Writer's Life: Guilt

Guilt, Guts, and Glory--the three G's of the writer's life. The longer I write, the more I realize aspiring writers are a unique group of people--especially in the guilt we bear, the guts to dare, and the glory so rare.

Lately, GUILT has followed me around like the bubonic plague. Last week my twelve year old son said, "Mom, all you ever do anymore is write." I promptly swallowed the rising lump of guilt and replied, "Now honey, you know that's not true. I still have to eat and sleep every once in a while."


The truth was that my son has noticed a change in the amount of time I spend writing, especially in the past two months. It all started in May after I finaled in the ACFW Genesis contest (read about it here). I had a marathon weekend to revise my contest entries before having to return them for the final round of judging.

Then shortly after the contest final, agent Rachelle Gardner gave me The Call (read about it here). A new set of pressures fell upon my shoulders. I needed to complete one of my two books, finish the professional edits on both, and then write an enormous book proposal.

Most recently, I had to write another short proposal for a third new book. This included synopsis, hook, character sketches, and sample pages. I had about a week to work magic (and in that week I also had my son's birthday celebration and a 4th of July party!).

Yes, the amount of time I've spent on writing related work has increased during the past two months. But do I spend ALL my time writing, as my son accused me in his lovable but snarky way?

Some days are definitely filled with more writing than others (like when I've had deadlines). But mostly, what my family has noticed is that my writing has become more important to me, more apart of my life, and that perhaps I spend less time doing some of the things I used to do--like baking homemade muffins or planting flowers.

If I start to view my writing as a career, not just a hobby, then in some ways I have to consider myself employed and have a mindset that writing is my job. I'm starting to adjust, but perhaps my children will need more time, along with plenty of reassurance that even if I have to change some of my priorities, my family is still tops.

Why is it more difficult for others to accept writing as a valid career choice? Is it because we're unpublished? Not earning a substantive income? Working from home? Is it because it takes so long to see tangible results? Finish a book? Get an agent? Is it because the goal of getting published often seems so unattainable, much like a dream?

Or is it because we don't have enough confidence in ourselves and our abilities? Enough to shed the plague of guilt?

Why do you think non-writers have a difficult time validating writing as a career choice for unpublished authors? And what do you do to shed your guilt?


  1. Ohhhh, wow, you know I totaly relate. Not only do I write, but I also work away from home at a pretty demanding job as well. I feel like I'm 70% a payroll manager, 20% a writer, and 10% a mom somedays.

    How TOTALLY out of whack is that! But... I'm working on my balance. And my kids are learning to be more supportive as I'm learning to balance out that remaining 30% of my time.

    I think on one hand, as a writer I need to be really careful with my time and make sure my kids know that they are SO much more important. But then on the other, our family's have to realize that this is a "job" whether we're published or not.

    And I really don't think publication or $$ will help a lot in the minds of my kids. THey just want their mommy, and from my own experience as a child, I vow to never use money as an excuse not to spend time with them.

    I shed my guilt by taking time for my kids. This last weekend, after a particularly busy week for me both at work and in my writing, I "took off." I didn't touch my writing stuff all weekend and tried to be more available to them.

    Today though, just as with my "real" job, I'll put my writing hat back on and they will have to share me again.

    I also try to do better at the balance thing. Instead of saying "Just a second..." when they ask me something while I write, instead I am *trying* to stop what I'm doing and pay them more attention.

    Regarding validating career choices... this is hard. I think to a point they do, but especially for my hubby, until I'm published it will be viewed as a really time consuming hobby that hopefully will become a job later. To me, I have two jobs right now, I work one full-time and, well, the other almost full-time as well.

    *sigh* Okay, speaking of full-time jobs, time to get ready for mine!!!

  2. Jody, I have no answers as I struggle with this daily too. My oldest daughter is especially resentful of my time at writing since it produces "nothing" in her eyes. Funny thing is I don't write with the girls around (not awake around, anyway.) But when I'm tired at 9:00 at night and she asks why, I tell her I was up shortly after 5 am to write, then she lays in on my wasting my time.

