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Dealing With Writer's Guilt

Most writers carry around an invisible burden of guilt.

There aren’t a whole lot of us who can quit our day jobs, abandon everything, and write every waking hour. Whether we’re a stay-at-home-mom, college student, or working to earn our bread and butter, we often have to squeeze writing around a whole lot of other life responsibilities.

We write in the dark hours of dawn and in the black hours of night. We grab fifteen minutes here, thirty minutes there. Often it never seems like enough. We tear ourselves away from it, but carry the longing in our hearts as we go about our other tasks.

We feel guilty when we’re doing those real-life jobs because there’s a part of us that would much rather be writing. But then when we’re writing, we struggle with self-reproach because we’re taking time away from other important things in our lives.

I’ve heard writers say something like this, “When I finally get an agent or book contract, I won’t have to feel guilty anymore about spending so much time on my writing.”

What I've found, however, is that it doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it may even get harder.

Sure, the agent or book contract somehow seems to “legitimize” our writing in the eyes of all those who once questioned us. They may even begin to offer their begrudging support of the “hobby” turned “career.”

But those other life responsibilities won’t go away. We’ll still have our day jobs. AND now on top of all of the other demands, we have MORE writing work—proposals to write, edits to make, deadlines to meet, and so much more.

We find ourselves wrestling to get it all done and having to take more time away from other important things. Guilt creeps in and becomes our constant companion.

I haven’t figured out an easy method for shedding guilt. I can’t stop being a mom, and I’m certainly not earning enough with my writing to support our family. There are days when I’m running on full speed from the moment my feet hit the ground to the second I plop into bed at night. I’m attempting to juggle it all, just like so many of us are doing.

Even though guilt follows me around, here are a few ways I’m trying to keep it at arm’s length:

1. Schedule writing time. If we block out certain hours of our day or week for writing, then we can approach the rest of the day with the assurance that eventually we’ll have our coveted writing time.

It frees us up to work at our other responsibilities without the overwhelming tug of our stories. Of course, if you’re like me, the story always seems to be calling, but at least I know I can return most afternoons for my scheduled time.

2. Schedule family time. (Or time with the significant people in our lives.) We may have good intentions about spending quality time with the ones we love, but the craziness of our lives might slip in and take over. If we plan the time into our daily or weekly schedules, we’re more likely to make it a priority.

Yes, I set aside weekly tea time with my daughters, daily reading time with my little ones, Family Night every weekend, etc. Of course we have lots of spontaneous time together too. But when I’m writing, I can do it knowing I’m still making time for my relationships.

3. Remain confident. There will be a lot of people who won’t understand the writing life, including our family. But I want to rest secure that this is one of my God-given jobs at this point in my life. It’s an important job that I can’t neglect, just like I can’t neglect my other responsibilities.

What about you? Does guilt follow you around? How do you work to keep it at arm’s length?

66 comments:

  1. Ah....I love this post today, Joday. I need to get better at scheduling intentional family time.

    Yes, guilt knocks on my door quite often. And feeling as if I'm not good enough to do this....make time for my hubby, my son, my writing, and my teaching.

    Thanks for these suggestions, you wise woman, you. :)

    Love,
    Katie

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  2. Jody, you have tapped into my head! Guilt follows me around like my own tail. I try to schedule specific times for this that and the other, but I can NOT get my book out of my head, and I find my mind keeps wandering off into fairy land when it needs to be hear on Earth. It's so difficult for me to separate myself from my book. It's like it's attached to my skin - an itch I can't always scratch.

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  3. Ok, I'm blushing at my spelling error :) *here. I should have proof read first!

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  4. Jody, I feel like you read my mind. I have writers guilt all the time but I am trying to stick to my confidence. Thanks for the pointers this really helps.
    Thanks!

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  5. I think the best way to keep the guilt monkey at bay is everything in moderation.

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  6. Ah Guilt, what a terrible habit to have and to hold on to. I do my best to keep it at bay, I agree with you Jody, everything in moderation, seperate time so that less stress and guilt is involved. I know it works for me, I write better in the mornings but only have time in the afternoons so I try to channel my inspiration then, some days I'm successful others I am not, but the point is that it's scheduled and I try!

    Great post!

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  7. GUILT! What a four letter word. Well, actually five, but you get my point. And when I feel guilty, I feel guilt for feeling that way. So it is a circle.

