Good Writing Days: On Being a New Father and a Poet

For me, a typical writing day looks like this: two hours of generative writing, an hour of revision, and an hour or so of reading. To wrap up a session, I save all the poems in their various stages to appropriately-named Google Drive folders. I have one for the “nearly there” poems. I have one for the “not quite a draft” poems. I have one that is really just a running document of one-liners to use in future poems.

A good writing day is a good day in general. If I can get these sessions in, the rest of my day looks a little brighter. I’m a little nicer to be around. When I’m in my stride, I can get in four or five good writing days each week.

Four months ago my wife and I welcomed our first child into the world. In the months leading up to his birth, I was growing more and more anxious. Mostly my anxiety centered on a singular new-parent question: how will I keep this thing from dying? I also wondered how many good writing days were left. Things were about to change for the good. But change is always an adjustment.

Four months. We just took the baby for his second set of vaccines. Now he’s rolling around on the floor. He’s finding his voice and has two budding teeth. I, too, am finding my new self by revisiting some trusted advice. A good writer friend of mine once said, “You’ll have plenty of time to write in those thirty minute chunks when the baby sleeps.” At the time, I laughed at the possibility of being productive in such short windows, because it was such a far cry from what I was used to. It’s true, though. When I lay the baby down, I crack the MacBook open and add a line to a draft, swap out a word, or furiously add one-liners to the Google folder. I am thankful for these bits and pieces.

In truth, losing time to write was one of my biggest fears of new parenthood. When I don’t write frequently, I tend to doubt the work, myself, the decision to write at all. Writing poetry has always been a way to examine my past through a present-day perspective, to speculate where I’m heading. Some folks have religion; I have poetry. Being a father has changed my perspective, a lot; the poems are now exciting and terrifying at once. What I cannot do is stop writing. Never. Stop. Writing.

On the flipside, I’ve heard of writers who regret the time they spent writing their next book and neglecting their children. I get it, though. You can’t just stop. The blinders go up. You can’t just put the poem to rest. You have to find that balance.

I’m not saying I’m the first person who’s tried to be a writer and a new parent. I applaud those who have two, three, or four kids and still write. And write well. It’s an inspiration to those of us learning to adjust to this new life. But for now, I’m just thankful for the bits and pieces of success, the new good writing days.

Aaron Reeder