As adults we carry around a lot of guilt. We get pressure from everywhere to be doing more or less of basically everything. We should be spending more time with the kids, but not yelling at them. We should be exercising more, eating more healthy food, spending more quality time with our partners, or our family. We should be writing/reading more, paying more attention to our budget. We even get made to feel guilty for not relaxing enough!
Well in the spirit of an extraordinarily busy year, I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with feeling guilty and have realised that as a writer there are many things I do when I’m not writing that still contribute to my WIP and my writing process. So from this day forward I’ll be classing them as writing too. Well, at least I’m refusing to feel guilty for doing these things instead of getting words down onto the page.
I have always been a pantster when it comes to writing and to be honest, I realise now that without some planning I am never going to finish my epic fantasy novel. All writers plan to some degree, some get stuck right into the details, fleshing out each scene or chapter. Others, like myself tend to do the planning-as-I-go technique to keep me abreast of where I want to be. One thing is clear. Without the planning now, there would be no writing and therefore I refuse to feel guilty about that.
Depending on your chosen genre, there might be an entire society, its cultural diversity and geography to flesh out. Or, you might be wanting to create enough of a world, whether it’s based on reality or not, to give the reader a true sense of where the story takes place and why. Whichever way you look at it, world-building to some degree is essential. Right now I am past the bulk of my world-building and know as much as is required for the first draft of my story. So I refuse to feel guilty about stopping to think about this. If the world-building becomes a constant writing-avoidance technique, I may need to reconsider this but for now, it meets my criteria.
Reading is one of the most essential ways to build our confidence as writers. It is research and pleasure all rolled into one! Who couldn’t love that? Reading an eclectic range of books gives you a broad taste on the way different writers tell stories. How they write dialogue, prose, build characters… the list goes on. Not guilty!
Similarly to reading, critiquing other people’s work is not just about reading for pleasure. It forces you to think about the story being told from a reader and a writer’s POV. It teaches you to think critically recognising what things other writers could improve on, but also what they do well which in turn makes you think about what you are doing as you write too.
I believe there is a time and place for research. There is research you do right now because if you do not get the details right it will affect the way the story unfolds, and there is research you come back to, in order to flesh out your first draft and give depth to the story. The latter is something you can do if you get the opportunity and need to take advantage of it right then and there, but it can become another great way to procrastinate. Research in the first instance is required and therefore, you shouldn’t feel guilty.
6. Reading books on writing.
I’m putting this in a whole separate category (even though it comes under the last 2 bullet points), because reading books on writing can be superfluous to the writing process. However, a refresher course on small tidbits of the writing process can be great if you feel like you are really stuck.
I’ve heard somewhere that when you are sitting down to write your brain does best if you concentrate on a task for no longer than 90 minutes, but then it is advantageous to give it a break and come back to it before continuing. Whether this is true or not (I swear 20 minutes is enough for my brain sometimes) it is certainly good to give your eyes a break from staring at the page, and give your body a break from sitting in that chair. Time to have a stretch or go for a run. It gets your blood pumping and personal experience shows me that it gets my brain ticking again too, giving me the push to get back into it.
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.” Ernest Hemmingway
8. Discussing your WIP.
If I get really stuck or want to know more about something, or get some feedback on my plot it is really great to talk it through. And my hubby is a really good listener! You just have to be careful about the conversation becoming unproductive. When this happens you need to be polite and get back into it. No more guilt here.
9. Going out.
We all need to get our priorities right and make sure we are writing as often as we can, right? And we can only write what we know right? Wrong! As writers we all need to get out there and know more stuff which means experiencing the world. I am one of the biggest introverts you will ever know. Going unfamiliar places with less familiar people is something I don’t push myself to do often enough. I know that getting out and living is the only way I can form any real idea about the world. Definitely don’t need to feel guilty about that!
Keeping a journal can be an important part of learning how we internalise feelings and deal with them and this can lead to a deeper understanding of our protagonist. There is a little part of each of our protagonist that comes from ourselves and part of getting out there and experiencing life, also means experiencing the emotions that come with it. Writing in a journal can also hone our skills, giving us the practise ground to create over and over and form a writing habit. As Hemmingway said:
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
Not feeling guilty for this one!
There are hundreds of things we do as writers that benefit our work and feeling guilty about them is only going to make us less productive. I’ve found myself dithering lately because I haven’t been honest with my family about the writing time I need, so it’s time to stop that and get into it.
What about you? Can you think of any other things you don’t need to feel guilty about?