Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

Why You Need Rituals in Your Parenting Life

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Last week, I wrote about how necessary forming rituals as a writer can be in order to produce the best work you can as regularly as you can. But then, after I wrote that post, I started thinking about that same principle in terms of parenting. Could forming rituals in your parenting life lead to a more organized, productive form of parenting?

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I believe the answer to that question is a firm, “Yes.” Here’s why:

Children depend on routine. There are many studies out there that prove children are more likely to succeed in homes where a routine has been established for them, including this one published by the Washington Post. Wake up at this set time. Eat lunch at this set time. Read with Dad at this set time. Bed at this set time. All of these seemingly insignificant routines provide a child with a sort of security blanket, and lead to fewer fights and tantrums.

Parenting rituals keep you, as a parent, more organized. When you know what times need to be devoted to your child’s needs, and you have them on a set schedule, you can work your schedule around them. This leads to fewer time conflicts, fewer instances of work not getting done on time, and hopefully no instances of forgetting your time for carpool (yes, that has happened to me before).

Rituals in your parenting routines establish a tone for your home. Let’s say that one of your rituals is saying a prayer with your children before dinner—once you do it enough, a quiet, peaceful, and thankful mood will be established in those minutes together. Maybe one of your rituals is having a dance party in the evening, an hour or two before bedtime. This creates a fun, vibrant, energetic tone to your home in the hours you want, and will hopefully lead to a tired, quiet tone again just in time for bed. And hopefully, through all of the routines and rituals you set as a parent, the tone you set for your home will be one of love.

If you haven’t already, see what happens to your home when you start building and incorporating firm rituals into your children’s lives. Hopefully a happy and more manageable future awaits you!

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Why You Need Rituals in Your Writing Life

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“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” –Mike Murdock

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When I was a younger man, I was against forming routines. I lived spontaneously, I took each day as it came at me with no expectations, and I thought routine would be the end of my creativity. If inspiration hit in the middle of the night, I would write like a maniac from 1 a.m. to sunrise. If I didn’t have anything to write about for days at a time, then I wouldn’t dwell on it.

But then inspiration was coming to me less and less frequently. I was writing once a week, maybe, then once a month, then not at all. I had no pattern to my creative life, and I was becoming weaker as a writer and as a thinker. I didn’t have ideas for stories, I didn’t have the tools to write them down when they did come, and when I embarked on longer projects, they never got finished.

It was about this time that I heard some career-changing advice: you are only as strong as the rituals you establish for yourself.

As I looked into it, I realized that many, if not most, of the biggest names in the literary world had writing rituals. Sarah Dessen writes from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every single day, whether inspiration strikes or not. E.B. White always wrote in his brightly lit living room, and refused to listen to music during his writing hours. Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 a.m. every day, writes for six hours, and then spends the rest of the day exercising and reading to stay sharp and focused for this early mornings. The list goes on and on.

(For a list of 12 writers’ daily routines, look at this blog post by James Clear: http://jamesclear.com/daily-routines-writers)

Forming a ritual allows you to get in the same mindset day after day, and your brain begins to realize that inspiration should hit in these specific settings. It was only when I decided to write consistently every day, at the same time each day, in the same room each day that I was able to write the Night Buddies books to completion. It doesn’t matter if your ritual means snacking on hot cheetos in the nearest coffee shop, if it means waking up before your children and your spouse so they won’t distract you, if it means you only write solidly for one hours every night—having those rituals will help you get words on the page. This is our only, singularly most important goal as writers. We have to get words on the page.

Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for a new puppy to learn to come to you on command. You can hope for it, and maybe accidentally a few times it will happen. But if you don’t train for it to happen consistently every single time when called, then eventually it will never happen at all. Train your brain to be inspired every single day, train your mind to only be able to focus on writing when it is time to write, and you’ll soon see all those stories you’ve been mulling over in your mind become real, tangible, written down stories on the page.

Do you have any writing rituals? Let me know what they are in the comments!

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Tips For Writing Three-Dimensional Characters

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There are two main elements to a story: plot and character. There is debate amongst writers whether one of these aspects is more important than the other, which is why some books are plot-driven while others are character-driven, but the reality is that your book will not succeed if your characters feel inauthentic. This is where one of the most difficult aspects of storytelling comes into play—creating three-dimensional characters.

Luckily, when I started writing the Night Buddies series I had already been creating my main character Crosley for years (by making him the star in my son’s bedtime stories). I had a fully formed character who felt like a real friend in my home, and that led to an entire series being based off of him. But I couldn’t rely on Crosley alone. A book is made up of an entire cast of characters, all who need to feel as real as the others, and I knew I had a lot of work to do in order to make my other characters as three-dimensional as the character I had spent years of my life developing. Along the way, I came up with a few techniques for fleshing out the entire cast. I hope you find them helpful!

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1. Always ask why. It is one thing to decide, “I’m going to write about a red crocodile,” and another to think, “What is it that makes this crocodile red? How is he unique?” You want to think of original, entertaining personality bits, but to make that character come alive, you need to know exactly why he is the way he is. Why is your character afraid of the dark? Why does he have a tattoo on his earlobe? Why does he have an insatiable hunger for pineapple cheesecakes? Knowing the why makes him relatable and easy to understand, both of which help bring him to life.

2. Base the character off someone you know. Next to Crosley, there is a boy named John who stars in the Night Buddies books who is based on my son. When you base a character off of someone you know well, you can pinpoint unique ways that person talks, unique parts of their appearance, and unique stories from their life that will come across on the page the way that person comes across to you in real life.

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3. Create a character sketch. Character sketches are very important to do, but I don’t believe everyone needs to use the same template for making one. For instance, I’ve seen templates that make you consider their mother’s maiden name or their favorite time of day, but sometimes those details are irrelevant to the story. Here’s what I go by: know their backstory, know the relationships that are important to them, and know where they should be emotionally at the beginning of the story and at the end. Any other details you want to know are up to you—it can be fun to spend hours figuring out every detail of your character’s lives, but don’t get so caught up in it that you forget what’s important to your story!

4. Show, don’t tell. Your character won’t feel real if you spend pages telling the reader their likes and dislikes, how they came to be where they are, whether they have allergies in the summertime. If you make a list of things to tell the reader, the character feels like a list, not a person. Instead, show that they’re shy by how they cross their arms when in a public place. Show that they have allergies by how they sneeze when the wind starts to blow. Show that they hate broccoli by how their mouth tenses up when their mother forces them to eat all that is on their plate. What you show the reader will always be ten times more important, and feel ten times more real, than by what you tell them.

Do you tend to prefer character-driven, or plot-driven novels? Maybe a healthy dose of the two? Let me know in the comments below!

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