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Writing Time: A Guilty Pleasure or a Necessity?


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Summer is quickly arriving. And for most of us that means our nice neat schedules get turned upside down and shaken around. Whether it's having the kids home, one-hundred-and-one summer activities, the family vacation, or out-of-town company, we usually find ourselves scrambling to find writing time.

Not only are we chasing after that allusive time, but when we DO actually catch a free moment, we feel GUILTY, like we should be out playing in the sunshine with the kids, or heading to the beach, or walking the dog.

Yes, we writers are good at feeling guilty for "sneaking" in writing time. But is writing time a guilty pleasure or is it a necessity?

Of course, those writers who are under contract, who have advances, or who have a steady income from their books, might be able to more easily justify holing away in front of their laptops while the sun is beaming brilliantly and summer activities beckon.

And yet, I still find myself struggling with writer's guilt, even though I'm a wage-earning, work-from-home, published author. Whether we're published or not, we all experience guilt. I think it's inherent to working at home, no matter what the job. We're easily distracted by what goes on in our homes. And our families are quick to interrupt us.

And let's face it, for writers, it's even easier to feel that pressure. After all, we spend hours dreaming up stories, devising twisted plots, and writing about people who exist only in our imaginations. And the thing is, we actually love it. We thrive on it. We usually wish we had more time for it.

Should we feel guilty for loving what we do, for actually deriving pleasure in our jobs, especially when WORK is a dirty word for so many people? Or should we feel sorry for those who don't have that same privilege, for those whose work is drudgery, who aren't able to use their gifts and talents, or who are caught in a dead-end job for reasons they can't control?

Perhaps instead of feeling guilty, we can count it a blessing that we can get out of bed every day and do something we love so much.

And we can also accept the fact that writing (or using our talents) is a necessity. It's the way we're designed. As human beings, we're each uniquely wired, and we function best when we're doing the job we're wired to do. Our mental health and physical well-being flourish when we're doing what we were created to do.

All that to say, we can't let summer derail our writing efforts. It's not a guilty pleasure. It's a necessity (whether we're published or not). And here are just a few ways to alleviate writer's guilt:

1. Set blocks of work time. Be clear with your family when those times are. Post it on the refrig or on the calendar. Then everyone knows when you're busy and when you're not.

2. Plan scheduled time or days off. If the family knows when you're working AND also when you're free, then it's easier for them to respect your work time. They'll know that they get YOU later in the day or later in the week during that planned time.

3. Consider getting help. A couple summers ago, I hired a college-age young woman to come over a couple afternoons a week and watch my kids, drive them to activities, and take them swimming. Then I didn't feel so guilty that my kids were sitting at home on such nice days. They were still able to get out and enjoy summer activities.

4. Teach our family/kids that it's okay to be home. Yes, summer is a wonderful time to be doing camps and swim lessons and all that other good stuff. But we also have to remind ourselves that it's okay for our kids to play at home. We don't have to fill our lives with every activity available to mankind. In fact, some of the best creative play comes when kids are allowed the space and time to use their imaginations.

5. Take full advantage of our work time. When I get a block of concentrated writing time, I don't respond to emails. I don't write blog posts. I don't answer interviews. I don't do anything except work on my stories.

How about you? Do you ever feel writer's guilt? Is writing a guilty pleasure for you or a necessity?

29 comments:

  1. I read the title to your post this morning, Jody, and I instantly said "BOTH!" And for me, it really is both, but I remember struggling with this very thing before I had my first contract. I'd often feel guilty if I wrote when the kids weren't sleeping and wonder if I was depriving them because of my writing.

    But this past winter, my son got very, very sick, and we've had to pay for some of his medical expenses out of pocket. Guess where that extra money is coming from? MY WRITING.

    Now I can look back and see God's hand in everything. My son can get better because I write. It's a really wonderful feeling, both as a mom and a writer.

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    1. What a very cool story, Naomi! I'm sorry to hear that your son got sick, but how awesome that you could use your writing money to help pay for his medical expenses! What a blessing!

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  2. It's definitely both. I was just thinking the other day, what do people do who don't have a creative outlet? How do they stay sane? I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have my writing. But there's always guilt because there are at least 100 other things I could be doing with my time and it's a battle every day. Good time management is a skill I feel will take me a lifetime to master.

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    1. It is a battle, Shelly. I feel it too, the tug from those hundred other things. If it's not summer activities calling my name, there's cleaning and organizing the house, or vacation planning, or light bulbs that need changing! :-) There's always something. But when I sit down to write, I try to shut out the voices and make the most of the writing time I have.

