Letting Go of Writer’s Guilt
This article belongs to The Writing Life—The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.
In June, I wrote 20 pages of my new novel, finished two articles, and read books on writing technique. And the last few weeks? I have spent time with friends, went on walks, and caught up on old movies. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, my voice all low and ashamed, she said, "C'mon, you deserve a break." "Yeah, I guess," I answered, knowing full well that if the tables were turned I would see the situation just as she did. In fact, when it comes to my friends, I am one of the first people to encourage time off and praise them for the work they have been doing. Yet, when it comes to myself, this is much harder to do. Why is it that we have no trouble cutting others slack but not ourselves? And, what can we do to make this guilt go away?
Make a List
Remember when your teacher asked you to write all the things you were good at? Well, this is similar—only you are making a list of all you have recently accomplished. Whether you are a visual learner or not, seeing all your hard work in print will be proof that you deserve a bit of time off.
Phone a Friend
To paraphrase the Beatles and risk being corny, we get by with a little help from our friends. We all have those friends that give the best pep talks. Call them. While it would be great to have our own internal voice say, "Great job. You need time off," it's not always possible. At these moments, we need someone else to act as our personal cheerleader and remind us to think positively.
Do Some Work
I am aware that this sounds counter-productive, but sometimes the best cure for unwarranted guilt is productivity. Before you think this is an excuse to forgo your much needed break and put all your energy into another project, let me explain. Do not write another 10 pitches or 30 more pages of your novel. Craft one pitch, make a short outline of what you plan to write about next, take a few minutes to think about your future plan of action. Because guilt is often aggravated by the feeling of falling behind in your work, taking a moment to determine your post-break course of action, will allow you to calm down and enjoy a few days off.
Create a Vacation Plan
Take a cue from teachers and parents and give yourself rewards for work completed. Decide how many assignments need to be done before you can get a prolonged rest and what this rest will entail. Do 10 articles equal a spa day? 50 pages equal a few days stay at the beach? You decide what you need to do to get your prize. With planned time off and a clear work-for-play arrangement, you can let go of that annoying inner voice that says you don't need a break.
Just in case the above didn't help you, I'll be your phone-a-friend for today. You have worked hard, you deserve a break. Now get on your couch and chill.