Banishing guilt

Two weeks ago, in an effort to get myself writing, I did something that at first seemed completely counter-intuitive; I gave myself permission not to write. Yes, after so many months of setting weekly writing goals and sometimes meeting them amazingly well, and other times crashing and burning, I finally realised what was really annoying me about the whole process. It wasn’t the meeting or not meeting my targets, it was the constant guilt.

I would be doing something social and feeling bad about not writing, I would drag myself to the computer and feel bad about not having gone there sooner. It all seemed like a sea of guilt that ebbed and flowed but never really disappeared. For a very long time I’ve actually believed that not-writing-guilt is part of being a writer, but a fortnight ago I had had enough. I gave myself ‘the night off’.

It was wonderfully relaxing, I had a good time with friends then came home and went to bed early. There was no hint of guilt, in fact there was even a little spark of excitement knowing that I didn’t have to do anything. The next night I was refreshed and eager to head to the computer to put in a couple of hours of solid work. Why had I not thought of doing this before?

The fact is I’m not a full time writer, but I do have a full time job, and I have friendships to foster and family to support, so I shouldn’t feel like I need to give every spare moment to the keyboard, some of that time needs to be spent on other stuff in my life.

The guilt I felt about not writing was actually building up the pressure for the times when I did write, so much so that I had trouble writing. I’m sure a bit of a fear of failure was starting to creep in because I worried that when I did sit down to write that I wouldn’t be able to do so. There is nothing like a relaxed, refreshed mind to get the writing juices flowing, and mine was not relaxed.

So I now have three nights a week off. If I feel like I want to write, that’s fine, I can, but no more of this silly ‘I should be filling this empty hour with writing’ guilt (well not on those three days at least). So far it is working well, I’m sitting down more regularly for longer periods than I have in a long time. Let’s see if it sticks.

2 thoughts on “Banishing guilt”

  1. I gave myself six months off for the first half of the year, to get through the move and everything associated with a new house, new town, and so on. It’s been great. Instead of worrying about how I’m not getting any writing done, I’ve been using the headspace to sort through ideas and plans for what to write when I do start again in July. For me, I’ve found that giving myself permission *not* to write — that is, to sit down at the laptop and type words — is just as important to my process. It gives my creative brain the time and space to get things done behind the scenes. You might find your own subconscious taking advantage of your three nights off in a similar way. 🙂

  2. I agree, I find I get really creative and full of ideas when I’m not writing. The really important bit in your experience (that was missing in mine) was setting an end date. When I moved into my new place I thought I’d give myself some time to ‘tidy things up a bit’. Houses are never completed and tidy, especially gardens. I think I lost nearly 8 months before I finally realised I had to share my spare time between the garden and the laptop.

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