Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Writer's Guilt

When I was a kid, I didn't dare get caught sitting—or heaven forbid, lying—on the couch anytime the sun was up or there would be hell to pay. I cringed and broke into a cold sweat every time the back door squeaked open. Always afraid it would be my father walking in, ready to ask that all-too-incriminating question, "What are you doing?"

Eventually I learned how to jump up without a sound and scramble to look busy. Maybe I'd move some stuff around on the shelf or re-fold the blanket or rearrange some pillows. Or, even better, slip out of sight before he made it into the family room. I spent a lot of time in the barn or in the woods or down by the river, but inevitably the sun would get too hot or the winds to chilly and I would seek the peace of the family room couch. Always laden with guilt.

Perhaps that's why I have a hard time letting myself be a writer. I mean hours can go by and I get only a few words on the page. I get a cup of tea. Bounce my magic glitter ball a few times. Clean out my fountain pen. And think...

Then I sit in my rocking chair for a while, with the laptop on my knee. And think...

Then I watch a little tennis or golf or show jumping. Or maybe I'll surf the net a while. And think...

I can hear my father's voice so clearly, "When are you going to get a real job?" Of course teaching high school was never a real job to him, either, but I did that for almost 10 years. Still, I can't help but feel guilty that there isn't more to show for all this thinking and tea drinking and web-surfing and magic glitter ball bouncing. My head gets it, but old habits definitely die hard. I have to keep reminding myself that all this nothing is what allows me to create something. And for that matter, writing is not a finite process. There is no true beginning and end. It is with you always—creating, composing, revising. Just because the words are not pounding across my computer screen a mile a minute does not mean I'm not writing. Hell, I'm writing in my sleep!

So I guess when I really need to feel more "active" and ease that writer's guilt, I should take my writing self and keep it going while my other self mucks out the horse barn (when I finally have one again). And if I want to sit in the rocking chair or take a nap or watch a bad movie in the middle of the afternoon...

Well, it's all part of the job.


  1. Ah, yes, the downtime we need for writing ...

    Now that you're a grown up, you can do it. That's my mantra anyway. I tell my kids -- you can do anything you want when you're forty.

  2. Oh! I definitely understand where you're coming from. My dad was the same way. He worked night and day, and expected nothing but a perfect work ethic from everyone else as well. I've started putting writing time on my "chores" list. Somehow I can justify the down time that way. I'm almost 50. Crazy, huh?

  3. I hear you, Mary Ann. My parents were the same way. If you weren't busy, you were being lazy, except my dad did approve of writing. To him writing was work, too. Put the guilt behind you and write on!

  4. I can so empathize. It's funny how those emotional patterns established early stay with us well into adulthood, and internalizing new habits is so very difficult. This is one instance where you should keep listening to your head and not your heart (at least until your heart comes on board).

  5. Mary Ann,

    Love your writing style and I enjoyed reading this post. I once heard that the most successful people felt they never worked a day of their life!
    Follow your bliss with tenacity and pride and you will have your reward. That kind of sounded like a fortune cookie, huh? lol


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