Guilt-Free WritingAn aside before getting down to business: I want you all to know, my hubby decided to take a copy of my up-coming release, APHRODITE'S BREW, to show his boss. I handed him the same copy I'd taken to a workshop yesterday to show around. With a studied frown, he looked it over thoroughly while I sat waiting for his "critique". (He prefers to give me an "honest evaluation" rather than useless praise-- I think you can interpret that.) Finally he made his pronouncement. "That's a pretty good cover," he said. "Just the right amount of nudity to get attention."
There is no question in my mind that writing poses some strain on my family. I think sometimes they'd really rather I have a more lucrative job, or spend more time mopping floors and scrubbing toilets, sew up more ripped pockets and bake more bread, more like I used to be. Sometimes their frustration shows. Yet at the same time, they all seem to appreciate who I am and what I must do, and they don't hesitate to brag about me when the occasion calls for it. I'm really pretty lucky to have a family who divide up chores reasonably well and understand following dreams. Not everyone does.
The trouble with writing is we feel guilty if we write, but we feel guilty if we don't write. We feel guilty if we catch ourselves "wasting time" when we "should have" been writing. We should have been more organized so we could have sneaked in some writing minutes on our break while we ran to the bank. We took time to go to a movie with our best guy or played volleyball with the kids, when we really should have been writing. We blogged and we FaceBooked, and we MySpaced, Twittered. We even logged in a few interviews and judged twenty contest entries. We should have been writing. Somehow. Or we wrote twenty more minutes when the cats were crying for dinner, or Daughter Number Three smashed her thumb while we were finishing the chapter, and she wouldn't have if we'd only paid more attention to the fact that she had been messing around in the garage looking for a hammer.
Writers live by guilt. They motivate all aspects of their lives with it. And to be truthful, I think a lot of them like it. They'll deliberately dream up sins of omission or commission just to have something to shove themselves along through life. And conversely, when they somehow don't get their over-scheduled day completed with sufficient satisfaction, they have guilt to fall back on. The price they pay in guilt is used to balance the scales. It's almost as good as buying time.
It doesn't work for everyone, though. Some authors become so guilt-ridden, they become enervated. Some of them pay their writing debt with guilt instead of pages turned in, and they get so accustomed to this pay-off plan, they pay this price every day. One of the clues is the almost daily recital of their personal put-downs of laziness and dis-organization. It's too easy to fall into the excuse trap, and they have become completely ensnared.
Some authors have become intimidated by their own failings, and would rather burden themselves with guilt than dare to fail at writing. For them, when the guilt doesn't work, they can always find a toilet to scrub.
All of this is really poisonous to a writer's mental health. The pay-off for their procrastination and self-bullying may have relieved their fears temporarily, but it can become a full-fledged writers block or worse, depression.
So how do you dig yourself out of that sinkhole int the road? How do you keep from falling into it or even stepping into a mere shallow rut? There's only one way. It involves changing the negative thoughts you're using to poison yourself, and following that up with changing your behavior.
Did I say this would be easy? I sure hope you don't think I did. It's darn hard. These habits are deeply ingrained ones and they persist because we secretly get a pay-off from them. All negative behavior has a behavior somewhere, and this is no different. What's the pay-off? Guilt in exchange for not writing. The one thing they say they'd rather do than anything else.
So begin with finding what your pay-off is. If you are raking on guilt as payment for the permission to not write, why? You know you want to write, but why do you want to NOT write? What pain do you not want to face that is worse than guilt? You wouldn't make this trade-off fir nothing. What is it?
Could it be that you can avoid finishing, thus submitting, thus being rejected, thus proving one more time you're a lousy writer? Could it be that you don't want to face the page when it stays stubbornly blank, thus proving you've lost your voice, if you ever actually had one, thus proving you're a lousy writer and always were? What if no matter what you do get written, you just don't get that incredible buzz you used to get when characters took over the crimson corners of your imagination, because now they're just like carved chess pieces moving on the black and white squares?
