Saturday, July 2, 2011

Writer's Guilt: Finding That Perfect Balance

I decided to do a post devoted to writer’s guilt partly because it’s been eating away at me for quite some time and partly because I’m curious if any of you authors and aspiring authors have ever felt the same way.

What is writer’s guilt? Well, I’m happy you asked. See, I believe writer’s guilt means different things to different writers as we are all individuals with varying circumstances in life of which to feel guilty about.  Whether it be the sheer amount of time writing consumes, interference with our day jobs, personal lives, families, or guilt because we just aren’t writing, I believe we’ve all been in the same boat a time or twelve. For me, all of the foregoing have applied--and still do apply at times.

In essence, it's a constant battle between being the mom, the wife, the nine-to-fiver, and the writer.  It's a battle that is seemingly endless, but yet can be won with the right amount of balance, perseverance, and identifying the reasons behind your guilt and the most probable solutions.

Writer's Guilt and Families

Writers with families have a whole slew of guilt to contend with.  Along with the demands of our dreams, we must also try to keep up with the demands of a household which is no easy feat.  With my husband and daughter at home, I have a relatively small family compared to other writers. However, even though they’re small in numbers, my family’s needs are no where near small. There’s a fine balance between family and work and, in the end, no matter how big my dreams are, my family’s are always going to come first (which is one of the reasons why I don’t/can’t post or write as often as I’d like to).

Still, when I do squeak out "me time" and write, the guilt over taking the time to do so, seriously cuts through my productivity.  I always feel as though I should be spending more time with my daughter--watching her grow, teaching her nuggets from my relatively small pool of knowledge, or ensuring my attention is completely undivided in case she performs the random acts of cuteness she's prone to doing.  Then, of course, there are our spouses--our biggest fans.  They support our schizophrenia; they embrace our dreams; and they complain relatively little about our coming to bed at all hours of the night.  Yet, the guilt overtakes us as we know their secret sacrifices are going to go unrewarded until something comes of us and our writing.  Even though they say, it's alright, there's still a little voice inside our heads that contests that response.

Writer's Guilt and Personal LivesWhen I was writing Enigma Black (which is now in the hands of some wonderful fellow Tweeps and beta readers, God help them), for weeks on end I put myself in the zone.  By doing so, I basically didn't have much of a life at all--unless you count developing fictional lives for multiple imaginary characters as having a social life.  Friends would call me and I would cut conversations short--I detest talking on the phone even when I'm not writing.  I would receive invitations to parties on Facebook (which I was rarely checking) and  it was pretty much a 50/50 shot whether or not I would attend them.  In all, despite the occasional e-mail, text message, or my husband dragging me kicking and screaming from the house, I was not a very involved friend to say the least. 

I count myself very lucky to have the friends I do.  Being the understanding individuals that they are, they knew what I was up to and, although they were beginning to suspect that I was turning into some crazy, secluded cat lady, they respected what I was doing.  Still, no matter how many "Oh that's okays" and "Maybe next times" I heard, there was still a voice inside my head telling me what bad a friend I was being.  That's when I decided that perhaps taking mini writing breaks were both healthy and necessary. 

As writers, we tend to isolate ourselves from those around us. This is bad enough for us married writers, but for those single individuals this could potentially be incredibly detrimental to their overall mental well-being.  Human contact is important and essential for everyone--unless you're J.D. Salinger.  Take time away from your writing to visit those people who've supported you and your head-scratching passion.  By spending only a couple hours a week reciprocating their friendship, you'll not only help to erase your guilt, but you may just discover that the quality of your writing improves with a clearer conscience.

Of course, we'll see how well I follow this suggestion now that I'm working on a short story and new novel...

My writing guilts
Don't laugh at my craptastic excuse of a pie chart
I'm a writer not a graphic artist
Writer's Guilt and Day Jobs
If you're like me and are not fortunate enough to be able to live off of your writing yet, then you know how pesky those day jobs really are.  Not only are they detrimental to your writing, but those who are in professions they find unsatisfying and far below what they actually want to do with their lives, may notice their morale and productivity faltering while daydreaming about which character's life to destroy, who's going to hook up with their beloved protagonist, and which book idea of theirs is going to sell millions of copies.

Of course, as this post deals with guilt, the guilt factor kicks in when I find myself working on non-work related writing projects while I'm still on the clock.  Granted, it doesn't happen that often, but when it does, a part of me feels as though I'm committing a cardinal sin.  After all, it's my day job that supplies me with the monetary means to pay for my Internet service, laptop, household bills, compulsive shopping, and those countless books on writing in my dust-encrusted shelves  Further exacerbating my guilt is the fact that I have a very rewarding job and the good fortune of having wonderful co-workers and supportive bosses.

