This one is for my fellow authors: those of us who feel fulfilled, and yet guilty, for writing fiction. Yep: today I wanted to address the topic of writer’s guilt. Chances are you’ve experienced it just as I have.
Feeling guilty for pursuing a career as an author is something that’s always plagued me. While writer’s guilt is related in some ways to the inner editor (my inner editor is a donkey named Eeyore), it’s actually quite distinct.
The inner editor tells you you’re no good at writing, and you’re wasting your time because everything you produce is slop.
Writer’s guilt is knowing you write well, but feeling that you’re selfish, idealistic, and irresponsible for writing when you could be doing something more profitable and practical with your time.
GUILT AND GRADUATE SCHOOL
The guilt hit me hard during my years in graduate school. I excelled in my classes, but the thing about being a graduate student fellow is that you have tons of responsibilities.
- Teaching, grading, lesson-planning
- Planning your department’s conference
- Researching your work and writing papers
- Trying to present your work at conferences
- Reading to prepare for your classes and going to class
Graduate school is not the kind of job you can leave at the office and not think about when you’re not on campus. There was always something work-related I could have been doing when I took an hour or two to write my fiction.
Now that I’ve left my department without my PhD (but fluent in Spanish and with a Master’s, which I’m hoping will somehow help me find a job) I’m seeking a meaningful career, and every minute I’m not job hunting, I feel as though I should be (even though there are only so many hours in a row you can job hunt before you go crazy).
We writers all know we likely will never support ourselves financially from our fiction.
We all know we need to give priority, urgency, and dedication to our careers–whatever those may be–and write in our “off-time.”
HOW TO FIGHT THE GUILT
Here are some things I do/did to alleviate my writer’s guilt.
- I timed out how long to write. I did this in graduate school: I could afford to spend an hour, maybe an hour and a half a day writing, so I made sure I didn’t spend more than that writing. I kept a careful eye on the clock, and when writing time was over, it was over. (This helped me get the most out of my time…. I had a “deadline” to meet.)
- I kept my work life organized with daily to-d0 lists. This prevented me from dropping the ball anywhere, gave me strength to stop writing when writing time was up, and helped me to understand that I was fine taking some time to write during the morning because I was getting everything else done as well.
- I used additional writing time as a reward. When I ended up with spare time in the evening, after finishing everything I knew I needed to get done for the day, I let myself write more. But that wasn’t a regular thing: work, of course, came first.
- I ignored the idiots who implied writing fiction was a waste of my time. Because I knew it wasn’t. It fulfilled me and made me ponder life’s big questions, which meant it wasn’t a waste even if I never published. Since I was treating fiction as a hobby–I had to–there was nothing to feel guilty about. I wrote instead of watching lots of tv. (I watch more tv now, I admit. It’s a problem…. One I’m fixing day by day.)
- I focused on the benefits of having limited writing time, proving to myself I wasn’t writing “too much.” I didn’t burn out on a project, for one. I had time to let a scene settle in my brain before I moved past it to write the next one. And I was able to feel accomplished and productive in other areas of my life besides my fiction.
It’s a strange phenomenon, how we tend to feel guilty for pursuing our dreams and doing something we love just because it doesn’t pay the bills. But many of us know that guilt all too well.
All of us would love to support ourselves financially writing fiction. The fact is, most of us have to treat writing fiction as a hobby, and that’s all right. Devoting some time to “hobbies” is not something to condemn or feel bad about, no matter what your scumbag brain tells you.
When you have to treat fiction as a hobby and you do just that, writing an hour in the morning or ninety minutes at night, that’s not something to feel guilty about.
I’m not sure where this guilt comes from. I think mine is rooted in my perfectionism. Sometimes it’s hard to justify spending time writing when I could use that time to perfect a work project or get a head start on a different one.
Still, when my work is of great quality, I’m meeting all deadlines, and I’m getting no complaints from anyone concerning my work performance, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fiction time.
When I am putting in multiple job applications a day, going on interviews, and actively seeking work, writing time is a good stress relief. It’s a sanity stabilizer. Job hunting is hard, and draining, and receiving multiple rejections a day beats a person down.
If writing–right now, that means running my blog and editing/ formatting “Writing for You”–helps me recharge and decompress in order to “keep on keeping on” in the job hunt, then writing is actually beneficial to my work life.
In what ways have you faced writer’s guilt? What do you tell yourself–and others–when people suggest you’re foolish for pursuing your fiction?
This has been one of my more personal posts, but I hope it resonates with a lot of fellow writers and alleviates the guilt! If you enjoyed this post, you might also find Lisa England’s guest post about perfectionism an inspiring read.