Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | August 9, 2011

Writing Guilt-Free

Sunset, Long Beach Island, NJ

It’s summer vacation time. I hope you have had or are going to enjoy a wonderful one! I did. And I urge you, no matter where you are in your writing process, to relax and make it a true vacation. You deserve it.

Many writers find the act of writing — and reading, for that matter — an escape, a way to release the stresses and overwhelming anxieties of everyday life by delving into someone else’s life and problems or into the imaginary. That’s a marvelous thing. As a teacher, I introduced journal writing to my students as an acceptable way to release anger and other pent-up feelings, as a way to consider problems and solutions, as a way to focus conflicting thoughts or release creativity, and more.

Seagulls on the Surf City beach

Writing has many benefits for the writer, but the writing process can also become an additional source of stress through guilt. Don’t let that happen to you!

When I retired from teaching and began seriously pursuing a second career as a writer, I sought out helpful advice from published writers, agents, and editors through writing groups, conventions, and conferences. A number of these experts, along with books I read about writing, proclaimed that a writer must write every day. I’ve always had trouble with this axiom. I cringe each time I hear it. And for a while, I felt a good deal of guilt because I could not adhere to it.

Sunrise, Long Beach Island, NJ

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that writing every day is bad or wrong. On the contrary, it’s a great practice for those who can stick with it. In fact, many writers need the discipline of writing every day and/or writing a certain number of pages a day. But for some writers, like me, that process doesn’t work well, adding unnecessary stress and guilt to what should be an enjoyable occupation.

Any mother, especially a working mother, can tell tales of days when she could not find a minute to take a deep breath, let alone a half hour to write. And there are days of illness, both personal and family, that preclude writing. And hundreds of other obligations and unforeseen circumstances, as well as holidays and vacations.

I used to feel guilty about not writing on such days, a feeling that heaped even more fuel on the already well-stoked stress furnace. However, as I listened to more writers and read more books and articles about writing, I realized several things:

  • Writing is an individual process, and no writer’s process works perfectly for another writer.
  • Not all writers actually write every day.
  • Guilt is unhealthy and counterproductive.

Surf at Surf City, NJ

I decided I had to let go of guilt. I had to find my own process, to do what worked for me, and that did not include the absolute necessity of writing every day. Writing every day just does not work for me. Following my own schedule does. My productivity has not suffered. In the last six years, I’ve completed drafts of three novels, two novellas, three short stories, and a number of poems. I’ve also edited three books and many shorter works.

So take your vacation, take a break from writing, and return refreshed and recharged and eager to plunge back into your writing. Take photos. Hope you enjoy these glimpses of my vacation! To see more photos, visit my personal blog.

A long trek from the ocean

 

What parts of the writing life or writing process have caused stress and guilt for you? Share and let go of the guilt!

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Responses

  1. You’re absolutely right! Oh, but habits are hard to break. I can’t even go to the doctor’s office, sit in the waiting room (knowing there’ll be a wait, as always) without some aspect of my writing brought along in a tote bag (editing one of my short stories, novel chapter, outline,etc). They say it takes 6 weeks to create/break a habit. Maybe I should give it a try. Also, the picture you included must be Wildwood (huge beach!)

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  2. Thanks, Gerri. I’m glad you found something of value in the post.

    I have to say that I don’t see anything wrong with writing or editing in the waiting room! I sometimes do that too, although I more often use the time to read. And if I forget to take anything with me, I use the time to toss story ideas around in my mind.

    I do think we all need to take a break from writing now and again, and we definitely don’t need to beat up on ourselves if we just can’t find time to write.

    And surprise! That’s not Wildwood. That’s the beach at Surf City on Long Beach Island. The beach is a lot wider this year.

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  3. So glad to finally read a piece about leaving self-guilt at the station, when writers aren’t writing. I’d been off the PC almost a month prior to July 5, when I left for an extended vacation that included my wedding. SInce I’ve been home and settling into my new lifestyle, I had some writer’s block issues and such, but I settled them by reading other posts and blogs via my peers, joined 2 other writer’s groups, and just plain read about everybody else’s successes, setbacks, etc. I’ve learned so much these past few weeks, and I’m grateful to virtually learn more about my craft. Kudos, J! PS: I just don’t want to do be writing post-humously…

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    • Lol. That would be challenging, Susan!

      Seriously, guilt is never productive. When circumstances prevent writing, we have to accept that, let go of guilt, and get back to the writing as soon as we can. If my words have helped you in any way, then they were well worth writing. Which is the whole point, isn’t it?

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  4. Sometimes it’s the other way around for me. I let the other obligations of life take precedence, and feel guilty about the time I take to write. I’m really working on that one.:-[

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    • You’re right, Paula. I’ve experienced that source of guilt too, as I’m sure many writers do. My home suffers from a lack of cleaning and my family has put up with a number of late dinners when I’m deep into writing!

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