    I truly love this post, because I have felt guilt. This past week. I need to find a balance. My God, my family, my writing, my beautiful blogging friends, etc., etc..

    I love scheduling. And that way, NOTHING interrupts my writing time. Like you said, that is SACRED.

    I am unplugging for a short time. To make sure everything is sparkling before I query. Plus we have hospital visits coming up. UGH

    But I will pop in to read posts. I will miss you. Happy guiltless(almost) living. (^_^)

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  8. You hit the nail on the head. It is all about the scheduling. But even then we can feel guilty about writing. For me it's because I enjoy it soooo much and think maybe I shouldn't be doing something that is so much fun!

    Great post, Jody.

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  9. Yes, guilt. I feel it every time I sit at the computer and my children ask me why I'm on the computer AGAIN. I feel it every time I get up from the lunch table because I just thought of an idea that I have to write down right NOW. Since I haven't published anything yet (still trying to build up that confidence to submit!), I don't feel like I can call myself a writer. Then I feel even more guilty because I'm spending so much time on this "hobby."

    Thanks for the great post and the validation that I'm not the only guilty one out that!

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  10. I used to have a lot of writer's guilt and one reason I started Writer...Interrupted was to learn how to balance it all. Now I've swung the other way with rarely time to write in between my part time job and homeschooling. Balance? Is it possible?

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  11. I don't think we ever escape guilt. No matter how careful we are with balancing all aspects of our life, there is always a sense of being off balance in one area. I think having a good perspective (i.e., there is only so much I can do in a day) is key to, well, balancing the guilt. Yeah, maybe I could have cooked a better dinner, but I wanted to get that last chapter done, and . . . It's a never ending cycle and if we wallow in our guilt, well, we're really not doing ourselves or those we love any good. Balance. Balance. Balance. And, when that doesn't work, just do the best that we can.

    Great post.

    S

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  12. Thank you for this post. I've been dealing with a huge amount of writer's guilt lately. I'm trying to figure how to balance everything, but somehow I've convinced myself (in some strange, demented way) that I should clean the toilet before I open up my WIP. I'm so frustrated! My husband is a wonderful support, and has told me that he doesn't care if the toilet is clean or not, but I'm still telling myself to get out the cleaning supplies. I really needed to read this. Thank you!

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  13. Ach! You have nailed this. This is coming from a former senior-manager who up until a year ago, earned half the family's income, who through a job elimination has turned into to a writer-in-training, and occasionally hauls in pennies toward the bottom line. Yet, this writing is one of the "God-given" jobs that I have right now too...and I'm going to do my best not to neglect it.

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  14. I am fortunate that my time is my own. I always unplug for DH time in the evening.
    I would scribble in my spare time when the children were young, but I could not concentrate. I like the fact that you set time aside for your family. Happy Scribbling.

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  15. Such a great post, Jody!!

    For three years, I was a stay at home work at home mom, college student, and writing a novel. Oh man was that ever tough! But I got through it.

    I believe God waited until now to start opening doors to my writing career because He knows I have more time now with our boys being more independent and needing less of me.

    I love the suggestions you've posted. You're so right. Scheduling writing time helps me to remember this is a business and not a hobby. If I want others to take me seriously, I need to start with myself!

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  16. And, I think if someone is a christian on top of being a writer then they feel even more guilt. Because in general, christians, myself included, tend to feel guilty a little bit easier. Or so it seems.

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  17. Ugh. Guilt is my long-time, unwelcome, constant companion. Always, I feel like I should be doing something else...unless I am in the middle of homeschooling :D Thankfully my husband is supportive of my "hobby" and allows me time to indulge, but that doesn't necessarily make it feel right to me. I must find more balance. Thanks for the suggestions!

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  18. I'm midway through my first serious try at writing for publication, and I never thought I'd be able to fit it into my life! The solution to guilt, I've found, is to set a low word count goal and resist the temptation to spend extra time writing just because I'm having so much fun! Outlining really helps, too, because then I can just sit down and start writing, knowing where I'm supposed to be going with today's chunk.

    Of course the end of this draft seems light years away but I keep reassuring myself that it will happen if I write a chunk every day. I'm inspired by Emile Zola, who wrote four handwritten pages a day and at this pace managed to crank out a series of 20 seriously fat novels. Consistency seems to be the key here.

    Most of my ideas for future work come first thing in the morning, so they go into my morning pages. If I have a lightbulb moment during the day, I usually just leave it in my head on the assumption that if it's really good, it'll stick.

