Writer Guilt


This last weekend I spent a lot of time doing non-work, non-chore things. I spent time with the kids, I worked on some crochet, I read a bunch, watched the playoffs with friends, and watched the first two of the LOTR with the kids (their first time). By the third day, I had started to have an anxiety attack. I kept twitching and feeling like I should get up and do stuff. I have a huge list, and of course the writing is never done. That’s the nature of the work. You can finish a story or a book for a time, but usually you must revisit it, if only to copy edit, and then you must start the next one. What that means is that you have to discipline yourself to not work as much as you have to discipline yourself to work.

Writers don’t work 9-5. Or rather, some probably do, but most have better times to work. And writers don’t necessarily stop writing for lunch or for breaks or for the 5 o’clock chime. We write until the wordcount is done, or until the deadline is made, and sometimes we get a ton of words down and none are useful and we have to start all over again. Sometimes the story changes direction and we have to revise a bunch. But the deadlines remain and you end up working late or on weekends. But even if you do manage to work 9-5 or 8-4 or whatever, you can’t turn your creative mind off. You end up thinking about the story all the time and rarely get away from it. Or another story comes along and blindsides you and you have to write it down and it wants some head time for thinking . . . . The point is, you never really leave the job.

Somewhere in there, you also have to do life stuff. Run errands, pay bills, raise kids, cook, clean, maintain the house, and then of course, the rest of living life. It’s so easy when you’re a writer not to have a structured day. One where you insist that the writing time is sacrosanct and only this time is allowed for other things.  After all, so many places are only open during the day. You need to call the plumber and go to the bank and the post office and get the oil changed and and and and. There is no end.

So that brings me back to this weekend. I planned to do several things. I planned to do the LOTR with the kids, and I planned to do some chores. Because my husband is living away from us (working out of state), I’m temporarily a single mom with a day job and writing. I’ve learned that means not to make plans so much. Not to expect so much from myself. Part of that is time and part of that is emotion. I have to struggle sometimes to get myself to do things, even the stuff I want to do, because we’ve been married for 23 years and it’s not that easy living apart. Harder than I thought, in fact, and it’s been going on now for over 9 months.

I did get a number of chores done, along with the other stuff that cropped up. Of course, several fixit projects also cropped up and I did not get those done. They will get in line behind a whole slew of other things. Or is that slough? I don’t know.  (looked it up. Slew is correct. Slough would be a swamp or fen. Random fyi). The point is, neither the writing nor the stuff to do ever ends. The writer must draw lines in the sand. The healthy writer must decide that this time is going to be life time/family time/regeneration time/fun time. No work, no chores, and most importantly, no guilt. Maybe the writer brain doesn’t turn off, but that doesn’t mean you can’t turn yourself to other things.

Of course taking that advice can be tough. I’m still roiling in my stomach from what I didn’t get done and what my idiot guilt is saying I should have got done. What I need to do is establish a written schedule, one that I can keep, and try to keep it. I would hope that in doing so, I could get rid of the guilty anxiety of not doing everything and not doing enough.

I have to remind myself that the work reloads ad infinitum and I must reload myself if I’m going to stay sane and healthy (notice how I separate those two as if they were, in fact, separate entities. See how I fool myself? Also, there’s no need to point out that staying sane may not be an issue for me, since my sanity is ever in question.)

How do you organize yourself? Does it work for you?





21 comments to Writer Guilt

  • Ah… professional guilt — nearly as constant a motivator as Fraud Factor Fear!

    I find it really useful to create a to-do list for each day, with ***reasonable*** expectations. If I complete everything on my list, then I owe it to myself to do fun things. If I don’t do everything on my list, then the entertainment/personal project/me-time stuff gets tabled.

    Burning out is just as costly as lack of motivation…

  • Like MK above, I’m a list-maker. I make lists and lists (and occasionally lists of lists). I have one sitting on my desk at work. I’m realizing now that I should have put “read and comment on MW” on it so I could have crossed it off. Oh well. The way I keep writing is to have one day week that is dedicated to it. It’s a weekday, so I’m not fighting the “it’s the weekend I must rest” thing. Hasn’t been going swimmingly lately ’cause I’ve just not been writing, but usually, when I can get into a rythym, that works.

  • MW is messing up again, timing out on comments. Suggestion — copy your comments before hitting Post Comments. I have told the webmaster, so hopefully we have the bugs fumigated soon!

