Why We Have to Do Things the Wrong Way


First Draft Father

Every week there’s something new that Ethan can do. And some weeks he does things that I never saw coming. Take the train for instance:

One of his Nanas gave him a cool train set that is made of wood and has layers of wooden rectangles stacked up on each train frame. He’s at a place right now where he can hold small things or push things away from himself, but there’s no way he can line up a train and push it along the floor.

If anything, he knocks the train over and sends the stacked blocks flying all over the place.

That’s when something interesting happened.

One day I gave Ethan one of the trains to throw around while he sat next to me on the couch. Propped up in a corner, he dumped the blocks into his lap. With the lighter train platform in his hand, he started to fiercely whack the blocks with it. Over and over and over.

The new train game was enthralling. He could hold the blocks, throw the blocks, chew on the blocks, chew on the train, throw the train, hit things with the train, or hit things with the blocks.

What else would a baby do all day?

We have since turned him loose on his train a couple of days in a row now, and each time he’s completely delighted to bang around with his blocks.

I find it striking that I almost didn’t give him the train in the first place. I’d thought that he would just get frustrated with it. Perhaps I imagined him looking up at me with his eyes wide and his palms upturned, as if to say, “What am I supposed to do with this?”

He knew exactly what to do with it, even if my imagination was limited to the original intent of his toy: child pushing a carefully constructed train around on the floor.

There’s something in this story about parenting that I want to savor, but it’s really something that applies to so many other things in life. How many things are we afraid to try because we don’t think we’ll do them right or well?

Take writing for instance: I live in fear of the old book proposals and magazine articles from three, four, or five years ago lurking on my computer. They’re just so terrible. I worked hard on them, but whenever I accidentally open one, I catch myself cringing at my clunky openings, the meandering points, and the low quality ideas I once considered profound.

Mind you, I didn’t always write duds. I have gotten things published; I’ll have you know. The difference is that writing anything worthy of being published took so much time, so many drafts, and a parade of false starts and scrapped ideas.

I haven’t arrived at some magical place where I can hammer out a single draft and mail it in to a publisher, but I’ve learned so much about stringing words together and how to make them run on their tracks. I started out babbling my words, dumping them onto my page, and banging them together for a few hours.

The results at that time weren’t very orderly or helpful for anyone but myself. Over time the banging and clunking gave way to order. At a certain point, the words clicked together and started to hum along.

The only way to learn is to play with something new, even if you’re playing with it wrong. You just may end up enjoying yourself and picking up a new skill along the way.


I’m celebrating the release of my book First Draft Father this week by sharing select chapters. It’s a compilation of an online journal that I kept after the birth of our first child, and it documents my journey from insecure, overworking writer to over-tired but over-joyed father.


Read more in First Draft Father.

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