Doing Away with Writer's Guilt

Guilt is an artificial barrier.
Guilt is an artificial barrier.

Last week, I spent all of 15 minutes revising the novel that I’m supposed to be moving through at a rate of one chapter a week. (It was supposed to be half an hour, but I got a work call that truncated it.)

Last week was a terrible one where work was concerned. Actually, the last two weeks were. I’ve got a health issue that requires me to minimize stress – and sometimes it seems like the only thing I have control over is my writing, and whether I am willing to sacrifice it for an hour of relaxation so that I’ll have enough energy to do it all over again the next morning.

I don’t feel particularly guilty about my dismal progress on my novel last week. I knew the workload was temporary and that there was an end in sight (one of the courts I cover released a monstrous load of cases, the most it’s ever released, in fact, and I don’t expect it to happen again in the near future.) It’s not so much that writing adds stress to my life, but that it’s not restful. I have continued to journal every day to keep the emotional pipes cleared, and so that I don’t have to write the dreaded NONE on my work spreadsheet in the “writing” column.

When I was a teenager, I was crazy disciplined. I wrote every morning before school, or first thing when I got home. There were lots of nights and days that I didn’t want to, but I did it anyway. Still, my brain was mostly on auto pilot when I was in high school, and that left quite a bit of space in my head for writing daily. My current job is a lot more demanding, with a lot of unexpected tasks popping up and much of it drawing from the same well that my creative work comes from. (Money for my creativity = yay!, an empty creative well = boo!)

I find myself wondering what happened to my discipline, and I realize that part of it is just that I’ve mellowed out with age. I don’t have something to prove to myself, or to anyone, right now. And although I still feel a twinge of regret when I feel as if I could have or should have accomplished more in my writing career by now, most days I don’t feel as if I’m no longer a writer if I don’t get to my current project that day. My own identity as a writer is secure.

In college, my best friend from elementary and secondary school and I drifted apart. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say the drift that had been happening for a while finally made us so distant that crossing it seemed less and less possible. I wrote journal entries and poems about her, I sent her letters and mix tapes that she didn’t respond to. Once in a while she would get in touch with me, through the mail, through email, through IM. These attempts were always full of self-flagellation for not being better about keeping in touch. I told her to get rid of the guilt; it wasn’t worth it. In the end, we didn’t invite each other to our weddings where once we had said we would be each other’s maids of honor. I’ve always felt that it was her guilt that ultimately kept us apart – it just kept building up until it seemed insurmountable. When all along, I had not ever held it against her. It was an artificial and self-inflicted barrier between us.

This is why I don’t let writing guilt affect me the way that it used to. Sure, a little bit of guilt around the edges is helpful in prodding me to the computer when I know I should take advantage of a bit of time, space, and quiet that has come my way. But it’s never helpful when it creates feelings of worthlessness or a barrier that makes it even harder to return to my WiP. So, I sucked at writing my novel last week.

I’m over it.

This week will be better.