Last Thursday I briefly mentioned guilt as a barrier to writing, and I’d like to expand upon that a little bit.
When I started writing back in my mid-to-late teens, I mostly did it for the fun of making up stories. I may have had some dreams about writing something for publication, or even of writing my own TV series one day, but for the most part it was just as a kind of lonely fun when I wasn't doing homework or chores.
But as I've grown older, I've become more and more concerned with writing things for publication, rather than purely for fun. Because of GUILT. But why should I feel guilty?
First off, remember how I referred to writing as lonely fun? Yeah, when you’re holed up in your room with a do not disturb sign, switching off your router or setting your Skype status to Invisible, you’re basically cutting yourself off from your friends and your family. Now, maybe your friends and family understand and are willing to accept your anti-social tendencies in the name of your craft, or maybe they just don’t get it. Either way, it doesn’t stop YOU feeling guilty about not spending enough time with them, or taking time to chat online, or pick up the phone.
Second, there’s that little voice in the back of your head that’s constantly judging you, asking why you’re not doing something more productive instead of wasting your time writing some silly stories. There are always chores to be done around the house - like doing the dishes, tidying one’s room, or putting out the rubbish - or if you have a job you might have work you brought home to be getting on with before anything else. If you’re like me, and you’re unemployed, finding a job IS your job, and that should come first in your daily to-do list.
But the thing is, by the time you've got all the other stuff done and dusted, you've depleted your energy reserves. The last thing you might feel like doing is spending another couple of hours working in front of a computer screen.
The upshot of this is that you come to feel that if you’re not writing to get published then it’s really a waste of time you could be spending doing other things. And even if you ARE writing to get published, do you really think you’ll write something anyone will buy? Or even if you do, do you really think you earn enough out of it to be worth the time you spent on it?
A lot of this, I think, can be mitigated with some good time management.
Instead of feeling bad about not spending time with friends or family, set aside some time for doing just that. I usually take a break on Sundays and just spend the day chilling out in the living room with my mum, to make up for the times during the week when she hardly sees me outside of my room. As for my friends, I see people at GUGS one night and one afternoon out of the week - which is about all the time I can afford to spend on a social life in my current circumstances anyway. I’m not great at socializing online in general, so the guilt I feel about not chatting with people over Skype is an entirely separate kind of guilt from my guilt as a writer.
As for writing taking time out of my day which I could be using to do other stuff? Give yourself a timetable and do your best to stick to it. I set aside a couple of hours during the morning which are specifically for writing, I also set aside another block of time for jobsearch - ideally a couple of hours around lunchtime and another couple of hours in the evening - and during the times I haven’t set aside for specific tasks I’ll make myself available for doing chores.
(Yeah, I know, sometimes two hours just doesn't seem like enough, because you still have more you want to write. Or maybe writing at specific times just doesn't work for you; you write when the mood takes you, and if you’re not feeling it you can’t get any writing done. There’s probably another blog topic in there somewhere, hmmm...)
I still haven’t found a way around that little ‘if you’re going to write, you should be writing to get published’ voice. All I can really say to that voice is this:
Plenty of published authors still write what they refer to in America as ‘trunk novels’. They might never publish them, or maybe they’ll adapt some aspects of them for some later project, but that’s not the point. The point is, they had an idea they were excited about enough to write a story, and they wrote it. If nothing else, they exercised their writing muscles and maybe learned what not to do when writing future projects. Writing, like many things, has to be kept in practice to achieve successful results. Which means writing a bunch until you come up with something that can be polished through editing into a marketable story. In the meantime, stop judging me and let me write, damn you!