No writer likes distractions. I have been known to hide away up in the attic to get some writing done, away from even the meager activity of my admittedly low-key household. We have a cat that follows me up there, though. She'll crawl through boxes still unpacked from our last three moves or more. She mews in celebration when she finds something fun, then drags her find out for my inspection. Getting a complete thought out of my head and into a document is never easy, and the cat carrying on makes it all the harder. Distractions come in varieties beyond a cat interrupting of your train of thought, though. More years ago than I can believe, I had a great idea for a novel, the Great American Novel we all think lies within us somewhere. I outlined and wrote and loved it.

The pregnancy test was positive around chapter three.

That start on my first novel was lost in a fog of diapers and jobs and parent-teacher conferences. I didn't write much for years and years. Kids are one hell of a writing distraction; having to make a living does a number on an aspiring writer, too.

I know writers who insist that fallow years and decades are wastes, at best, that they are indulgences for those of us who don't value our art enough to make the sacrifices required to generate acceptable word counts. Maybe that is right. Maybe.

Still, now when I think about that first novel I so longed to write, back before we had the kids, it all seems so banal now: all black and white and clear cut and obvious, with nothing much at stake. I now see that the story was an exercise in my own narcissism, a personal rant draped with fiction and bedazzled with smug self-satisfaction. It wasn't very good.

Today I don't claim to write better than anyone other than that kid who dropped what he hoped was the next Great American Novel to raise a family so many years ago. I know that I write better than him. I see bits he left me every now and then, in old notebooks my cat discovers up in the attic. I recognize the voice on those old pages, but I hope mine has been leavened with more wisdom than his. I have an advantage over that kid in the wisdom department, having lived a life he had scarcely begun. Those kids, that earning a living--they're one hell of a distraction, but they sure did a job of growing me up. Now, I have something to write about.