explorations of mindful fatherhood

Daddy’s Writing Guilt


Damn, I'd look cooler if I smoked while I wrote.

Damn, I’d look cooler if I smoked while I wrote.

For me, writing feels like a selfish endeavor.  Sure, sometimes the process can lead to insights that ultimately bring the writer closer to others (see my previous post), but for the most part the act of writing is a solitary–and sometimes isolating–one.

When I began getting serious about writing a few years ago, I didn’t want it to impinge upon my time with my family.  I didn’t want to be locked up in a room of the house writing while my wife and son went about their day.  I didn’t want to disrupt my wife’s and my routine of settling into the couch after a long day.  And, I didn’t want to steal time from our weekends or vacations when my family desperately needed to (re)connect. So instead, I found time in the wee hours of the morning.  As someone who needs to be at work around 7am, that meant goddamn early in the morning, settling down in my kitchen or heading out to the coffee house while it was still dark outside.  It felt like the best solution.  My family would be asleep until later anyways, so writing early technically wouldn’t rob me of a second of my time with them.  However, the toll was insidious.

For a few years, I became obsessed.  I used to work out.  I used to meditate.  Those things went out the window because I wanted to make time for writing.  No, I needed to make time for writing.  Writing became my major drive in the morning.  Only after I’d written did I feel as though I could go about my rather mundane work life.

The consequences crept up on me.  As an early riser, the early morning wake-ups were not a big deal at first, but as time went by, I found myself waking up earlier (4am?), and doing it almost every day.  Eventually, I started to dull in the afternoons, or get sleepy really early in the evening.  It got to the point where I couldn’t keep my eyes open much past 8pm.  It didn’t matter if Lost was on.  It didn’t matter if it was the Super Bowl.  I would lose it at the end of the night.

I had to re-calibrate and figure out what was most important.  I started slowing down and eventually lost the steam for writing and put it all down for about 6 months.  Then, I decided to get back in the swing of things and started this blog.  The blog has been an endeavor of self-discovery and has recharged my motivation for writing again.  But when do I find myself doing it?  Today I awoke at 5:30am (on a Sunday!), just to sit here in my kitchen and write.  Again I feel the urge to write, but can’t consider “stealing” any time away from my family.  Granted, I do this less frequently now.  I’ve regained some balance to my mornings.  I no longer consider waking up at 4am, and I actually work out once in a while.  But how do I maintain the balance?

Throughout all this, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.  How does someone write a blog about mindful parenting, when the blog itself has the potential to pull him away from his family or turn him into a drooling zombie at night?  I’m finding my way, but with much trepidation, knowing that the urge to write can be so strong as to overwhelm my sense of purpose and my center.

I’m curious about other parents. When do you find the time to write, and how do you balance it with family?


Author: CJ Nigh

I am an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. Undead Dad is a blog about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I also write science fiction for young adults.

31 thoughts on “Daddy’s Writing Guilt

  1. I do most of my writing late at night; it is also when I try to maintain my sitting meditation practice…both of which take away time that my wife and I have together in the quiet. So it is difficult. But until such a time as could write “for a living”, it is what I have.

    • Agreed, that is very difficult. I have done that from time to time, but find that my energy is gone in the evenings, and the writing suffers. Glad you can keep it up. Thanks for the reply.

  2. I could have written this. I’m crazy enough not only to work on writing, but orchestral music and painting. For me it’s late night.

  3. I completely relate to this CJ. Balancing work, and family is a struggle of itself. Add in the writing and at times it feels nearly impossible. I write at night after my little guy goes to bed or early in the morning before work. I too am an early riser. I have taken a notebook to work to write on my lunch break. That however, doesn’t always pan out. I comment right now because the little one is napping. I think the best thing to do is to write every chance you get.

    I share your feeling of hypicrosy too at times. As you know, I blog about fatherhood and I feel at times focusing on a post takes away from the family.

    Great post.


    • Thanks so much for the comments, and I’m glad to read that someone else out there shares a similar experience. I feel like a writing-scavenger at times, hunting down any free moments to open up the laptop. The notebook sounds like a true testament to your dedication!