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  19. An edifying post for me today. Facing the tyranny of the to-do list while longing for the comfort and challenge of the story world...

    Ah, the life of a writer-mom-teacher-bookkeeper. :)

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  20. This was a good one Jody. I think we all probably struggle with this, I know I do. I just try to keep my priorities straight. There are times when writing needs to take more of my time, but usually it settles into the background of my life so I can focus on the kids, the house, and all the everyday stuff that would never get done if I didn't do it.

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  21. Yes! I know that guilt all to well.

    A couple weeks ago I wrote about perspective on my blog. I've been learning a lot about it... even last night I felt like I gained new insight. It's really helping me. If I have perspective on this season on my life instead of all the pressures on me, I'm better able to manage everything--piece by piece.

    Great post!

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  22. Thanks for this! Although i may not be a book writer, i am writing a thesis, and similar concepts can apply. This was a great blog!

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  23. Yep, that guilt's there for sure. I'm hoping once I have more writing time, like when the twins are in school full time, I'll feel less guilty because I'll use less family/life time to write. I guess we'll see. Another year and a bit to go. ;)

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

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  24. Good Morning Jody and all,
    If we can figure out a way to conquer our guilt we'll be so much healthier. I'm a full time counselor, just sold a 3 book series, have many family obligations and want to write my stories so they can be the best I have to give.
    I'm absolutely certain that Jesus does not want us to feel guilty. I struggle the same as the rest of you, but I look at it a little differently.

    I think guilt is closely related to fear. In my humble opinion, guilt is about the fear we experience when we can't meet everyone elses expectations of us. Fear that we won't be good enough at EVERYTHING. Maybe that's where perfectionism, procrastination, and rejection come in to play. Gee, this gets complicated doesn't it?

    Anyway, I would encourage all of us, myself included, to give up the guilt. Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.

    Who can be good at everything? Have a great day!

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  25. Nail on head kind of post. I like point three there too. ;)

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  26. Getting the contract definitely helped to legitimize my writing in the eyes of others, which made it a little easier.

    I didn't suffer from guilt about writing time, per se, but that was in part because I had let the balance swing toward family for the last few months while I waited for news on my submission. Now I will have to work harder to readjust my schedule again. I'm enjoying getting to follow in your footsteps: it's such a valuable preview for me of what awaits!

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  27. Good post! While I don't want to see anyone struggling with guilt, it is nice to know that others understand this writing life. Even close family members, as understanding as they try to be, don't really get it. Thanks for sharing this.
    Blessings to all our fellow writers:)
    Karen

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  28. I'm juggling with work, IT studies, plus a writer's course. Lately my writing has taken a back seat to everything else. I need to change that.

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  29. It's never easy but I've found I have an attention problem. I can't sit for an hour and write. I feel restless somehow. So I set hourly goals. Even if it's writing one page an hour, that allows me to get other things done. So at the top of the hour I sit down, do whatever I have to do for that hour, then get up and do other things. It doesn't work for most people but that's what I have to do!

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  30. Something I definitely needed to hear today! :) As a stay-at-home-mom, I cram my writing in around loads of laundry, playing with my daughter, and usually end up with most of my writing time during my daughter's naps (though being pregnant again, I frequently get naps at the same times as her!) When I don't get something done that needed to get done because I was writing, I feel guilty. If I don't get any writing done because I spent the whole day cleaning and with my daughter, I feel angry with myself. Finding a balance is tough, and just something we all need to work on.

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  31. I think lots of times we get caught up in the "when this happens then it will be easier", but it rarely is. I think that with an agent or a book deal life will get more stressful and harder to balance. Good idea about scheduling, I really need to do that.

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  32. Hi Jody -

    I'm unemployed at the moment, so theoretically should have plenty of time to write. Hmm. It doesn't work that way.

    My mother and my house both need attention. Church responsibilities, keeping up with the blog, and dozens of smaller tasks eat up blocks of time like the old Pac Man game.

    Having a plan eases the stress of getting things done. Task lists and schedules work for me.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  33. Great post! I think scheduling writing time/family time is very important. That helps ease the guilt a great deal.

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  34. Guilt is such a difficult feeling to deal with. Sounds like you have a really good handle on it and solutions to what is causing it, though. I feel guilty if a have a thought that I think is wrong. It's almost an automatic response. So I've trained myself to notice what guilt feels like in my body. Once I recognize that feeling, I can examine whateaver it is that is causing it and usually tell myself the feeling isn't justified.