    So, trying again, and much shorter —

    DI, I have a weekly and daily calendar open on my desk every day. I try to follow it. I keep count of word and page count and appointments so I don’t get lost in the words forget a doctor’s appointment. Yeah. Done that.

    Here’s hoping that your family gets closer together soon,. Living apart is miserable.

  • NOTE — timing out is happening in as little as 15 seconds, so recommend you type elswhere and then insert comments. Webmaster notified again!

  • Organizing? What’s that again? *laughs* I keep calendars and notes on my phone and rely on the assistance of my guys to keep it all together. I also make folders in my Gmail and store important messages there so that I can find them easily again.

  • Ken

    I’m something of a hybrid. I do make lists and I’ll let you in on a little secret…I kind of like making lists. BUT, I don’t refer to them as often as I should once they are done. There’s a part of me that rebels against the list.

    Organization breaks down into stuff I have to do, stuff I have to do soon, and stuff I want to do. I’ve got a REALLY full day. I’ve got a full time job, a goat farm (translation: another full time job, only with goats), a family, a “To Read” shelf that is happily full to overflowing, a house to clean, dogs to play with and train (*shudders*…bored border collie puppy), and all the other stuff that makes up life. And I’ve only got 24 hours to do it in. Oh, and sleep. Sleep is good. All told, on the weekdays, I’ve got about an hour to write, maybe an hour and a half a day.

    Since I am still dubiously fortunate enough to not suffer from the problem of deadlines, I decided to forget the whole “Minimum word count” thing and focus on the repetition. I make sure that I write every day and I don’t sweat the word count.

    And it’s worked for me. I’ve written every day since coming to this decision on Jan 2nd. I keep track of everything (date, what I’m working on, word count, times, etc) in a spreadsheet. Off in the distance I can hear Mindy raising a fist in the air with a resounding “Yes!!” at the mention of spreadsheets 🙂 Even though the option is available to me, I’ve never stopped at a single word and it doesn’t feel like work, or like I’m forcing myself. There have been times when I haven’t been the most enthusiastic about stopping and writing, life has it’s own agendas and shiny stuff to distract me, but I get up there and write and even if it’s only for half an hour, I feel better for having done it.

    I’ve also reaped unexpected benefits. In looking at patterns, I’ve come to realise that waking up and then sitting down to write is a complete waste of time for me. I need at least an hour (and some coffee) to get my Knowledge Nut working beyond gross motor skills and reflex…I use that hour to do the daily chores (Feed-n-water the critters, etc…stuff I’ve got to do). By then I’m awake enough to get the creative juices flowing.

    That’s my method and so far it’s worked for me.

    Oh, and let me echo Faith’s statement about your family getting closer together soon. That’s hard.

  • Organization? What’s that? I’m always in a state of being behind on something and I’m constantly feeling guilty about it. When I write, the housework suffers. When I go to catch up on the housework, the writing suffers. When I do music or craftwork, everything else suffers. And when I try to split my time up for all of it, I feel like I’m not getting enough accomplished on any of it. On the upside, the writing is also fun time for me.

  • I try. That’s about all I can manage right now. And I try not to beat myself up for taking breaks.

    I really like the idea of making to-do lists. There’s a nifty little program, Doomi that is great for doing it digitally.

    Hope things get better for you soon!

  • Mindy: It’s that whole reasonable expectation that usually evade me. But you are most definitely right on burning out. I fear that’s where I’m close to. But I had started well yesterday with a schedule, and then got a spanner in the works today. I hadn’t worked out what happens if a day goes to hell. I need a contingency plan.

    Pea_Faerie: Lists are good. But I also need a bit of an organizational system.

    Thanks Faith: I think the problem has partly been working out the separate bits of my life in terms of day job, writing, and regular life. I can’t seem to keep the calendar straight.

    Misty: Guy assistance is useful. Wish I had some of that. Kids are helpful these days, but sigh. One day things will be normal again.

  • Ken: I suspect because of life changes, my schedule habits have changed and have to change. I’ve just not figured them out. i used to be able to wake up early and work, but that’s reverting to an earlier time when I’m more awake at night and more interested in working at night. Of course the kids still have to get up early and I still have the day job. I’m trying lists. I’m trying to work out a house chore schedule so that I can schedule them out across the week and have a regular day for them. Plus pencil in the other stuff that changes per week. The major issue as I mentioned to Mindy above, is what to do when the day goes to hell. Like I get sick, or the kids get sick, or some other event occurs. Got suggestions?

    Daniel: What you said. Right there. That.