  4. I do my writing during my commute to work. And then some. Which is why I’m thankful for Evernote. At least I can write on the go putting down ideas that pop into my head during the course of the day and edit/stitch them altogether at night when I have the time to do so. But yes, it is proving difficult to write properly when you don’t seem to have as much “me” time as you think you would have. 🙂

  5. Michael, I drive to work (over a full hour in the car each day), and sometimes I long for a train ride, just so that I could use that time better. In the car, I tend to listen to audio books as a way of getting some “reading” in, because otherwise it would be crazy-making trying to write and read in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks for checking out my post.

  6. It’s a tough one, CJ and I am still trying to figure it out – I have to say though that I haven’t posted a blog on my site in about two weeks and I am starting to feel the stress of not having posted anything in a while particulalry given the frequency of my posts when I first started blogging in December. But on the flipside, I have had more time with the Mrs. and the boys and that’s obviously a good thing. The key, they say, for blogs at least, is writing as much as you can when you get fresh ideas but to time the realease so it is more evenly spaced out. Or was that the ad for Aleve?

  7. It is very hard for all of us to find the time–and so often you read about the importance of making the time. To be a good writer, you have to write… But when you do find that you’ve carved out the time, try to embrace it. This is your time to be present with your thoughts and reflect–don’t rob yourself of that with guilt. Also, even though it may creep in to my time with my family, I find that being able to write has helped me be a more mindful person, and parent. Writing has been such a powerful outlet. Thus, the time I spend with my kids is better. Hang in there–and keep writing!

  8. I can totally relate to this. Being nocturnal, I operate at the other end of the day. My wife is usually in bed by 10, so the hours between 10 and [whenever] are very much my own. I probably do 2-4 hours 3-4 nights a week, which coincides with when I’m most creative and also minimises the impact on my family so that Daddy isn’t locked away in his study all weekend. I’m 18 months past my peak blogging output, where I was writing on average close to 1,500 words a day across three blogs, but I will still crank out 4-5 posts a week in addition to being the editor of a collaborative blog about cycling.

    I think I’ve managed to curb my borderline obsession and exercise a bit more restraint these days. However much I write it’s never enough, but I’m slowly learning to recognise when it’s too much and when I need to throttle back a bit so that I’m living my life as well as writing about it.

  9. I write mostly at work… between patients… when I’m not playing video games… at work… between patients.



  10. Photography doesn’t take the same attention and time as writing, but as I’m a dad learning how to take photos I find myself up really early, mostly taking pictures in the dark. Gotta make time for what YOU love to do.

  11. I appreciate your post and your desire for balance. I also think that your children will greatly appreciate the fact that you desire to create something worth reading. And the fact that you shovel your own driveway says that you do more for your family than you probably realize.

  12. Congrats on being freshly pressed — which is how I stumbled here. Love your good sentiments and intentions – you are apparently, a very good dad indeed.
    As pretty much a single-mom for many years now, plus a full time job and a man, I have been up against the same challenges. And here’s what I think — that while perhaps you need to temper obsession, it’s just as important for your child to see you follow your bliss. And sounds like you do so respectfully. This is what I know: it gets easier as they get older.

  13. I’ve recently discovered this quandary for myself. I woke up at 4:30 to hit the gym before work. I just didn’t have enough energy to get through my routine. I sneak out of work early to get home in time to hit the gym before rush hour. Then, it’s family time. But, that’s all that’s left. When am I to write?

    I do it right in the middle of everything. The laptop is open while cooking or checking homework. I multitask and watch a couple of my favorite shows with the wife. Whenever I can, I get in a reading and writing session. And I love the challenge of balancing it all.

    Great post!

    • Thanks so much, Do I Have My Keys. It’s certainly a juggle. I find a still need some quiet and focus on that one thing. Glad to hear you can multitask it! Would get a lot more done if I could.