But, be that as it may, there are still those days where the work I do gets to me and trying to appease the whims of others bores holes into my very being. When I find that happening, I take what I describe as "mental health breaks".  These breaks consist of taking roughly ten minutes--if there's nothing pressing on my plate--to surf the Internet for materials I'm researching, check e-mail, read fellow blogger's posts, or outline future writing projects.  By doing this, not only am I giving myself a breather, but I feel as though I'm still doing something somewhat beneficial and not so insubordinate.

Writer's Guilt and Lack of Writing

This is probably one of the most common of the guilts faced by any writer.  As writers, it's ingrained in us that we must write.  The mere act of writing to a writer is as vital as blood is to the body.  It's what recharges us, motivates us, gets us through our days.  For those of us with day jobs, aside from our families, it's the one thing we look forward to after dealing with the demands of others. Writing offers us an outlet to be our own boss (well aside from those voices in our heads that just won't shut up)  and creating those worlds and ideals we wished existed. 

When we start a project, especially one that we're particularly passionate about, we write and keep writing until we can no longer feel our fingers.  Then, real life kicks in sweeping the rug out from beneath our feet. Days, even weeks, go by unrelenting in their grip on us.  For some writers, depression may kick in.  Others may feel anxious or slightly irritated (just ask my husband) by their lack of writing.  Even more writers may begin to doubt their abilities as writers in general.  It's as if we're being forced to traverse a desert without so much as a glass of water.  As each minute passes, the thirst becomes more insatiable until we begin to feel as though our lives are being sucked from our very bodies with our only means of resuscitation being through crafting the written word--this may sound a bit on the dramatic side, but being as I just came back from vacation, I can honestly say it holds a grain of truth. 

Finding a Perfect Balance

Fortunately, the solution to most of those guilts plaguing writers lies within the ability to balance our lives.  As writers with restrictive schedules, it's up to us to be able to find ways to balance both our responsibilities as well as our dreams.  Though some days this is easier said than done, it's this delicate balancing act that can make all the difference in the world to our demeanors.  Take time and reflect on your schedule.  Is it honestly as full as you think it is?  Chances are you may be able to sneak some writing in on your lunch break, right after the kids are put to bed, during their various sporting event practices, or before your spouse gets home.  If you have plans immediately after work or throughout the weekend, work it in at night (if your body allows it).  The bottom line is that there are always ways to work writing into your schedule even if it's only for a couple minutes (sometimes my best material comes from my shortest writing times, while my worst comes from those days where I have literally hours to play with). 

Remember, EVERYONE takes breaks.  Just because you skip writing for a day doesn't mean you have any less potential than anybody else.  I know that there are those writers who say you must write something every single day, but to that I have to ask why? Taking a day off to focus on something else other than writing can be quite refreshing and can completely recharge your battery for the next day.  It's when you impose those further restrictions upon yourself and begin to fall behind on your expectations that guilt and defeat kick in.  Do what you can, go with the flow and know that with some keen planning and a little leniency, you'll be able to control the guilt from consuming you.

Okay, fellow writers, what are some of your biggest writing guilts?

My next post will be a little more on the fun/lighthearted side.  I hope to see you there!


Sarah Pearson said...

Lack of writing is my biggest guilt. I'm lucky enough to have plenty of time at the moment (balanced with no money, of course, I'm looking for work). I feel like if I'm not spending every spare minute writing, I'm wasting it, and I'll regret it when I find a job. Ridiculous I know, but tell that to my stupid brain :)

Jen said...

All of the above, except I don't have a "day" my family is my day job :) and I try to schedule time to write, but kids are so unpredictable it often doesn't work that way.

Ryan Schneider said...

Great topic, Sarah. I have had many weekends off work during which I planned to write at least 8 hours a day both Sat & Sun. And then didn't write at all. I psyched myself out and did nothing. Oh well.

I think if you're a writer at heart, you will find time to write.

And remember that writing is more than sitting at the computer and pecking at the keys. I'm essentially always writing. While driving. While trying to fall asleep. While in the shower. Especially in the shower. I need a water-proof scuba diver's dry board in there. Jeeze.

Sara Furlong-Burr said...

Sarah-Trust me, if I didn't need to have a job and could stay at home all day and write, I would! It sounds like our brains are in synch. :-)

Jen-I think raising children is one of the toughest jobs out there and I only have one, lol. If I try to schedule time to write, I never adhere to it. That's something I need to work on it.

Ryan--Thank you! Oh my gosh! Ideas come to me at the craziest of times as well. I swear I need note pads everywhere I go. It's insane. I agree, if writing is in your blood, the time will be there no matter what. Thanks for dropping by! :-)

N. Angail said...

I def. have writer's guilt. When i don't write, I feel like I'm neglecting my craft, when I write a lot I feel like I'm neglecting my kids. Thats a horrible feeling either way.