    Laura: I’m totally looking into Doomi. And trying not to beat myself up.

  • I’m trying not to laugh at the name of that program… 😉

  • Daniel, I know, right? My head keeps tacking on “oh baby oh baby”

  • Don’t look to me for answers on how to get everything done. I do what I can and get to the rest when possible! 

    Mindy – I know this isn’t your spreadsheet post, but: To avoid having to sort and subtotal manually, use the pivot table feature. (Note – directions are for Excel 2007) Highlight the first three columns (Date, Amount, Source), then click Insert/Pivot table. With a little playing, you can display each Source with its total, with each month’s earnings listed below it. Or, you can display each month’s subtotal with the source and amount below (you’ll have to highlight the Date field and select Group/Month in the pivot table tools).
    Older versions have pivot tables, too, but might take a bit more fiddling to show you what you want.

  • BTW, your Crosspointe books look kinda right up our alley, but I noticed they weren’t available on Amazon for download. Didn’t know if that was new or if you knew about it. The links to Amazon Kindle go to dead pages.

  • Organization does not come naturally to me, but it is something I’ve learned over the years. In all my different jobs, my bosses, my employees, and my students have all rated “organized” as one of my strengths, which used to surprise the heck out of me, but now just makes me smile.

    Don’t know how useful this will be to anyone else–it’s not a system, really, just some things I’ve learned the hard way.

    First of all, I do now make lists. Very specific, detailed lists of everything I need to accomplish in the upcoming week. Work related, family related, housework related, errands, going out with friends, every single thing I can think of that I need or want to do. (The good thing is that many of these are repeated every week, so the list doesn’t take too long to write after the first 2-3.)

    Second is to prioritize these. I generally divide them into 3 categories–Must Do, Should Do, Want to Do.

    Third, overestimate how long each will take. Then see which things have to be completed on a certain day–appointments, meetings, classes I teach, etc. Next is due dates. When do I have to those papers graded?

    Fourth, go through the list and put each task on specific day, keeping in mind how long each task will take and trying whenever possible to complete tasks at least one day before the absolute drop-dead due date. That way, when I have to make adjustments to the schedule which I do every single week, I’m usually not in a panic because I had at least one extra day built into the original schedule.

    Fifth, stick to this as much as possible. I look at the list at the beginning and end of each day, making adjustments as things get added, and sometimes moving “Want to Do” things onto the following week.

    Two things I do to avoid burnout or meltdown: I always schedule one fun thing in the Must Do category every day, and I make sure I have a block of time each week when I’m not allowed to worry about or complete anything on my list (unless maybe it’s a fun “want to do” that I won’t see as a chore). I learned long ago that if I don’t allow myself some unscheduled time to just do whatever comes up, I become much less productive and happy. Generally I try to make that a weekend, but that doesn’t always work out. Still, I keep at least one day, or two half-days free and clear of things to do except for 3-4 weeks out of the year (the beginning and end of each semester).

  • Razziecat

    I was going to say that I’m not a list-maker, but that’s not entirely true. I make grocery lists, I make lists at work for certain tasks, and I make lists of people, places and things for stories. When it comes to making a list of household tasks, or writing tasks, I rebel. I don’t have enough time to write as it is, and the time I’d prefer to spend writing, I have to be at my day job. Sometimes I spend late night hours writing, but I’m trying to get more sleep. So, my life is split into “writing” and “everything else,” and it’s a constant tug-of-war.

  • Ken

    Diana–Suggestions: The old plan is sort of the new plan in that you start shifting stuff off (or on) that Need to Do list. When the day goes to hell, you really have to apply Occam’s Razor. Your Need to Do list should shrink while the Need to do Soon list grows. Personally, I’ve found that the Want to Do list changes very little.

    What you need to remind yourself of is that crossing off stuff on the Need to Do list is a Big Deal. Even if the list has shrunk because you or the sprouts have the creepin’ crud, getting that stuff done merits a reward from the Want to Do list.

    Here’s how I keep from getting overwhelmed: I keep the big picture in mind only as a reference. My focus isn’t “Oh gods, I’ve got 23 things to do before Lunch”, rather I look at the first thing and I think. “I have this one thing to do. I can do that.” and I do it. Then I move onto the next one thing and I do that. Rinse, repeat. It’s like that old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Just DO NOT forget to reward yourself for the jobs well done…you’ve earned them after all 🙂

  • I always try to write during commute since I have to catch a bus then a train to work. It works if I don’t fall asleep.