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  3. Yes, summertime stirs up the guilt. Not only regarding the kids, but also b/c it's so sunny and cheery outside, I often feel I'm going against the grain of nature to stay holed up inside the house to write. Especially living in the Midwest, we dare not take beautiful weather for granted, so even though I try to do some writing outside, there is still the weird guilt that I should be doing something more outdoorsy than using pen & paper. :P

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    1. I hear you on living in the Midwest and not taking beautiful weather for granted. After all, it's only green for about 5 months of the year (here in central Michigan). And those other 7 months have a lot of gray days! It's hard to stay inside when it's sunny! :-)

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  4. I have to say that I no longer feel any guilt about writing time. My husband has seen that I thrive when I get time to write; I'm happier, fulfilled, and I get more done at home. Not to say that I acted that way just to get my way. I commented about it to my husband after I'd realized this, and he agreed with me.

    And he sees that I'm taking that time seriously. I'll often give him updates on what I accomplished during my writing time, and he's seen the stack of manuscript pages growing on my desk. I share with my kids how many words I wrote that day, and it's kind of become a family thing. My kids are proud of me, and I think they feel a part of it since they've helped get a snack for their little brother while I finished up an hour of writing.

    I think the big thing is not to demand writing time. A family has to work as a whole, and there were a few years in our lives where I just didn't have writing time for various reasons. But now that time has passed, and it works well in our house for me to get some writing time Monday through Friday.

    If your spouse doesn't get it and seems to resent you wanting to get away, then you may need to back off for awhile. You may need to just make it work around the noise of the family. It may take some time for them to realize you're serious about it and not playing solitaire. :)

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    1. Hi Sally,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. That's wonderful that your husband and family are supporting your writing time. I love it! You've won half the battle right there! It is often hard for spouses to wholeheartedly embrace writing, especially in the pre-publication stage. But it's so important that they do, because like you said it is something that's important to us and makes us function better!

      And you're right, a family needs to be sensitive to each other's needs and seasons. The amount of writing time may ebb and flow accordingly.

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    2. Yes, you can't go into that conversation with a me, me, me attitude. Sometimes the writing comes third or fourth or not at all.

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  5. I am in the midst of a four-part series on my blog about writing through the different seasons in our lives. My first post was by a young gal in her early twenties, a second by a mom of three young kiddos, my current post was written by me, a woman staring down 50 and the empty nest. Next week we hear from a writer who started her career after she retired. What I loved about the series, was how where we're at in life influences our views and ability to write. I found the posts inspiring. You offer great ideas for helping people claim a slice of their dream in their lives. What I learned, through all the posts in my series, is that this is the key, no matter the stage of life we're in.

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    1. Hi Julie,

      That sounds like a really awesome series! I'm sure our seasons definitely influence us. It will be interesting for me to see some day how my own views change when I reach my next season of empty nest (still many years away!). But I'm sure our perspectives mature and change. It's encouraging to hear that all of the women you hosted felt the key was holding on to their dreams. I think that's so true! :-)

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  6. Jody! This is a very real part of my life everyday! LOL I feel guilty a lot, but I have learned that when I pray for guidance, God will lead me to a path of writing "peace". I often employ many of the things you mentioned and it helps organize my time and follow that peaceful path, but if I every begin to feel uneasy or profoundly guilty, then I know I need to leave the writing for the time being and focus on my family, house, chores, etc. Then, when its my "scheduled" time (usually during nap time) I can feel at ease, knowing I have put my kids first and I can take the time I need to write, sans guilt. I always love the posts you write--so insightful and encouraging.
    HUGS!!

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    1. Hi there Amber! So nice to see you here! I remember when my youngest were still taking naps and how I scheduled my writing time for then too. I lovingly refer to The Preacher's Bride as my "nap book." I wrote it over a year's time during naps and after the kids went to bed. Now that I'm on a much tighter schedule (and my kids don't take naps!), I've moved to scheduled blocks of time approximately 4 days a week and then I grab what I can on the other 2 days (and take Sundays off). It alleviates guilt to have the scheduled time. I feel less harried on those days than I do on the days that I'm grabbing time here and there. :-)

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  7. Thank you for such an encouraging post, Jody. I've often found myself justifying to other people why I loved to write, and experienced some level of guilt because I enjoyed my work (with or without pay) while knowing others may not have felt the same way about their jobs. You're right about it being a blessing to write. If God calls you to write, He will give you the determination, drive, and desire to do it. There's no shame in praising Him for the opportunities He gives.

