The Subtle Art of Being a Dad and a Writer

HamstersI read ‘the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck‘ the past two weeks. I won’t be reviewing the book itself, rather I want to take a look at how this book applies to two important parts of my own life: being a writer and being a dad.

The Art of Not Giving a F*ck

You might think Mark Manson’s book ‘the Art of Not Giving a F*ck’ is about being an a-hole, or shutting yourself off from negative experiences. Actually, it’s the opposite. The books main premise is that you should give a f*ck, but about the right things, and that most of the things we currently give a f*ck about are harmful to us.

People nowadays are obsessed with achieving a carefree perfect life and being exceptional. In reality, nobody’s life is perfect and nobody is carefree, and most of us are not exceptional (by definition). Megastars with millions on their bank accounts still have enough problems. Look at how Michael Jackson fared, for example.

Turning that around, Manson’s suggests that true growth and happiness stem from owning up to your problems and dealing with them, not from trying to removing problems altogether by unattainable goals. The greatest highs you can have are from doing something which is hard, not from doing something which is easy – wait, did I hear that before somewhere? Instead of asking yourself what makes you happy you should be asking yourself ‘what pain do I want to endure?’

Being a dad

You can agree with this or not, but the exercise is simple enough. I’ve already written several times about being a dad.  And guess what? There’s a lot of pain to endure when you have one (or more) children. It’s freaking hard to raise a child. But, like I’ve written before, it’s worth it, partially because it’s so hard.

Of course, being a dad doesn’t make you special; there are billions of parents out there. Perhaps you can claim you’ve succeeded exceptionally well at being a parent when your child becomes a rock star, or a president. Although, I would say that that’s your child’s achievement, not yours. Parents living through their children is more of a problem than an achievement.

No, the metric for success on children might be simple: your child is happy and doing okay for themselves. That metric isn’t lofty, but can be a high enough bar already. You invest twenty odd years, and you should be proud if you make it through intact.

Being a writer

I also consider myself a writer. You might wonder when you are allowed to call yourself that, and if I should be doing that. A lot of people like to make that claim. About 80% of Americans would like to be writers. A lot of people start on stories, and some even finish them, but are never published. At what point do they become writers?

A friend of mine claims to be writer. I don’t think he’s ever finished a story, though. He reads his work at readings, and proudly floods social media with his writer status. Can I call him a fraud? Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe ‘when are you a writer?’ is actually the wrong question. Maybe the question should be: how much are you willing to suffer for your writing? Going to a reading and exposing yourself with your work is an achievement, isn’t it?

A friend of my wife doesn’t call himself a writer. He’s been writing fan fiction stories for two decades, though. The writing is abysmal, and despite my wife’s initially friendly criticism and later angry rants at his continuing to stalk her with the same crappy stories, he keeps going, even though he knows he’s not good. And so, maybe, we should call him a writer.

I keep at it, churning out novel after novel, but so far unable to get them published. You can judge for yourself if the writing is terrible, but I don’t think it is. So yeah, I call myself a writer, because I’ve kept going, and I’ve always accepted criticism, slowly honing my craft. Hopefully I will get published some day. However, my metric for success isn’t getting published. It’s writing a great story. I’d like to get published, but I write because I like writing.

Mindset

Both being a dad and being a writer have one thing in common. They’re hard work, but they’re also fulfilling. Also, in both cases, the way you measure success matters.

If all you want is to be a famous writer, selling millions of books, but don’t like to actually write, then you’re f*cked. If your end goal is for your child to become a famous athlete or the next president, but you hate helping them with their home work, then you’re probably equally f*cked. As Mark Manson says, you should look at the pain you want to endure, not the high somewhere in an imagined future. Because all those end states have their own problems.

In the same vein, you shouldn’t make your feeling of success dependent on others. If my measure of successful writing is only to get published, then my happiness suddenly becomes wholly dependent on people I don’t know (a.k.a. agents and publishers) liking my elevator pitches. If my child’s success is at stake, then suddenly my happiness is dependent on my child — whom I cannot control. So, measure your success by something you can control.

In Short

I’ve written three novels and my wife and friends like them. I have a daughter who laughs most of the time. All the rest, as Mark Manson said, you shouldn’t give a f*ck about.

Author: Martin Stellinga

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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