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[Learn more about the Pen Parentis Research Project.]
“I really think having the skills to write well grows more critical to job success in any field every year. I’m happy to be able to help my own children with it, so they will be able to afford to one day put me into the nice senior-assisted-living home instead of the cruddy one just off the highway.”
-Keith Blanchard, Novelist and Content Strategist
PP: Describe your life in the context of writing, parenting and your responsibilities.
KB: Well, I left my day job as chief digital officer of World Science Festival about four months ago and I was doing full time consulting for a couple of clients, helping them with digital/social/eCRM and creative strategy. I finally decided the universe was telling me to stop trying to find that perfect job and create my own, so I started my own consultancy, Teamstream Productions.
The idea is we assemble the exact publishing team you need to accomplish whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. There are lots of content marketers out there, and lots of theories, but I don’t think there are very many seasoned editors and publishers available for extended work for project work for multiple clients. So I’m hoping that will be a valuable point of difference.
I have three children, ages 19, 16, and 11, but the 19 year old is at NYU, so I’m not technically caring for her during the school year. But I still help her a lot with homework, particularly editing essays together, to try to give her the benefit of my writing/editing skills, such as they are.
We just downsized to a cozy four-bedroom house in suburban New Jersey about 45 minutes out of the city. When I am working in the city it’s a long slog of a commute unless I’m right near Penn or Port Authority; when I’m working from home or consulting it’s quite nice, being that far outside the city. Sitting in the backyard with the laptop has serious charms.
“I write wherever and whenever I can. I take my laptop everywhere (even when commuting in and out for a job interview or consulting project) and if there’s no “work work” to be done I try to use the time to write.”
PP: How do you integrate creative writing into your parenting/work responsibilities?
KB: I try to work and write all day while they’re at school, because as soon as my youngest sets foot in the door (around 3:30) he wants to play or do homework together, and at the other end of it my 16 year old has baseball right after school so he wants his homework help around 9:00 or 11:00 p.m. Eleven p.m. used to be my perfect time to start writing but I am just too tired to start then most nights.
I write wherever and whenever I can. I take my laptop everywhere (even when commuting in and out for a job interview or consulting project) and if there’s no “work work” to be done I try to use the time to write.
PP: What’s awesome about being a parent who writes?
KB: I can materially help my children with this very important skill, and they can see how it’s possible to make a career out of it (as well as using cogent self-expression to help a career of any type).
My wife is a major supporter; she covers a lot of house duties to give me time to work, both professionally and creatively (i.e., the “let’s see if we can sell this” bucket). Beyond that I have friends who are writers and a lot of contacts and former employees who are writers and editors, so when I have a good commercial idea I usually have people I can call and try to place it.
Work/life balance? I don’t have any at the moment. I am swamped and working constantly. When we take an afternoon off to enjoy the backyard or hang out, it is a real treasure. The nature of commercial writing in a digital/social age means that every hour you’re not pitching new articles, writing what you’ve won, or promoting what you just published, is an hour you’re getting weaker as a brand. Wish it weren’t so.
“There’s not the support framework for writers there once was; our industry has had to become very, very lean, so writers are on their own.”
PP: What’s most rewarding about being a writing parent?
KB: [Writing well is] a skill that’s easy to appreciate and I think it means something to my kids. I really think it grows more critical to job success in any field every year. I’m happy to be able to help my own children with it, so they will be able to afford to one day put me into the nice senior-assisted-living home instead of the cruddy one just off the highway.
PP: What’s challenging about it?
KB: It’s absolutely a full time job and I only have half time at best to devote to it. So everything “gives,” including that it’s hard to keep up with whatever “beats” you write about, to promote what you’ve written, etc. There’s not the support framework for writers there once was; our industry has had to become very, very lean, so writers are on their own.
What I need is a literary agent, a Hollywood manager, a business manager, a social media director, an assistant and a barista, for starters. Anything that could free me up to actually write.
PP: What’s your advice for other parents who write?
KB: That your hours would become seriously curtailed, and increasingly so with every child if you want to be a good parent, so you’d better get some hardcore discipline if you intend to do this professionally while your kids are in the needy years (0 to 35).
When you are alone, write. Push any tasks that can be done with other people present off until those times when there are other people present. I can wash the dishes and help kids with homework at the same time, but I can’t possibly blog and chat with them.
Also: Don’t write anything that doesn’t advance the brand you’re building for yourself. Build the brand of you vs. just getting paid—there are only so many hours in the day, so work toward your objectives when you can.
PP: How has parenting and writing changed as your children have grown?
KB: It’s been fun watching my kids gradually take up writing and become better at it. I remember that process, of growing from being barely able to express basic needs to being able to express inner thoughts, genuine understanding; to make people love or hate you, respect your passion, etc. Parenting becomes less like pet care and more like friendship as they grow, and writing makes them peers.
PP: What else would you like to add on this subject? Include anything else we should know about your life as a writing parent.
KB: A serious support network would be awesome. I don’t know how to organize it but given my/our busy schedule if there were some efficient way to get in front of agents, publishers, etc. that would be very valuable. Great writing isn’t enough these days, but sometimes it’s all we have time for, and without support that’s a recipe for long, slow, gentle failure. (Or writing as a hobby only).
Leading novelist and content strategist Keith Blanchard is CEO of Teamstream Productions, a new venture that assembles and flows in precisely the tactical content production team a publisher or brand needs for any project. Keith was previously Chief Digital Officer at World Science Festival, Chief Content Officer at Thrillist Media Group and at Story Worldwide Advertising, and was a founding editor of Maxim magazine and its editor-in-chief from 2000-2004, the period when it peaked in circulation and ad revenue and won Advertising Age’s Magazine of the Year (2002).
The Pen Parentis Research Project is a series of interviews with parent authors in order to learn how they mange time, publish, earn a living, nurture creative community, and care for their kids. Managed by Mary Harpin, the project will culminate in a book with stories, data, and helpful information that other parent writers can apply to their own busy lives. Support the project with a contribution to the Pen Parentis crowdfunding campaign.