    Karen

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  35. Have you been reading my diary? Thanks for addressing this very real monster in most of our lives.

    Yes, I sometimes carry guilt around, especially if I think I'm neglecting my husband, or worried that the church people will think I'm lazy, since I do so little at church nowadays.

    What works to rid my soul of this burden? Tell it to "shut up!" If I'm at the market, I say it in a whisper so the deli guy won't call 911; if I'm at home, I growl it loud and clear, so it will know I mean business. God's business.

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  36. What a GREAT post! That phrase that I blogged about today, carpe diem, helps me. Plus the Spirit's promptings. I am so humbled and grateful for His counsel.

    Love this place!
    Patti

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  37. I wrote my novel throughout 2009, while my partner was pregnant with our second child, while our son was going through the terrible two's into the testy three's and while I was working nights at the hospital. I became very adept at stealing precious time here and there in order to get my novel done. And I couldn't have done it without my office equipped smartphone.

    Looking back now - I can't quite believe I got it done at all. The guilt I carried with me through it was suffocating at times.

    Your post was manna...

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  38. Guilt can be overwhelming. I'm one of those people who seems to live with it on a regular basis. Reminding myself that I need time for myself (writing or otherwise) to be a better me for my family makes it a little easier to deal with.

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  39. *raises hand* I feel guilty! All the time. But like you I feel like the Lord is leading me down this path and I really want to be able to accomplish all he has for me. I think my family would understand my drive a bit more if I had a book contract but as for now, they have to chalk it up to madness.

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  40. I'm praying for you, Jody. May God strengthen you and carry you through this busy time!

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  41. I don't have a day job. I make my living writing. And I deal with family responsibilities and take care of a dying member of the family or am the final caretaker of good friends and everything else. That's the gig. No excuses.

    Even when I had a day job, I didn't use "guilt" as an excuse.

    it boils down to how badly do you want to be a writer? If you want it badly enough, you go and you do it, and you carve out the time, you get it done.

    It doesn't matter if the "it" is writing or something else. Your work is your work. You do it, and you handle family and all the rest. It would require the same commitment and juggling if you were a doctor or a lawyer or an inventor. It's hard for everybody.

    It's called life.

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  42. Very true, Devon. Writers are definitely not the only ones who have to try to juggle "life" and work.

    I would, however, have to add that I think writers, especially unpublished writers, struggle with a different kind of guilt (or at least I did). I'm spending enormous amounts of time and energy on my writing, without an equal monetary compensation that other professions like doctors and lawyers have. Just another thought. . .

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  43. You're right. As writers we all seem to experience guilt, but I think rather than trying to shed it we need to recognize the focus of that guilt. If it's fear over not being able to succeed at everything maybe we have too high expectations of perfection for ourselves. If it's desperation over not getting everything done maybe we're trying to balance too many things.

    Evaluating what we're attempting to accomplish may reveal that this is the wrong time in our lives to be doing some of it. What are the highest priorities we have right now? What responsibilities could be put aside for a while or shifted to someone else without negative repercussions?

    Then realistic scheduling will help make time for important-to-us activities. In our daily schedules we know we need time for our writing. But we need time to "be still" with God, too, and we also need the rejuvenation of "me" time... however frivolous the chosen activity may seem.

    If we don't see the importance of setting aside specific time for what's really important I think we will always find ourselves scrambling, and that's a sure road to burn out. I know; I've been there.

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  44. It is different. It's like the guilt a person who is on a diet feels when they splurge on cake and chocolate :)

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  45. I guess I should be grateful I don't have outside deadlines to meet just yet (only my own goals and deadlines). Your post is a good reminder for me to keep "balance" at the forefront - before I publish a novel (thinking positive here) and after.

    And, the best way I can maintain balance is to remind myself that God has a plan for me. I just have to take the action and leave him in charge of the results.

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  46. I can definitely understand writer guilt, and I find it's a struggle every week. Thank you for your suggestions! I especially love the idea of scheduling family time like teas, etc.

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  47. I've definitely carried around my share of writer's guilt. I'm always worried that I'm not managing my time well and I don't want to neglect my family. I try to balance my time, but sometimes, writing does take a great share of my time. But I'm lucky to have people around me that remind me to wake up/come out of the world of my novel and enjoy life outside of writing. To which I say, yup, I'm going to do just that!

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  48. My critique partner and I were just discussing this today!

