself in as many areas as I can think of, with the hope that these better qualities will eventually be reflected in my parenting.

Right now, I’m trying to better myself by writing this blog. I find that writing helps bring my thoughts and beliefs into focus. An idea can seem crystal clear in my mind, and at the same time it can feel impossible to write damn thing down. It’s a humbling process which forces me to think critically about the ideas that bounce around in my head throughout the day.

And it has crossed my mind that someday my girls might read this, and it’s a nice thought. I want them to know their dad, and I want them to know how much fun I’m having with them at this age and how much I love them.

And that’s how I came up with this idea for a New Year’s Resolution:

In 2019, I will send forty emails to my girls.

You can see my progress here. I’ve setup email addresses for both my girls, and have been emailing them about once a week for the past six months.

After a few weeks of sending emails, I decided one morning to try recording a voice memo instead. The voice memos were better; for whatever reason, I find that I’m more casual and more honest when I’m speaking to them as opposed to writing to them.

Just reading the subject lines in the spreadsheet makes me smile. We’ve covered a lot of ground these past six months, some good times (“The Big Snow”) some frustrating times (“The Broken Faucet”) and some sad and scary times (“The ER Visit”). So far, I’ve recorded over 4.5 hours of content.

As I look at that number and realize that it’s going to get much higher (probably three times that size by the end of the year), I have my doubts as to whether anyone is ever going to actually listen to these. I don’t see my daughters ever sitting down to listen to twelve straight hours of their dad going on about a blown pass-interference call that happened in a football game twenty years ago.

But who knows? They might be interested. I still have notes from my dad that he wrote me when I was a kid, and my mom kept a baby book documenting my first year in painstaking detail. It’s fun to read these things and compare them to my own parenting experience.

So am I really doing this for them, or am I doing it for me?

I think the same question can be asked about most “parenting”activities. For me, it’s a little bit of both but I think I’m mostly doing it for me, and that’s ok.

It’s not just because I want to document all this stuff, or impart what little “wisdom” I think I might have. The main reason I’m doing this is because there are moments in my day when I REALLY want to tell my girls how much they mean to me but it’s hard to do that when they are so tiny and their English isn’t great.

Moments like this one, when we were all at Disney World, just having a blast…

These moments come and go so quickly that I usually forget about them. Even if I take the time to pause, look my daughters in the eyes and tell them I love them so much I still feel like they don’t really get it. Perhaps they never will.

But with each new message I get another chance to try. A chance to tell them that, in this moment, they were loved and made me happier than I ever deserved to be.

NYR 1905: “Be More Creative.” Part 3 – Gabriela, Julie, and Liz.

Warning: I’m feeling very grateful right now, and so there’s a good chance this post could get sappy. 

I’m grateful for a number of reasons. The girls went to bed easily; it’s a beautiful evening, and I’m out on my balcony writing as the sun sets lazily behind the building across the street.

OK, so immediately after writing that last sentence I heard something move behind me. I spun around and looked into my condo. There was my sweet 2-year-old daughter, standing pantless in our living room staring at me through the screen door for God know’s how long. Excuse me for a minute while I take her back to bed.

…She did it again. Give me a second.

Sorry, we recently switched her from a crib to a daybed and this is the first time she’s gotten out and explored. Liz is at the gym and I’m not sure what to do. I’ve got the monitor and right now I’m just watching her wander around her bedroom… aaand there she goes. Be right back.

This time she wanted a drink of water. Whatever, fine. I put her to bed and locked her in the bedroom. Technically I locked myself out of the bedroom but it’s pretty easy to unlock from the outside if you have a knife or a flat-head screwdriver. She’ll be fine. I’ll probably reverse the lock this weekend. It’s a miracle her sister has slept through all of this.

Where were we? Oh yes, as we wrap up this month’s series on creativity I’m feeling very grateful. I want to give a shout-out to three women specifically, and since I’m now well over 300 words in let’s get on with it:

