Editor’s note: Writer Dad is a series of interviews with professional writers who are also fathers, discussing how they balance the two, what the real challenges are, and how it affects both their writing and parenting. Read previous installments with Tobias Buckell and Ro Cuzon.
“There is probably no more terrible instant of enlightenment than the one in which you discover your father is a man–with human flesh.”
—Frank Herbert, Dune
If I hadn’t eventually met Chuck Wendig in person, I’d still believe he might not actually be human.
I first stumbled across him back in 2009 via the comments section of Will Hindmarch’s take on the Malcolm Gladwell vs. Chris Anderson dustup over the latter’s faux-controversial book, Free. I’d run into him a few more times over the next several months online and eventually became a fan of his blog, TerribleMinds, impressed both by his savvy writing advice and his dexterous use of profanity.
We finally met in person at DIYDays in 2010, and ever since he has been one of my go-to authors whenever I need to present a case study on how to use social media the right way, or how to intelligently experiment with self-publishing. All of this was before he became a father nearly three years ago, and he’s become the poster child for “hybrid authors,” finding success in both traditional and self-publishing, while still blogging daily and engaging regularly on Twitter and Facebook.
Also, he’s a pretty damn good writer, whether it’s the gut punch of a Bait Dog or Blackbirds, or the laugh-out-loud NSFW humor found in his writing advice.
Gonzalez: As a married father of a rambunctious toddler, a tireless blogger, and one of the most active writers I know on social media, how do you manage to warp time for writing, for family, and for yourself?
Wendig: I clone myself and also I have a time machine. And a velociraptor, but the raptor has little to do with the question and more because: HEY, AWESOME, IT’S A VELOCIRAPTOR.
More to the point: I am a full-time penmonkey, doing well enough that my wife has left her job. So, she’s the one now taking the brunt of the toddlerian tsunami. Still, it can be hard, and I am obviously present all day in the tiny human’s life. Part of it is just about carving out time—such as the hours before the little person awakens.
What percentage of your income is from your traditional vs. self-published work, and how do you squeeze in the blogging and social media with the writing required to fulfill your commitments for new novels?
Traditional last year added up to about 75-80 percent of my income. Self-publishing the other end.
Social media is a raging river—I don’t try to keep up so much as I just waggle my toes into the water when I have time.
Blogging is a focused affair. I take time out of my weekend to write all my waffling bloggerel.
The “hybrid author” concept has always confounded me because it seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve met some authors who, for various reasons, don’t want to experiment with self-publishing at all. How do you decide which work to self-publish and which to send along the traditional route? Is there a wrong way to be a hybrid author?
I understand that some authors don’t want to, erm, experiment either way, because some authors are kinda driven toward certain modes of operation. Not every author wants to also be a publisher, and not every self-publisher wants to cede control to a larger publishing entity.
As for how I do it? Well, self-publishing for me is a good way to make hay from work that’s a bit riskier—that a bigger publisher won’t touch. Novellas, short-story collections, edgier material, material in which I don’t have a strong footing or foundation. I didn’t really know how well I’d do with YA (young adult), so I started in that space with self-publishing and eventually was able to move toward traditional. I was told I didn’t have a platform for writing advice by publishers, which I thought was a bit of bullshit given the popularity of my blog, so I went ahead and cobbled my own platform out of self-published writing books. (Which again led to a traditional deal with Writer’s Digest Books.)
Some bigger novels, if I feel they can go broader, I reserve for the traditional path because I like the possibilities there—I like being in bookstores. I like having greater access to reviews, foreign rights, film/TV, other licensing.
Is there a wrong way to do it? I’m sure there is—I suppose willfully pushing books toward the paths that won’t support them might not do your career any favors, but I’m not really certain how to identify that. Every writer has her own way to do things. Every writer digs her own tunnel into the mountain and detonates it behind her. We all burn the map afterwards.
You live in rural Pennsylvania where the cost of living is lower than, say, New York City or Los Angeles, but is also far removed from the centers of media and publishing. What concessions do you think you’d have to make to live in closer proximity to major publishers or Hollywood, and would they be worth it?
The concessions wouldn’t have much value. Pennsylvania is still expensive compared to, say, North Carolina. But here I’m close to New York City and getting to L.A. just means hopping on a plane. Living in L.A. would be hilariously bad news.
You’ve written a lot about your father over the years. How would you describe yourself as a father, and how much did your own upbringing influence that?
I have no sense of how to describe myself as a father. Isn’t that strange? From my own dad, I try to take from him the things that worked and use them. The things that didn’t, I try to change. Mostly I just want to approach my son with some combination of empathy and discipline. And ice cream. Definitely ice cream.
Who is your favorite literary father figure you think defies stereotypes, and how?
What are the father-figure stereotypes? Atticus Finch is a favorite literary father, I can say that much.
Atticus Finch is arguably THE literary father figure! How has being a father changed your writing; whether style, process, goals, etc?
A great deal! It gives me greater drive as an author in pursuit of a career, but it also has framed what I write—it informed my decision, in part, to try my hand at young-adult fiction. (I know my son won’t be a “young adult” for many years, yet, but given that I don’t want him reading my Miriam Black books until he’s at least thirty-seven, I figured I’d meet him halfway.)
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a writer who wants to have kids but is concerned about being able to balance being a full-time writer and being a father?
It’s hard. Expect it to be hard. Don’t find time; make time. We all get the same twenty-four hours in a day. It’s up to you how to allot them. If this is really a priority, then it should get the same priority that any other full-time job would in terms of time and investment.
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He is the author of the novels Blackbirds, Mockingbird, The Cormorant, The Blue Blazes, and Under the Empyrean Sky. He is an alumnus of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and is the co-author of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus. He lives in Pennsyltucky with his wife, son, and two dopey dogs. You can find him on Twitter @ChuckWendig and at his website, terribleminds.com, where he frequently dispenses very NSFW advice on writing, publishing, and life in general.