14 November 2012

Writer Dad Comes Clean

by Rob Hines

Friends, I have relapsed.  I tried.  I really did.  I even started drinking coffee to make it easier, but I still did it.
I slept in.

At the beginning of November, I resolved to make a change.  It was a change that will be crucial to my writing success going forward, and I was so optimistic about my success, but I’m struggling.

Son of Writer Dad
Here’s my story.  I’m a dad, and a proud, excited dad at that.  I find it fascinating to watch my son grow up as he approaches his second birthday.  Unfortunately, being proud and excited and fascinated every day has made it incredibly difficult to write.  My days have steadily consisted of 8 hours of my day job, followed by 4-5 hours of kid/wife time, followed by sleep.

What to do?  What to do?

Well, I can’t lose the day job, or else I lose the family time, and half of my possessions.

I really don’t want to lose the family time, and I’d probably resent the writing if I did.

That leaves sleep.  Yeah, I can lose some sleep, right?  No sweat.  I’ll just get up earlier every day.

Easier said than done.

Being a very introspective person, I analyzed my tendency to stay in bed as long as possible in the morning.  Eventually, I realized my morning snoozefest was a habit, just like a morning smoke or a morning drink.  I was addicted to sleep.  I had previously tried to make some major changes to this along with my other habits of inactivity, but I failed miserably every time.  Why?  Because I was trying to change everything at once.  I forced myself to either get up early or stay up late and then I’d force any number of other ambitious activities into that time.  Whether I tried to write, exercise, or rearrange my comic book collection alphabetically, I was determined to change everything in my life at once.

That…was…stupid.  And it didn't work.

A few weeks ago, I did some research on changing habits because if I wanted to write and be productive, I had to make time to do it and that meant breaking my sleep habit.  I learned that the key to habit-changing is simple.  Change one thing at a time.  If I want to make more time to write and get in shape and be more organized, I have to get used to making more time first.  Once I’m accustomed to having those extra hours, VOILA, I’ll have writing time!  Maybe I can even do a few push-ups here and there too.
Yes, Carrie, you're right.
I will never doubt you or coffee again.

On November 1, I started consciously getting out of bed no later than 6:30 am, with only one “free day” when I slept in on purpose as a reward for my efforts (rewards are important to reinforcing new habits, by the way).  It was working.  With the help of my new affection for coffee (excessively flavored, creamed and sugared coffee, but coffee nonetheless), I was getting up early and feeling very heroic.  I didn't force myself to do anything except meet a specific wake-up time and I let that be my success.  I created the opportunity to feel good about doing something right without letting negative thoughts creep in about the many things I still need to do.  I may have even patted myself on the back once or twice.

But Tuesday, November 13, I relapsed.  I couldn't drag myself out of bed.  I don’t even remember how I rationalized it, but my evil, selfish brain convinced me to sleep in until I had to get ready for the day job.  I've written about the brain before and how it can conspire against writers, but I still get tricked from time to time.  My brain loves to talk me into all kinds of destructive behavior.  Nothing cool or even YouTube-worthy, but enough to sidetrack me from being productive.  That morning, it just wanted to sleep and “to hell with your little experiment!”  I was too weak to fight the urge.

At first, I was disgusted.  I was ashamed of my weakness.  But here’s the thing.  If changing a habit like this was easy, I wouldn't need to focus so much of my brainspace on it.  I wouldn't have gone out of my way to research better ways to wake up (coffee, for example).  If this was easy, I certainly wouldn't be writing a blog article about it.  Making a change like this is hard.  I accept that, and I want to assure any readers who are having similar problems finding time to write that you may have similar struggles.  It’s okay.  

Tomorrow morning, we get another chance.

Tomorrow, we all get another chance.  Those of you beating yourself up for not writing enough each day, you get another chance.  Those of you who don’t think you’re networking enough, you get another chance.

Wow, I feel like Oprah right now, but it’s true.  We all get another chance when we stumble.  I've picked probably one of the toughest life stages to become a writer.  I work full time with a school-teacher wife and a toddler son.  Am I insane?  Yeah, maybe.

But no matter what, tomorrow I get another chance to make the dream happen.
(Cue Annie theme song)


  1. You rock. I think this is Rob, yes? I am inspired by you and I think you're great and your honesty is refreshing. Yes, tomorrow is another day. And as for habit forming: 21 days in a row. that's all it takes. Be good to you; start with that habit. You've got this. You're already there. Great post. -Molly

  2. Thanks Leona!

    Molly, I guess I should put my name on this, huh? Maybe that was a subconscious choice. Get Freud on the line! He's what? Oh, never mind.

    I appreciate the kind words and I'm going to overcome my brain's sabotage. I'm learning that it just takes some work and positivity, which I'm pretty sure I have. Somewhere. :)

  3. I feel for you, Rob, and I'm slightly jealous you're able to actually get yourself moving in the mornings. I'm terrible at it and currently keeping hours generally associated with very lazy college students and some criminals. I think it's great you've figured out that part of the trick is to take it one small victory at a time. You got up! That's the goal! And once that's the really good habit you want it to be, you can make a follow-up habit. I think people don't always think about how they can build their habits like that.

  4. I'm so glad you don't doubt me Rob! LOoooove the cup.