    So you can't win even if you balance your time the best way possible to not effect your kids with your writing time. There will always be the emotional challenge. I just lift it to prayer and keep asking God to direct me. If I'm to give up writing, may He give me a huger sign than my fifteen year old ranting, and if I'm to continue writing may He help me continue to endure the snide comments. So far I'm enduring.

  3. I don't know why non-writers think that way. Maybe because it's so easy to slap words on a paper that they assume that's all there is to it?
    I've already started the whole, "If this is going to be my career then I need some time to write" thing. I'm definitely not in the place you are but I am trying to make it so that when I sit down, everyone knows I'm "working". And I use that word too. :-)
    I was just thinking about you and all these new responsibilities and pressures. I'm sure you'll do great with them! :-)

  4. Ahhh. Guilt. What a dirty word. I feel it oh-so-much! I, like Krista, work outside the home (part-time) in addition to being a mom and a writer. I often struggle to find balance. I definitely work to prioritize in order to give my kids the time they need and deserve. My children are young (six and nine) and I am blessed to be able to spend the summers with them, so I try to plan specific outings with them each week - a time when the three of us are together without computers in sight. I think they appreciate it, whether it's a simple trip to the pool or a movie. Then I remind them of the fun time we had when it's time for me to write for a while.

    Happy Monday!

  5. I completely relate. It's hard to justify all this time - especially not being published. I think, mainly, because the general world (outside of publishing industry) doesn't take you seriously if you're not published.

    "Oh, you're doing what all day? Writing? That's interesting."

    My husband understands it. And my son...well, he's too young to understand. But outside that circle, there's only a select few who really get why I'm spending all this time.

    Guilt is something I am much too familiar with. Thanks for sharing. It's good to know I'm not the only one!

  6. Writing and guilt seem to go hand in hand so often. Do people who work 9-5 feel guilty about their jobs? Why then is it that writers often feel guilty if they put in that time? Is it because they work at home? Would it change if they went off to another building? Would that make them feel less guilty? All questions for inquiring writers' minds!

    I don't have children at home, but I do have a husband. He's so supportive that I could probably lock myself up in my room for a week and write and when I came out he'd say, "Missed you honey."

    My writing is a passion and a joy first. If I make money at it, then it's the icing on the cake!

  7. I think a lot of people don't take a writing job (especially a non-paying one) seriously because it's supposed to be fun. Isn't it? And if we've been doing it for a while with no tangible results (i.e. no paycheck) it's hard for those in our lives to take it seriously when we suddenly have deadlines.
    As for kids, I think they would have to adjust to any new job, whether it's at home or not. Seize the moments with them when they happen, such as taking them with you when you run errands. And spend the time talking with them and asking them about their day, rather than spinning your next plot. (That's so hard to do sometimes!)

  8. This is such an interesting topic, and I can already see it's producing a great conversation in the comments.

    I think for me, you hit the nail on the head when you wrote that it takes so long to see results. My parents are gracious enough to let me live at home while I write my book full time, so I don't have to work (after 10 years without me here!), and my dad whispered to my mom recently, "So, is she actually DOING anything in there?" -- in there referring to my home office. It looks like it will take me 10 months to write this manuscript, and in the meantime, everyone asks, "What are you doing???"

    The transition is difficult for me, too, since I'm used to a day job where I produce daily (literally seeing my byline the next day in the newspaper). So maybe I'm adding to their skepticism by thinking that this is taking a loooong time.

    Despite this curiosity about my productivity, everyone has been really supportive. They'll know I was doing something when the book finally comes out!

  9. I could relate to this post. My daughter has decided to write a book and dictate it to me. I think they see me on the computer and they are finding ways to bond.

    Great topic. I'm on the run today, but come collect an award on my blog!
    ~ Wendy

  10. Jody: I don't know why non-writers don't understand our life, but when I complained to the Lord recently that someone didn't understand, He said, "They don't have to understand." I think He was saying "It's enough that I have called you, and I understand."

    As to the guilt, do you think it's real conviction from God or condemnation from the enemy?

    Balance between family and career is so hard. How much time would you be spending with your kids if you worked a 40 hour week? Ask God to direct you how to manage. Not like I am any great example of this--- it's way easy for me to give everyone else wise answers!! HA!

