Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Guilt, Guilt, Guilt

Right - hands up who feels guilty because you're reading this instead of writing?

Something no one tells you about when you become a writer is that guilt becomes a big presence in your life, if not your constant companion.  OK, I know there are some writers out there who clock on at their desk at the same hour each day, reach their word target (and a little bit more, just for the fun of it), then close down their computer safe in the knowledge that they've done their writerly bit and can now while away the remaining hours eating peeled grapes from the navel of a member of the Chippendales (or whatever it is that floats their boat).  They don't feel guilty.

I am not one of those writers. 

I feel guilty almost all the time.  It's awful.  It's childish.  If I'm not writing I feel I'm bunking off school - even if I've hit my word target earlier on in the day.  Even now as I'm blogging guilt is niggling away around the edges, although blogging is part of me being a writer.  (It's legit, okay?  No, didn't work, still feeling guilty.)

A writing friend told me how she feels guilty if she sits down with a book during the day.  Yup, me too, even though reading is part of being a writer, both to stimulate one's creativity, and to keep up with the current market.  Another writer friend moans that if she were a 9-5 employee job she wouldn't feel guilty at lolling around at the weekend, yet she does - despite keeping impressive working hours during the week.

Does anyone out there not feel guilty about their writing?  And if so, how the heck do you manage it?


JO said...

Thank goodness it's not just me! thanks for this - guilt is such a waste of energy - I wish I knew a way to dismiss it!

Sally Zigmond said...

Oh my goodness, yes, Sarah. You're talking to the Queen of Guilt here. I even feel guilty when I'm locked away writing and not doing housework, engaging with friends and family. I'm even guilty about feeling guilty.

Anyone know the cure?

Jim Murdoch said...

In my last novel the protagonist invents a word, ‘guilst’: guilst is to guilt as angst is to anxiety. I feel guilst constantly. I have nothing especially to feel guilty about and yet this guiltlike feeling is constantly with me. I am answerable to no one. If I never wrote another word I have nothing to feel guilty about indeed if I dropped dead tomorrow my output to date is greater than many authors even if I never achieved their levels of fame. But, assuming there is an afterlife, I would enter it feeling guilty that I had not made more of my time when on earth. I view guilt or guilst like my poor eyesight or that patch of dry skin that never quite seems to go away, it’s an extra burden, an irritation I could do without but you learn to work around it. I woke up dreaming of a friend I’ve not spoken to in about four years and I’m sitting here now feeling terribly, terribly sad but I’m still working: e-mails needs to be read and answered, blogs and Facebook checked, comments responded to and all of that needs to be cleared in the next two hours so I can begin to work this afternoon. You grit your teeth, gird up your loins or whatever you need to do and get on with it. Guilt is like friction but friction can be overcome – you just apply a bit more force. Or have another cup of real coffee before you start. Whatever greases the wheels of productivity. Some days I get pains in my wrists and have to wear a wrist support so you wear a wrist support, you don’t stop writing. And if I only produce half as much that day that’s a whole lot more than if I lay down to it.

wannabe a writer said...

I think women feel guilty if they are doing something for themselves whatever it is. If guilt is also a writer's thing then we have given ourselves a double dose.

I feel guilty if I'm writing because I'm sure there are plenty of other things I should be doing, ie housework, cooking, entertaining the children, paperwork. If I'm reading its even worse.

Funny though, I don't think my husband ever feels guilty when he goes off to play golf.

I just think that guilt is in our genes and we have to find a way to shut it in a box and keep the lid tightly shut.


Chris Stovell said...

So much guilt, so little time. At least I'm not alone!

Sarah Duncan said...

I think there should be a guilt survivors club for us all to join.

I was wondering - is it because writing is usually something that gets done at home that we feel guilty about it? What if we hired offices and worked 9-5; would we feel guilty then? I know it's not practical for most people, but if it was, would the guilt go? Anyone tried it?

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Yes, I'm guilty of being plagued with the guilt trip, too. In those moments I tell myself to go and get a real job. Right now though, I'm suffering from angst from various quarters, which has elbowed the 'not writing guilt' out of the way and I don't feel guilty about anything, merely anxious. It's a great feeling.

Liz Fielding said...

Nope. You've got me nailed.

Eryl said...

I was brought up by a catholic mother so suffered from an underlying feeling of guilt most of my life. I felt guilty for not keeping the house clean enough – whatever that is, for not going out to work, for going out to work, for doing a philosophy degree (how could that help me contribute to the economy?), for doing a writing degree (who did I think I was?), and so on. I have now managed to pretty much rid myself of this by, I think, examining why? What did I believe was expected of me? Who was I trying to please? It took about five years of quite hard thinking, but it was totally worth it. I might do a blog post on it now you've got me thinking about it again, maybe I can help others deal with their own feelings of guilt.

Penny said...

I'd advise retirement, Sarah, except that writing already IS your job plus you're far too young yet! Still, the realisation time is far too precious to be wasted [e.g. on dusting] is never wasted, if you see what I mean.

On no account allow guilt to squeeze out the blog :-)

Sarah Duncan said...

Hmm Fiona, not sure which I'd rather have, guilt or anxiety. Both pretty stultifying - hope things improve soon for you.

I must admit I never feel guilty about not doing housework, but writing/not writing brings it on big time. Will have to do more hard thinking as Eryl suggests.

Penny, thanks! I feel I'm def not too young to retire, but bank account says otherwise.

womagwriter said...

Ooh, no, no, no. I don't feel guilty when I'm not writing. I feel good when I AM writing and proud when I've completed a good writing session, but I refuse to feel guilty if I don't write.

Writing's not my day job - I choose to do it. So if I choose not to do any one evening, and instead go to the pub/watch TV/go for a run/read a book instead, then that's fine - it's my choice and feeling guilty about having chosen not to do something is not healthy at all.

That's not to say I don't find myself justifying to myself why it is I've chosen not to write on a free evening...!

Lorna F said...

Yes, guilt is the default state for me too - I was particularly struck by you saying you feel guilty when you spend time reading. Snap!

Sarah Duncan said...

Good for you Kath.

Lorna, it's strange about reading and feeling guilty. I never used to, it's only since writing.