You know about writer’s block. But did you know there’s such a thing as writer’s guilt?
The writing life comes with its share of guilt. Guilty feelings can come from needing to block off lots of alone time, from not making a huge income, and from many other sources. But there are healthy, constructive ways to work through the guilty conscience that can come with being a writer.
Check out our five solutions to overcoming guilt in the writing life!
1. You feel guilty turning down invitations because you need the time for writing.
PROBLEM: Aunt Petunia is hosting a barbecue this weekend to celebrate her daughter’s graduation from preschool. Unfortunately, you had slotted that day to enter a short story in a contest you know you can win. You really need to stay in this weekend to write—but what if no one understands why entering this contest trumps little Betsy’s grad party?
SOLUTION: If you were a lawyer and had to prepare for your upcoming motion, you wouldn’t feel guilty. And you know that if the barbecue had been scheduled for the weekend of the World Series, baseball-obsessed Uncle Milton would have no problem RSVPing with a big, fat “No.”
Admit to yourself that you work hard at your writing and you’re passionate about it (and you shouldn’t have to apologize for it!). So while you may not feel comfortable going into detail as to why you can’t come see Betsy modeling her miniature graduation cap, let yourself off the hook and get some butt-in-chair time.
2. You feel guilty asking for help in your writing career (with things like licking envelopes, proofreading, getting feedback).
PROBLEM: You’ve researched creative writing markets, written a stellar cover/query letter, polished your writing, printed address labels…but here you are now with just two hands. You’d love to ask your family and friends for help, but you don’t know how to make your case.
SOLUTION: Nobody likes chores, so don’t ask, “Can you fold and seal 25 envelopes for me?” Instead, invite some friends over for an envelope-party. Order a pizza and pop in a movie, and ask your friends to spend half an hour stuffing envelopes. Make sure to express how much their help means in getting you to your goal of publication, and they’ll feel appreciated instead of used. However, don’t get too used to throwing awesome envelope-parties. Submissions are moving online—you may need to start hosting e-sub parties instead!
The same logic goes for other kinds of help, like editing or feedback/advice after reviewing your work. Begin on the right foot by telling the person how much their help would mean, how much you respect their opinion, etc. and ask if they’d give your work their discerning and critical eye. A little flattery never hurts!
3. You feel guilty that you don’t have a list of publication credits to justify the time and effort spent writing and submitting.
PROBLEM: You spend a lot of time working on your craft, but it still hasn’t paid off in the form of significant publication. You’re having trouble explaining to friends and family—or even yourself—why you’re working so hard on your writing.
SOLUTION: Every published author started out as an unpublished author. While publication credits certainly help catch the attention of agents and editors, quality writing can be its own advocate. Keep writing, working on your craft, and submitting. Your next publication credit may be an asset to your cover/query letter—or the springboard to your writing career.
4. You feel guilty because you won’t let everyone read your work (in one form of revision or another).
PROBLEM: You’re faced with loved ones peering over your shoulder as you write, or begging for a reading when you’re really not ready. When they point out that you share your work with a writing group and/or submit to journal editors or literary agents, you’re not sure how to explain why that’s different.
SOLUTION: You have the right to ask for understanding. Explain that the opinions of friends and family can mean the most, so while you can deal with criticism from people in the biz, it could hurt deeply if your friends and family don’t love your writing.
If the person seems genuinely pained by the lack of sharing, you can try a compromise: Consider allowing the person to read the work once you’ve deemed it ready to submit to agents and editors. Or let him/her read it “first” once the work has been accepted, before the book or journal edition is published and read by the masses. The important thing is that you, first and foremost, should feel good about the compromise. If not, your loved ones may just have to buy the book or publication to read your writing.
5. You feel guilty writing about inspiration gleaned from real life because of the other people involved.
PROBLEM: Cousin Ron splitting his pants at your sister’s wedding was comedy gold, and you’re eager to add it to the short story you’re working on. And the pain of your loved one’s passing is something you just need to write a poem about. But you want to avoid hurting anyone by revealing what might be sensitive information.
SOLUTION: Of course your creativity comes from real life, but that doesn’t mean you have to needlessly embarrass or betray anyone. Take steps to disguise people…take a lot of steps. You can still write that scene about a man splitting his pants at a wedding—or was it a teenage girl at a school dance? You get the idea.
If you do write a scene with direct connections to real life, remember that you can’t unpublish your work. So if your catalyst for writing is anger or spite, you’re probably better off writing that piece in your private journal (not everything needs to be published).
Read more: Creative Nonfiction: How To Stay Out Of Trouble.
QUESTION: How do you handle tough questions and criticisms from loved ones about your writing life?
Write your own rejection letter to guilt and post it in our comments section. We’ll start!
The huge volume of emotions we receive necessitates sending a form letter. I wish I could give you the personal attention that you probably feel you deserve, but I have better things to do with my life. And no—I don’t even feel guilty for saying that. Thank you for your submission. Now go away.