    Blessings, Jen

  11. I do think part of the perception problem is that we don't leave the home to an office for a scheduled shift. We don't clock in and out regularly, and so in some eyes, our work lacks authenticity. But it's important to set a precedent at home, to expect respect as much as we give it to others. And our children learn then, too, there are options as to how we all can earn a livelihood.

  12. So the guilt I feel isn't an uncommon thing? Sometimes I get so caught up in it, I fear I'm the only one.

    Those in my life who won't validate my writing goals are few, but I think it's because there's nothing tangible yet. Not for them, anyway.

  13. I think any time you attempt to make a career of the arts, you encounter all the things you've listed above. Because there are no set hours and no set paycheck, it's harder to justify to ourselves and to those around us that writing is a JOB. A difficult job. And the lack of tangible results for such a long time means it's hard to stay committed to the job mentality.

    I can say that while my family has been amazingly supportive all along, there was a subtle shift in attitude/perspective when I started writing contracted books.

  14. Well, I'm sure all working moms have guilt but aren't at home to see it or hear it from their children. LOL!
    But no one is giving a writer at home days off or vacation time. So don't forget to take time off for you and your family. :)

  15. sure struck a chord with everyone, jody. my little girl is too young to verbalize her dislike with my computer time except with whining. often, i set the computer aside to spend time with her, or look up pictures of airplanes (her new favorite word) to appease my guilt. not sure how else to do it...but this works for now. :)

  16. Hi Jody -

    Before my husband died, I worked at home. People don't seem to value work done at home. Someone actually asked me when I was going to get a real job.

    Maybe when all those royalties start rolling in, they'll understand this is your job. :)


  17. I answered yes to all but the last two questions. I think non-writers just don't get it. Simple as that.

    Lynnette Labelle

  18. I think all the reasons you stated make it difficult for others to view writing as a career. My family is so supportive, I don't feel as though they resent how much time I spend writing and doing writing related activities. But I feel the guilt for sure.

    For me, I think the biggest reason it's hard to view writing as a career is because nothing is set. Even without a set paycheck, it would be easier to see writing as a job if there were some kind of schedule. A nine of five kind of thing. But with writing, it's rarely nine to five. Some days it takes more, others it takes less. But typically it happens at odd hours of the day.

    In my sometimes limited way of thinking I feel as though calling writing a career will happen when A) I can help support the family with it and B) I have specific time set aside for it that I tell everyone is "for my job".

  19. It's hard, isn't it? My family knows I've been working double-time to get my manuscript ready this month. I assure them I'll go back to my normal schedule in August. It helps.

    Good luck, and don't worry. You'll find a balance that makes you happy and that your family will live with. It's an adjustment when they're used to having all of you but they'll learn to share you!

    Have a terrific day!

  20. Great questions, Jody. I think that validation from others is hard because it seems like lots and lots of people say, "Oh, I'm going to write a book" or "I'm writing a book" and nothing ever comes from it. But those of us who are SERIOUS about our writing and actually have finished works or take our writing very seriously have to compete with that other mindset.

    I combat my guilt in a few different ways - I make sure I spend one on one time with my daughter every single day. Simplifying our life has helped a lot in that regard. We aren't constantly running around to different activities (both our choices - she has zero interest in sports, etc. and is a homebody like me) and we both have adopted a more carefree, easy lifestyle. This gives us more time to do things together - playing a game of UNO or watching a movie together or going for a walk on the duck pond, or just hanging out and talking. That's one of our favorite things to do - just sit and talk!

  21. My husband said to me last night, "You're a lot more fun when you aren't thinking about your book and agents and writing."

    I promptly ignored him of course ;)

    I totally get it. It's hard to balance and hard to make others understand why you are working so hard when there is nothing to show for it at this point.

  22. Wonderful comments here.I needed to look at my writing as a career first--then it followed everyone else did. As fruit comes from my labor, it is easier for them to accept it. It's hard time-consuming work but it will pay off in many ways.