What are you telling yourself? Is it a lie? Or are you afraid it might be the truth? Think about it, and think hard. Take out a notebook and a plain, ordinary ball point pen and write down one side of a page every single negative thing you're telling yourself. That's your list of Beliefs. If you get stuck, then go sit at your computer and start to write a story, and listen to yourself if the words don't come. Pick up your notebook and write those thoughts. Write everything that keeps the story from getting to the screen. Everything.
You'll know when you've got the ones that matter. Then go back over them and make notes. This is your list of Truths. Exactly how true are these thought-fears-beliefs? Don't waste your time with false bravado. That's just as dangerous. Be really frank with yourself.
The truth is that you are likely confusing your success in this cruel industry with your skills, talent and self-worth. You may be confusing fame and wealth- or even just self-sufficiency- with self-worth. That's really easy to do in this culture, which ties our personal value to our ability to make daily bucks.
We know we're struggling in an ailing industry, in an ailing economy. We know most authors never get published and very, very few published authors actually make a living at writing. We know a figure of $6-12 thousand a year average is pretty much what most do. But somehow we compare ourselves to Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Suz Brockman, and we don't measure up. BIG THINKING ERROR! WE'RE NOT THEM!
Where you've likely slipped a cog is in thinking the joy of writing comes in the joy of success. Back when you began to write, and it was so ridiculously easy, you were also dreaming of the success you were going to have, and you mapped out mentally your path to stardom. Every success you had put some paving on that path. But it was the wrong path to pave.
I don't mean to say you shouldn't have dreams or goals. You should. You need them. You need a planned or hoped for career path. But that is not the joy of writing. If you want to get back onto the track where writing is a joy (a difficult one, but at least a joy), you must write for the sake of writing. Aim your story at a target if you want, but change the things you tell yourself about what you write, and about your ability to write. You know you did it once, and it was good. It still is. Yes, it is.
Yes. It is. And that's not hype.
Maybe you have to look at fresh material, aim at a different market, go learn something new. That wouldn't be surprising because the market is constantly changing and so are we. Do that. Experiment. Sit down and writer, just for yourself, a story you know you could never sell, something maybe 10,000 words long. Write a piece of fan fic about a story no one else but you cares about. The Lone Ranger, say. Sponge Bob Square Pants. Give him a lover. Something totally outrageous just to amuse yourself.
Then read it. Not bad, huh? Even if ole Bob did fall in love with the Little Mermaid and they...
Oh, no, I'm not telling you how the story ends. But see? You really can write. Your writing skills and the market are not the same thing.
Your writing is yours. If you could write before, and you haven't lost the skill of typing or spelling, then my guess is going to be pretty accurate. You can write. So stop lying to yourself.
Give yourself the gift of carving out the time, a specific chunk you know will be yours. Make it minimal. If it's fifteen minutes, then that's what it is. Set an alarm clock so you can't forget it. Sit there. Now, begin developing your next skill, that of delayed gratification. No surfing. No email. No scrubbing toilets while you type away for fifteen solid minutes. Then get up and leave. Do not continue. Do the same the next day. When the first delaying doubts and guilt-ridden self-lies sneak in, look at your list of Truths. Start typing. Don't stop even if you find yourself repeating the same word over and over. At the end of fifteen minutes, get up and leave.
Do not advance your schedule until you have this one down firmly. You may double it, but no more than that. Repeat, repeat, repeat every day. This is the pattern you ruthlessly follow until you are sure you can give yourself a larger gift. And every day. for that small amount of time, you drum the real truth into your head. Pretty soon you'll get sick of denying yourself your greatest pleasure, because you will begin to see it really is your greatest pleasure. And the truth is--
You are a writer. And writers write. You are writing. And you no longer need guilt to hide from your greatest love.
Are you guilty? Or have you been telling yourself you're guilty? What secrets have you been telling yourself about yourself, and what's the real truth about them?