  1. Gabriela Pereira (Instagram: @diymfa). Gabriela wrote this book, which caught my eye as I was browsing a New Year’s Resolutions kiosk (of course) at the library. I devoured this book. I took notes in a Google sheet which ended up having over 20 tabs. As I’m going through them now I’m thinking 1) I should probably organize my notes more thoughtfully, and 2) I should probably reread this book because she has a whole section on blogging and there are a lot of specifics that I may have glossed over when I first read it. My journey as a writer started with this book (and a little help from her Writer Igniter prompt generator). Gabriela, thank you for introducing me to writing in a way that was so welcoming and engaging. And thank you especially for the Commencement section at the end of the book. Simply put, you made me feel like I had permission to write.
  2. Julie Duffy (Instagram: @storyadaymay). Julie created this program, which I learned about when she was a guest on the DIY MFA podcast. I decided to participate, and I wrote a story a day, every day, for an entire month using her prompts. Thank you Julie, not just for the prompts but for your encouraging words in the comments section. Thank you for the incredibly supportive community you’ve built, and for publishing my first story. A few things I learned along the way:
    1. I have time to write. In May of 2018 we had a 1-year-old and a 1-month-old, and at one point our entire family had Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD). what’s that you say? You thought only toddlers contracted HFMD? Yeah, so did we. I still wrote, every day. Whenever I start to complain that I don’t have time to write I try to think back to that time in my life and stop making excuses.
    1. Execution matters more than the original idea. I would get really excited when I opened my email in the morning and saw the day’s prompt. But often I would feel deflated as soon as I read it. I would think, “how am I supposed to write a story about that?” Stop it. Go. Just start writing. Some of the most fun stories I wrote came from prompts that I initially thought were going to be the most challenging. Don’t spin your wheels trying to come up with an amazing idea. You can always change your mind as you go along, the key is to start writing.
    1. Action! Whenever my stories fell flat it was usually because nothing was happening. I remember one time I sat down to write, and the only idea I had was that I wanted to capture the beauty of watching a sunrise over the sea. So I started to write a story about a guy on a cruise ship who woke up early and did just that. It was terrible. The next day, I wrote another story about a guy on a cruise ship watching the sunrise, except this time it was in Antarctica; the ship was trapped in ice for days and people were starting to eat each other. Much better!
  3. Liz Wells (Instagram: @lizwells519). In addition to being my favorite person in the world, my wife Liz has read every single word that I have ever published. Not only that, but she does an amazing job blocking for me. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King wrote that your writing space “…really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.” I live in a condo with two-under-two and I can tell you that sometimes the doors aren’t all that effective (case in point this evening). Liz is my door. Remember the HFMD situation? She was the one watching the kids while I was scribbling away in my notebooks or typing away on my computer, drinking milkshake after milkshake from Potbelly’s because come on they’re pretty much all you can eat when you have HFMD. I’m grateful for the honest feedback she gives when I’ve written something bad, and the occasional promo she gives when I’ve written something good. So here’s to Liz: the best wife, friend, editor and social-media-influencer a guy could ask for.

I warned you this could get sappy.

See you next week!

NYR 1905: “Be More Creative.” Part 2 – How To Become A Writer.

How does one become a writer?

As I try to come up with my answer to this question, I keep thinking about this interview with Tim Ferriss, one of my favorite bloggers/podcasters, and Terry Crews of Brooklyn Nine-Nine fame.

During the interview, Terry makes the argument that with any aspiration–fitness, financial success, writing– you have to be it now. 

And I agree. In order to have, you have to do. In order to do, you have to be. In his words:

You are what you are now. There is only now. This is all you have. It’s like… if you were trying to get to LA, and you didn’t know you were already here, you just keep walking. You keep going. You be all over the place, until, finally, you realize, wait a minute, I’m here.

But that’s kind of the way fitness, success, any goal, any aspiration, you must be it now. That book, the thing you want to write, or that thing you want to accomplish, you have to be it now. You are an author. So, now, what do authors do? Authors write. And when authors write, they have a book. And I’m telling you, it sounds really, really simple. But once you get it, forever, you will never think of anything the same way again.

So if you truly aspire to be a writer, congratulations! I’ve got great news: you are a writer.

It may sound like I’m handing out elementary school “Honor Student” awards here. If all you have to do to be writer is aspire to be a writer, then what’s the point? Nobody wins if everyone gets a prize.

But the problem with this reasoning is that it assumes being a writer is some sort of competition. As Tim points out later in the interview, competition is actually the opposite of creativity; focusing too much on beating the competition actually prevents you from thinking creatively.

If you truly aspire to be a writer, then there you are. You might have stretch goals–getting published, seeing your name in print, becoming a New York Times bestselling author–but the difference is that you haven’t attached these goals to your idea of what it means to be a writer. They aren’t prerequisites; you recognize that being a writer is an identity, a mindset that isn’t governed by accolades or accomplishments. And once you truly have that mindset, you can’t help but do the one thing that writer’s are known for:

Write.

Take me for example. I’m writing this post at 5:00 in the morning on Sunday, May 19th. It’s my wife’s birthday; we’re about to wrap up an amazing vacation in Charleston (without kids!) and she’s happily snoozing in the bed beside me as I type these words.

Let’s think about this for a minute: we’re on vacation, sans kids. In the parenting game, sleep is a precious commodity. She’s sleeping and I’m not, which is INSANE. I wish I was sleeping, but I can’t. I woke up around 4:30 feeling restless, and needed to write.

Because unfortunately, I made the mistake of thinking this post would write itself. I’ve out it off all week; honestly at one point I considered just having the post read, “How to become a writer: write.”

But the truth is I spent years wanting to be a writer and never getting started. Now I realize that being a writer was within my grasp the whole time, I just had to recognize it. It’s a simple truth, although it’s not always convenient (I really wish I was sleeping right now).