  23. The people will always see it is like this:

    If you do something that you enjoy, but do't get paid for, it's a hobby. It MAY turn into a profession later, but until you get paid for it, (and, to some degree, until they can "Walk into a Barnes & Noble and buy your book?"), it's not a "profession." Aspiring profession, perhaps, like a pre-law student or a medical intern, but not yet a full-fledged profession.

    To those who don't think an advance check will make a difference to your friends and family as to what you've been doing in front of a computer all tha time--think again! They'll be asking you if you need any more caffeinated beverages to stay up and write.

    Good luck.

  24. Another thing I see aspirants do which exascerbates this issue is the "take a year off and hole up to write my book" mentality. It pays to keep your day job and write a couple hours each night or morning during the week, save weekends for family/friends. You can easily finish a book in a year at that pace. As long as you're working a job, nobody can say squat about what you do in your own free time, because you're already paying your own way, But if you want to do nothing but write without $ coming in, naturally, you're gonna get flack, and in a way, you're increasing the pressure on yourself to produce, which might not be a good thing.

  25. Wow!! What great thoughts and comments today everyone! Thank you for once again inspiring me! I think I will have to pull some of your nuggets of wisdom out and use them in a future post! I REALLY enjoyed reading each and every comment today! Thank you!

  26. I know I'm sneaking in late...but I think this is a great post! Because I'm single, most people think I have nothing to do...and when I choose to carve out time for writing, they don't "buy" that as a good reason to not spend time with them. So I've learned to not divulge what I'm doing...I just say I'm busy. Have a commitment. Prior engagement. Whatever. But sometimes I wish they'd "get" that it's a do it right!

  27. I'm late today. :)
    I work full time and so I write in the evenings or on the weekends. In some ways I don't have guilt because my kids are teens and don't really want to be around their parents. BUT...and it's a big BUT...I think they still need interaction with me. I go to them and make them talk to me. I insist on dinners together. We have devotions once a week together as a family. (well, we try. It's hard during the school year with evening sports, etc.) They still need me, so I do have some guilt.

  28. I'm a mom; I'm doomed to guilt.

    My husband came home a few days ago and asked how the writing was going. "Banged out an entire paragraph," I said. He was perplexed and a wee bit annoyed.

    He measures success in tangible ways and, ultimately, so do I. It's just that miles of brain dump are required for every page. Not so tangible...the brain dump.

    My "children" are now 32-23...they call me. Often. They don't always understand either...mostly because they want my attention when THEY want it. Not much changes from age 3 to 23. The husband just wants me "hovering" when he's watching TV. I've worked some nights writing while car crashed and exploding cities provide background noise.

    Don't try to absolve yourself of guilt. Write through it, love them through it, and just keep writing.

  29. I had previously owned my own business and worked from home, so after selling it I still had an office to use. Changing my writing efforts from a hobby to a legitimate "work" use of my time required a change in my own attitude that would be evident to my friends and family and keep me from feeling I was "wasting time". I set aside a specific daily period to write, and I turn down most invitations that interfere. When interruptions are unavoidable I make up the lost time. I treat it as I used to treat my job... as a commitment that requires my time.

    I intersperse writing articles with working on my novels, so I usually do have the occasional cheque coming in and I think that helps my family see what I do as worthwhile. But I think the most important thing I did was take my writing ability seriously. If we don't value ourselves and what we do as writers, no one else is going to either.

    If a child/spouse/friend were to belittle or begrudge my efforts I think that would call for a serious discussion. I don't discredit the activities that others choose to pursue so I would feel they were being rude and inconsiderate if they spoke disparagingly of my choice.

  30. Oh wow, my son is not yet old enough to give me the guilt trip and my husband is nothing but supportive, so I guess any guilt I feel is probably coming from myself and my own (sometimes impossible) expectations. I think we first have to take our own writing seriously, before we can demand others to do the same.

  31. My guilt comes from my the expectations I put on myself as well. I am the person who tries to be and do as much as I possibly can for everyone around me... and sometimes that means I feel guilty enough to put my own needs (writing, etc) aside. I also feel guilty for not taking the time to write because I'm doing everthing else. lol

  32. Maybe they don't accept it because they're jealous


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