  14. Great post. I used to set aside at least an hour each night to write, but soon, that got too tiring. My writing schedule always changes; my summers are always less hectic given that I’m still in University. But I’ve figured out an awesome schedule now where I always set aside some time once a week (usually on a Friday or Saturday) to write. Sure, I’d like to write more often, but this is what is feasible right now. It’s actually going pretty well. It’s definitely all about scheduling and balance!

  15. This is great – I’m going to be like everyone else commenting and confess how much I relate to this. I work nights and weekends, so instead of early mornings, I try to sneak it in after work between midnight and 2am. Which hardly ever happens. My work is such though, that I can sometimes scribble on the job, so when I can I try to work ahead.
    I also have to make the connection to your post about shoveling snow. There’s “stealing time from your family” and then there’s taking time for you to model something important for your kid. That’s how I try to look at it. Most of us who write know that we’re not a whole person without it. I realized when my son was born that I didn’t have any more excuses and I either had to put up or shut up, so I’m trying to follow what seems to be a path of integrity in writing so that I can instill the same in him. That, and blog about Star Wars.

  16. I’ve been blogging for a few years now and it always seems to happen at night after I put the kids to bed and while my husband is watching his crappy TV shows….it’s a win-win. I get to write and he gets to watch show like Finding Bigfoot and I don’t complain. We even get to actually be in the same room because it’s not hard to tune out the trash TV while I’m super focused on what I’ve been secretly waiting all day to do. I roll an idea around in my head all day and when I can finally get it out t’s like the whole world stops and the only noise that can interrupt me is a cry from a child that needs me. My current blog is about finding my happy place and writing is a big part of that, so it has to be a part of my life because it’s a part of My Happy Promise.

  17. I write during the day when my children are at school or at night just after the kids go to bed, before I relax with hubby. Since this is clearly not an option for you – I cannot give you specifics, but it seems to me that I’ve heard of an android or iphone app that converts speech into text. Perhaps you could track this down and use it to ‘write’ while driving to and from work?

  18. I can see my preferred time is the same as many other fellow bloggers – late night. Mine is a photo and travel blog and sometimes I feel it is double the effort because one has to not only go through the process of selecting, editing, watermarking pictures etc. but, you also have to make the write up good enough for people to actually invest time reading it. So, I end up spending on an average 5-6 hours on a single travel related post. It does become quite an obsession though, blocking out everything else.

    What I have started doing now is what others recommend here – grabbing moments to work on the blog as and when they come. So, all the best to you . May all of us find the balance we are looking for.

  19. I find that writing makes me a better parent – it allows me to ‘recharge’ myself after a busy day and gives my children more ‘breathing’ space. I make sure however that I write only when my family does not need me – as soon as they want me, I drop my writing and go to them.

  20. I have an office job with Internet access. I do almost all of my writing during lunch breaks.

    In the past year, my son (just turned 8) has taken an interest in my online activities and wants me to read him my articles. While there are a few I will not share with him because of his age, in general I appreciate his interest in my writing and the way that my reading it to him reinforces things I’ve taught him that I’ve also explained online. So I don’t feel that my writing and my family are at odds, and I’m comfortable with occasionally doing some writing or checking blog comments during family time.

  21. I’ll throw in my two cent worth. You have found something creative and health which you enjoy. Is this not what you ask of your children? By way of example, you are teaching them to do what they are passionate about and to take time for themselves. Embrace your urge to write. – Mickey

  22. I can really relate to what you are saying, that elusive balance between family involvement and care + time for partner + urge to write, a tough one. No magic recipe exists I must admit. I comfort myself in thinking that if I ever had the carefree life to do as I choose and as I feel all the time, I would certainly find a lot less to write about…
    Having said this, the “guilt” never goes away. You are either guilty of not writing or guilty of taking time to do it.
    I should be helped by the fact that my partner is also a writer and therefore should understand if I’d rather drown myself in writing rather than watch another stupid programm on TV but it does not work out that way. Just a thought here, maybe he’s only waiting for me to give the go ahead and then we’d both be writing in the evening ? Food for thought…
    I like your blog, I’ll probably be back, thanks to the “freshly pressed” then 🙂

  23. Pingback: Fatherhood: A Surgeon General’s Warning | undeaddad

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