I’m trying out a fun new (hopefully regular) feature today where I put my interviewing skills to use and chat with other work-at-home parents.
There aren’t that many of us, so I always pounce on the ones I meet and discuss their work/life balance because OMG YOU UNDERSTAND MY LIFEEEEE.
So without further ado, here’s my Q&A with the adorably-accented …
ME: Being a parent and chasing your own dreams can be difficult (it’s the story of my life). How do you do both so well?
JON: I got a lucky break when the newspaper I worked for suddenly shut down in 2008.
(Ed: I worked there, too. It sucked. Jon is too modest to mention that this happened ON HIS BIRTHDAY!)
It didn’t seem like good news when I had no job and no prospects, but I also then had no wife, children or mortgage, so dream-chasing was relatively easy. I wrote my first novel in that period (a historical fiction called Black Snow).
The challenge now that I do have a wonderful wife, three-year-old son and a daughter being born this spring, is balancing dream-chasing with bill-paying. That’s a big reason I’ve remained a full-time freelance writer – I can build writing books into my daily schedule.
Typically I spend the first hour of each day working on books. In the writing phase, that’s about 1,000 words a day, which quickly adds up. So far it’s added up to five books published in six years: Black Snow, The Hermit of Africville, Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax, Day Trips from Halifax, and now Limerence.
I think it’s important for me to keep chasing my writing dreams as we raise our family. First, it makes me happy, which makes me a better dad and husband. Second, it shows our children that you can do what you value and pay the bills. (although certainly not from the book writing at this point!)
ME: So how does your novel Limerence fit into this? (BTW, loved, loved, loved it)
JON: It’s funny – I started to write the novel when I was still single, but published it as a family man. Limerence stars two men: a stay-at-home dad and a freewheeling libertine. The two crash their lives into each other and eventually find a deeper acceptance of their own choices once they’ve accepted the other person’s decisions.
I pictured the ocean when writing it (easy to do when you live on the coast!). On the surface, you have a frenzy of action as sharks, piranhas and other sea creatures fight for their lives. That’s the car crash that opens the novel, and the sex-and-blood chaos that races out of that. But after you’ve feasted, crucial nutrients will drift down into the abyss of you, bringing snowflakes of food to the strange, silent creatures in the depths of your soul.
It’s about how to stop fighting with your partner. It’s about how to stop fighting with yourself. It’s about learning to let yourself enjoy your life. When you’re in your 20s, life seems full of possibilities. But somewhere around 30, you realize you have to choose one, or you’ll be left with nothing. Limerence is about flourishing in that choice.
ME: Is it autobiographical?
JON: No – not at all. I write non-fiction books too (I’m finishing Redemption Songs: How Bob Marley’s Nova Scotia Song Lights the Way Past Racism now and it will be out in the fall), and no one every asks if they’re autobiographical. Yet as a writer, I can tell you that I put equal amounts of myself into fiction and non-fiction. The books come from my brain and so show traces of my life, but they’re never about me.
ME: What advice do you have for parents (like me) who want to chase their writing dreams?
JON: Steal from your children. Let me explain that.
I’m reading the January/February 2016 edition of Scientific American Mind and the article “How to cultivate creativity” says that openness to new experiences is the strongest predictor of creative achievement. Creative achievers “have a harder time filtering out seemingly irrelevant information and continued to notice familiar things.”
Children are natural champions of drawing our attention to seemingly irrelevant information and apparently familiar things. When I took my son to the beach last summer, it was literally the first time he’d seen ocean waves, sand, surfers – all of it. I watch him watch the world, and use his curiosity and boundless energy to fire up my own imagination.
Think of their endless questions as writing prompts, and consider your answers writing exercises. Take that over to your actual writing and your work will dramatically improve.
Thanks to Jon for coming over to hang out with us today. He’s a huge inspiration for me as I near the end of writing my current (hopefully first-published) novel.
And now! A giveaway!
How do you use parenting to be a more creative person?