I wanted to write this post to help other people get to that point. In order to become a writer, you must write, plain and simple. But if you’re still not there yet, and the idea of a blank page is still intimidating and you’re finding it impossible to get started, that’s OK. I’m offering you an out.

If you feel you can’t write, at least read. More specifically, read this:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Now, reading is great, but it can also be a form of procrastination. Reading about writing is no substitute for actually writing, but this book is a little different. It’s a 12-week course designed to help readers work through and gain artistic inspiration. It had a profound affect on me; among other things, it’s what gave me the idea for this blog which is why you’re reading this word right now and also this one. If you’re feeling stuck, I guarantee this book will unstuck you.

Please don’t waste any more time trying to figure out what you need to do to “become a writer.” Instead, accept the idea that are a writer, and act accordingly.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m I’ve hit my word count and I’m feeling tired. My eyes are getting heavy; the birds are starting to chirp outside but I think I can power through that and sleep for at least a half-hour or so.

Shutting down – see you next week!

NYR 1905: “Be More Creative.” Part 1 – The Elevator.

I’m sitting on our balcony, distracted by the cars and the laughter and the other sounds of the street in the evening. The sun has set and my wife has gone inside, complaining that the mosquitoes were eating her alive. I don’t feel them.

I’ve sat down to write and, for the moment, I’m feeling isolated. This happens sometimes, and normally I don’t mind being alone. The problem is… I’m not alone.

Doubt is here, looking over my shoulder, his face glowing silver in the light of my computer screen as he whispers in my ear:

Just close your laptop, go inside. You have more important things to do. The dishwasher needs to be unloaded and the laundry needs to be folded and put away. You have work in the morning, it’s getting late and you barely got any sleep last night. Your daughter was up at 3:00 and you couldn’t get her down until 4:30 because she was scared.

I’m scared too. Not about dragons or yetis or whatever else my two-year-old daughter conjured up in her tiny head last night. I’m scared to start this blog series.

Because I know that in order to do it properly I have to admit something to my friends, my family, my readers. It’s a secret I’ve kept from everyone my entire life, even from myself until very recently. And I’ve kept it hidden so well that I almost forgot about it. But it’s there, and the only way to confront it is to get it out in the open. So here it goes:

I’m trying.

I am trying. At life, at being a husband, at being a father, at work, at the gym, and yes, at writing. I am trying really, really hard.

And that’s tough for me to admit. Somewhere along the way, I learned that trying is not something to be proud of. I learned that admiration comes from effortless success. That “making it look easy” is more important than making it happen. As a result, I’ve gravitated towards things that came easily to me and haven’t taken many risks. And I’m not complaining; it’s made for a fairly comfortable, no-fuss lifestyle.

But I wanted more.  

I wanted to express myself. I wanted to think, to learn, to entertain, to inspire. I had thoughts swimming in my head and I figured if I could just find the time I could sit down and get those thoughts on paper. If I spent enough years writing alone in the dark I would eventually create something so magnificent that I could show it to somebody and they would be amazed and it would lead to instant fame and success and I would never have to endure that most terrible consequence of trying: failure.

Maybe that’s how it works for some people, but not for me. I guess when push came to shove, impatience overcame fear and I took that first step. My New Year’s Resolution for 2019 was to start a blog, which I did just seconds after the ball dropped.

And now I’m a writer.

I am a writer. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written that sentence before. I like it, but I don’t have time to dwell on it. I’m a writer now, and writer’s must write. But that’s not all.

I stumbled upon the following quote a few years ago:

“No matter how successful you get, always send the elevator back down.”

-Jack Lemmon

…and here comes Doubt again:

Wait a second. Are you seriously about to compare yourself to Jack-freaking-Lemmon? Are you suggesting that just because you started a blog and have written some posts over the past few months that you now have the right, the OBLIGATION to help other people be more creative?

Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

The first part of the quote reads “No matter how successful you get… always send the elevator back down.”

A writer’s a writer, no matter how small. And I’ve read enough books, browsed enough forums and listened to enough podcasts to learn that the most common question in writing is: how do I get started?

And I can help you with that. I’m in the building, and I’m standing in front of the elevator right now. I can send it back down.

Granted, it’s a BIG building. And I’m not exactly sure what floor I’m on. Right now I feel like I’m on four. On some days I might feel like I’m on five, maybe six if I’m highly caffeinated. Other days I feel like I’m stumbling around in the underground parking garage.

But if you’re reading these words and you’ve ever wanted to start writing and just don’t know how to get started, I’d love for you to join me up here on four. It’s got a nice view, infinitely better than the ground.

I realize it’s just a few floors up and you could probably take the stairs. But who knows? Maybe you’re in a hurry, or you have small children with you, or you’re carrying something heavy. Maybe you’re just tired.

If so, read on – over the next few weeks, I’ll do my best to send the elevator back down.

See you next week!