The Writing Life of a Parent – GUEST POST by Ron Walters (DEEP DIVE)
Today, we welcome Ron Walters to the Hive, who has a guest post for us on writing and parenting!
Ron’s debut novel Deep Dive is out this week from Angry Robot – you can order your copy HERE
Still reeling from the failure of his last project, videogame developer Peter Banuk is working hard to ensure his next game doesn’t meet the same fate. He desperately needs a win, not only to save his struggling company, but to justify the time he’s spent away from his wife and daughters.
So when Peter’s tech-genius partner offers him the chance to beta-test a new state-of-the-art virtual reality headset, he jumps at it. But something goes wrong during the trial, and Peter wakes to find himself trapped in an eerily familiar world where his children no longer exist.
As the lines between the real and virtual worlds begin to blur, Peter is forced to reckon with what truly matters to him. But can he escape his virtual prison before he loses his family forever?
I wrote my first novel when my oldest daughter was six months old.
She napped fairly regularly, an hour in the morning, an hour in the afternoon. As soon as I was mostly sure she was asleep I’d race downstairs and start typing. After a while her naptime shifted to a three-hour stretch in the afternoon, which did wonders for my productivity. But then her sister was born. Unlike my eldest, my youngest child did not find naptime much to her liking, which meant my writing routine became random and incremental.
I kept at it, though, fitting words into whatever spaces I could carve out between home life, play dates, ballet lessons, and gymnastics classes. I wrote everywhere and everywhen, before sunrise and after bedtime, in cars, on bleachers, typing on my laptop or thumbing in the notes app on my phone, which was great for prolonged trips to the bathroom until one or both of my girls inevitably barged in because kids have no respect for boundaries.
That said, there was always a certain amount of guilt that came into play whenever I let the girls watch a movie so I could try and cram in some extra writing time, or when my wife came home from work and took over parenting duties so that I could sit down and write after a particularly frenetic day. As the girls got older and more self-sufficient I was able to sneak in more writing sessions, whether with headphones on in the same room where they were playing or in the next room over, ears primed for the first hint of a fight, injury, or, even more unsettling, sudden silence. And yet the guilt was always there, an all too real aspect of the fictional worlds I was building.
Ironically, that guilt is what inspired my debut novel, Deep Dive. The book’s main character, Peter, is a struggling video game developer whose desire for success has caused him to become an absentee husband and father. He loves his family but spends more time at work than he does at home, fully convinced that if he can turn his new game into a win after the previous project flopped, he’ll finally be able to relax. What happens instead is that he beta tests an experimental VR headset, which backfires spectacularly and traps him in a world that’s eerily similar to his own save for the fact that his daughters no longer exist.
The book is obviously fictional, but there’s a fair amount of autobiographical angst running through its pages. My daughters are both in school now, and I have the house to myself for part of the day when I’m not substituting at the high school where my wife teaches, so writing isn’t quite the guilty juggling act it used to be. Still, there are plenty of afternoons and weekends when I make the conscious choice to write rather than spend time with my family. Becoming a published author with actual deadlines and responsibilities has somewhat mitigated the guilt I feel when I hole up inside my head while my wife and kids are elsewhere in the house, but I don’t think it will ever fully disappear. I suppose in some ways that’s good, because it acts like an anchor that keeps me from drifting too far into fictional seas.
My days as a stay-at-home dad might be behind me, but those early years taught me a very valuable lesson that is as constant a companion as that background buzz of guilt: If you want to write, you have to write, no matter where you are or how much time you have. I’m not necessarily saying you have to write every day, although when I’m actively engaged in a project that’s what I tend to do. My point is more along the lines of the fact that five minutes of writing is better than no minutes of writing, and single sentences written here and there will eventually add up to an entire book.
Being forced to fit in writing when I first started out made me learn how to take advantage of every free moment and locale rather than relying on a set writing schedule or dedicated writing space. I always have my phone with me, and if I remember I’ll dump a chapter into Google Drive so I can work on it wherever I am. I also lug my laptop with me when I know I’ll have downtime somewhere, or if I’m waiting for the girls to finish up afterschool activities.
Strangely, the days when I wind up having a full six hours of alone time with nothing to do but write are actually the hardest for me to stay on task. Granted, those six hours usually involve other non-writing things like running errands and walking the dogs and taking care of any number of other planned or unexpected events like a sick kid or last-minute cookies for a classroom party we found out about the night before. The interruptions can be frustrating, but they’re also beneficial, because they break up my writing time into smaller bits, which is what my brain is used to now. In a lot of ways I’m actually more productive word-wise over the course of, say, three or four half-hour or hour-long writing sprints spread throughout the day than I am with three or four full uninterrupted hours.
None of this is the image how I thought a professional writer was meant to work, but such is life when you’re a parent who wants to be an author. You make do with the time you’re given and do your best to accept that some days are going to be more or less productive than others. The routine will invariably change, but the words will always be there, patiently waiting for you to find your winding way to them.
Ron Walters is a former journalist, college registrar, and stay-at-home dad who writes science fiction and fantasy for all ages. A native of Savannah, GA, he currently lives in Germany with his wife, two daughters, and two rescue dogs. When he’s not writing he works as a substitute high school teacher, plays video games, and does his best to ignore the judgmental looks his dogs give him for not walking them more often.