    I loved reading through the comments and seeing how you all deal with this.

    I still struggle with it even now that my first book has been released.

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  49. What an appropriate post today, Jody! Guilt is a hard thing to shed! I've found that it's SO important for me to identify the things God wants me to do and let the other things go. I still struggle with finding the proper balance between writing, household responsibilities, church obligations, family time, etc., but it helps when I remind myself that I don't have to do it all - I just need to be sensitive to the tasks He has for me to do that day! One day at a time!! Great post! God bless!

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  50. I do feel guilt from time to time... okay, a lot. Usually it is deserved guilt though because I'm not managing my time right.

    You're right. being intentional about allocating time is SO helpful. I need to do a better job of that. I go through spurts where I'll do GREAT, then other spurts where I flounder. I'm thinking even published authors have that though.... I hope so anyway! It'd make me feel better!

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  51. When I was still living at home my mum was a huge support and encouraged me with my writing. So much so that when I was playing games on my days off work I felt guilty for not writing. My dad didn't understand it so much. He kept trying to get me to become a journalist. At least I'd get paid writing. He didn't understand that wasn't the type of writing I was interested in.

    Now I've left home and am married to the most wonderful man. My husband supports me in my writing even though I haven't earned one cent from it as yet. (He is far more patient than I am). So again the guilt comes when I'm NOT writing. Ha.

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  52. Like so much in life, it's a balance. Some days the balance is way off, in one direction or the other. But generally if we can keep things on a relatively even keel, I think we're doing okay ;)

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  53. Tons of guilt now--I have finally blocked off some weekend hours and hope to do the same during the week but I feel badly doing it but I know I have to.

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  54. Excellent advice. I can sum it up for me, live intentionally. Do what you're doing.

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  55. I had much more difficulty writing after finding an agent than I did before. It just took some adjusting.

    There can never be too many "how to find time to write" tips - I keep looking for the one that will work for me. :)

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  56. Wow Jody. Did you read my mind today? You must have...along with the other 50+ commenters (so far) and countless readers of this post.

    Thanks for the encouragement and for the tips on making writing happen in the midst of hectic schedules.

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  57. Wow. On one hand it's sad to see so much collective guilt, but on the other, I'm glad to not be alone in my guilt!

    I think I agree w/Devon, though. Other professions put in long hours w/little compensation and usually don't face the sort of judgement we writers face because those professions are somehow respected more.

    The difference is that our long hours and vocational calling may never and most likely won't ever, pay off in the same volume of money as doctors and lawyers. So there's expectations that come into play.

    I continue to write because I simply can't stop. My youngest child is 13, so it's easier now. But I don't think my non-writing spouse will ever understand unless it pays off. Because to write, I do have to give up other domestic chores from time to time.

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  58. Great post. I did a similar one a while back for my blog - here
    http://thewritecorner.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/freelance-writers-and-time-management/

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  59. I found I can manage guilt by planning time. Friday nights are date night with my husband. That's his and we don't make other plans. Saturday we do family and household things, like shopping, cleaning, etc. and Sunday we have guests to keep up our friendships/ministry. I have a long commute with at least 45 minutes of uninterrupted time each way, so I write on the way to work and read on the way home, so I get both my "loves" in each day. I am accomplishing so much in that writing time, because I'll be thinking about what I want to write long before I do it. The time flies.

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  60. This post could have come directly from the whisperings of my heart. Once again, Jody, you always have just the right words at just the right time. Sometimes I think God uses you and your posts to get my attention. :-)

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  62. You seem to always have the best posts and I sometimes think we live in a parallel universe! Thanks for this Jody! I posted it on my blog because it's awesome, just like you are! :)

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  63. I agree with you, scheduling is key. I have writing time and family time scheduled and when I am in those "times", I'm there and not thinking about the other.

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  64. This is a fine post, a reason why I keep on returning to your blog.

    You are a sane writer with sage advice. Thank you for this!

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  65. “When I finally get an agent or book contract, I won’t have to feel guilty anymore about spending so much time on my writing.”

    As a stay-at-home mom to a 4yo, I go through this a lot. Plus, I need quiet time to let my creativity blossom and I feel very guilty leaving my husband in the middle of the chaos so I can get to that creative place. Once again, thanks for letting me know I'm not the only one struggling with this. It helps.

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  66. Jody, thanks for writing about such a poignant and ever-present topic for us writer-moms. :) You nailed it and have great advice.

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