    As for the necessity question, for me, it's essential that I write. It's a source of healing for me, a way to cope when life presents difficult circumstances. It's also allowed me to connect with a community of supportive and creative people.

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    1. Hi Brandi,
      Love your comment, Brandi! It's exactly how I feel. Writing is a blessing and a source of comfort, solace, retreat-especially when life gets tough. It's wonderful to have the kind of job you can run to rather than feeling like you want to run away from it! :-)

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  8. It's always so nice to come here and find I'm not alone in my struggles. I have finally realized that writing is what I'm called to do- that it fulfills my creative and intellectual needs, and that I'm happy when I get it in each day. But, as often happens when we strive for change, summer WILL present obstacles to my goal. I love your tips; I plan on getting up early to get in an hour on my WIP most days- that way, I'll have my fix and won't feel as much pressure later in the day. I also hope to enlist a college aged helper. I have a personally imposed deadline to shoot for that will help me focus- but hopefully not stress! Thanks as always for your insights!

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    1. Hi Julia,

      Oh you are definitely not alone! LOL! :-) I have tried all kinds of things over the past years to make summers work. But for the sake of the brevity of this post I only listed one of the most recent. I've also paid my oldest to babysit my younger children (basically play and occupy them!). I've enlisted the help of my mom who took the kids to the library once a week for their reading program prizes and to get new books. I've also grabbed writing time while they're at swim lessons or other activities. We can make it work! It just takes some extra thought! :-)

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  9. Jody, I guess I should count myself lucky that I don't feel guilty about writing--at least right now. I just graduated and started freelance writing, so besides my day job, writing/networking IS my work. Fun work! I could get used to working for myself. However, I don't have the same considerations as you--family, home upkeep, etc. I don't even have the pressure of writing for a publisher, just open call deadlines. Guess I should enjoy this feeling while it lasts. ;)

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    1. Hi Grace,
      Yes, definitely enjoy that feeling!! It's wonderful to be able to do something you LOVE every day! Especially when it can be your full time job and you don't have other responsibilities pulling at you! :-)

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  10. This is so timely, Jody! I just checked-in with my weekly #wipmadness writing group and admitted to a week of no serious writing thanks to all the Victoria Day holiday happenings in my life. And I said I was okay with it... that I'd given myself guilt-free permission for the week off and I would be back on schedule tomorrow.

    I think we do ourselves (and God) a disservice if we believe we must be everything to everyone, always putting their needs before our own. If we accept that our writing is something God wants us to do, then we make time for it by cutting back a bit on, but not totally ignoring, other responsibilities. I think it helps eliminate (or at least minimize) the guilt to make a deliberate choice about writing times and non-writing times. So I'm a big fan of your first two points.

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    1. Hi Carol,
      Thank you for your words of wisdom! I don't think we should feel guilty for taking time off of writing either (as opposed to feeling guilty FOR writing). Sometimes we truly do need that break, and perhaps there are writers who need more time off in the summer. And if so, we need to give ourselves that permission (as you said). Every job deserves vacation days, and writers are not exempt from that! Even though I don't feel like I need those occasional breaks away from my writing, it usually benefits me AND my family.

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  11. Hello Jody,
    What you're saying is absolutely true! It's terribly hard to write without feeling guilty, especially when you're not published yet and writing is much more of a hobby than a job. And of course, there's always the thought in the back of my mind, what if I don't get published and this all turns out to be a waste of time? There are so many other things I could be doing... and there's my story. Do I keep at it, even after all the rejection I have received so far? Do I invest more time and more effort when there are no guarantees? I'm glad you have set aside time to write and thank-you for sharing your strategies! Your determination is a good encouragement to all of us!

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    1. Hi Christine,
      I think you should keep at it if ultimately writing stories brings you inner joy and peace. If you're doing it for the purpose of publication alone, then I think you'll likely end up being more frustrated than anything. For me, writing is an outlet, an escape, a way to fill me up when life drains me down. Of course, it's also nice to be published too. But I love writing, because then I get to write the stories I want to read! So even if no one else reads them, they brought me pleasure. If that makes sense! :-)

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  12. You are absolutely right, Jody. Writing for publication alone isn't enough. I do love writing and I don't think I could stop, even if I wanted to. Writing is an outlet for me as well. Thank-you for taking the time to remind me to keep that in perspective! :-)

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