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How To Justify Spending Lots of Time Writing Before Publication


By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I was at a recent book signing doing a presentation. During the Q & A time, I was asked a really great question: Unpublished writers often feel guilty for spending time writing when they're not seeing a profit from their work. How can beginning writers justify spending lots of time writing when they're not yet published?

I only had to think back to my pre-publication days to remember the frustration I once felt trying to justify the hours I spent writing. Sometimes I would question myself and sometimes others would question what I was doing.

I would ask myself: Should I really put so much energy into my writing when I wasn't making a dime on it? I often wondered if what I was writing was good enough. Quite frankly, I wasn't really sure if I'd ever even get published (this was in the day before indie publishing came of age).

I persevered through the angst and have since learned that the guilt was completely unnecessary.

There are numerous reasons why unpublished writers shouldn't feel guilty for spending time on their writing:

1. Writers need to GET an education.  

Most other professions require years of college where students pay out thousands of dollars to get a degree, all without seeing a return or the guarantee of a job in their field. Sometimes students are even required to do internships without pay.

No one questions such training. In fact, most people see it as a necessary part of the process of becoming ready to handle the "real" job. For example, most people wouldn't want to be operated on a brain surgeon who hadn't gone through numerous years of rigorous training.

The same is true of writers. We have to spend years learning the trade. Sometimes we have to pay money out (for conferences, books, workshops, etc.) even though we're not seeing a return. Usually we have to write numerous books without monetary profit. Those years of learning are our internship, the hands-on-learning that we need to finally be ready for moving to the next stage of our career.

2. Writers need to GO after their passion. 

I believe that everyone is given a gift which is usually wrapped up in a combination of talent, passion, and personality. When we discover our gift (or perhaps gifts), we should use it, pursue it, and make the most of it.

Maybe we won't be able to earn a living using our gift. But that doesn't mean we should set it aside. Lots of people have "day jobs" to help pay the bills, but still pursue their passion on the side.

Using our gifts helps to improve our mental health because we're doing what we enjoy and were made to do. Using our gifts often helps make difference in the lives of those around us. When we get to the end of our lives we can look back and know that we not only touched other lives and made our world a better place, but that we also lived our life to the fullest and best of our ability.

3. Writers need to GAIN family support. 

Families are the places where we should be able to discover and test our gifts. We should be encouraging one another to use them and supporting one another in our endeavors.

All too often, however, families take one another for granted and fail to mutually support each other.

Mothers, especially, are in the habit of sacrificing so much every day for their children and families, that they often give up personal hobbies, exercise, and even using their gifts because they're so busy doing stuff for everyone else. Eventually those moms burn out. I've discovered that I can be a better mom when I'm taking care of myself and leaving time for the activities that are important to me.

If families get into the practice of helping each other carve out time for the things we love and enjoy doing, then we'll all thrive. It can't just be one person sacrificing or one person getting to do his hobby. Rather we need to be encouraging all members within our families to pursue their passions (including writing!).

How about YOU? Have you ever felt guilty for spending time on your writing?


21 comments:

  1. Thank you, Jody! I needed to hear this. I'm still in my prepublication days. I've been writing, taking courses, and studying craft for fifteen years. I'm a mother of a gifted child who has pulled me into homeschooling early - he's two. Feeling guilty about the time I take to write has become a default setting. Your post helps to put things into perspective. I'm striving to find the correct balance between my writing and all my other responsibilities.

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    1. Hi Christina,

      I'm so glad that the post resonated today! I remember the days of writing during nap times and after my babies went to bed at night! I think my daily word count goal was around 300 words. It wasn't much! But it was just enough to keep my creative juices happy and satisfied! :-)

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  2. Oh gosh, yes, I feel like that right this minute! I'm about to start a new project and, as excited as I am about it, knowing how much time I am going to dedicate to it is daunting. I've written a couple of novels that have come close to making it (through various levels of the querying and submitting process) but nothing has ever broken through and it's hard not to look back on all of that time and energy and feel like it was just wasted. I agree with the educational perspective - this is my internship - but it's certainly not easy, especially when it requires taking time away from kids and husbands and real life stuff like laundry and grocery shopping. (Well...I do admit that I wouldn't miss the time away from doing laundry but it sure isn't gonna wash itself!)

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    1. Hi Jenny,

      It is VERY hard not to look back on those early manuscripts as wasted time. I remember feeling that way too. But now in hindsight, I can see that the unpublished books were actually stepping stones that got me to where I'm at today. They were the bedrock of my writing education! :-)

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  3. When I was unemployed for three years, and later, when I was only working part time, I felt so guilty about having any kind of hobby, including writing. I thought I needed to be job hunting 24/7. As it turned out, when I stepped back and took time out to focus on what I love to do (read and write), things fell into place. I had opportunities that I'd overlooked while being solely focused on finding a job. I now have a job I love, I'm in graduate school in a field I adore and have a thriving freelance business.

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    1. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it! It just shows how important hobbies are for our mental health! We have to make time in our lives for those things we love in order to keep our lives in balance.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jodie! :-)

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  5. One very negative impact of this guilt is that some don't take the time to hone their craft and instead turn their immature efforts into e-books, which go on to not sell, fueling a "produce more immature work faster" mentality rather than first learn to write well, polish lots, get lots and lots of feedback, polish more, then seek publication.

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    1. Excellent point, Laurel! I hadn't thought of that before, but guilt certainly can lead writers to rush the process instead of going through the years of education needed to really mature their work. And then as you said, it only facilitates the process of rushing to produce more to earn more.

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  6. Thank you for this. I needed to hear it, as I've been trying not to stress about how much time it takes to do a good job, even before the slow process of publishing. There are days when I wonder if it is worth it when I am spending naptimes and bedtimes after my baby goes to sleep to cram in writing at the expense of resting or cleaning. And days when I feel a bit of embarrassment when people ask me the inevitable "Oh? You're a writer? What have you written? Have I seen it anywhere?"

    But I keep on writing ... and then blog posts like this encourage me to do so even more!

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    1. Hi Andrea,

      Yes, I've been there with having people ask me what I've written or when I was finally going to have something published! It's a common pre-publication malady! I wish I could go back and answer those people with the brain surgeon analogy. It take years to be ready to operate/publish! :-)

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  7. This post is SO needed by many writers! I just got my first contract and STILL feel guilty about all the time I spend on my career. I'm not even writing a first draft right now, but all the writing-related details add up. Thanks for the reminder spending time is necessary!

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    1. Hi there, Jill!

      Yes, guilt follows us even after publication! I really think it follows working moms anyway, but once we attempt to eek out a career from our writing (similar to starting a small business), we face even more skepticism. It often takes a while to see a profit even after publication, and then sometimes it's miniscule! But if it's something we love and are passionate about, then it's important to keep at it! :-)

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  8. That Bombeck quote is one of my absolute favorites. I used to feel guilty about the time I spent writing, but not anymore. My guys--hubby and three sons--absolutely support me and are so proud of me. And you know what? I'm proud of myself :)

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  9. I ditto what Jill said. I still feel guilty even though I'm "making money" because the amount of money I'm making causes me to wonder if I should just go get a job that compensates me according to my skill levels, or if I should just stop altogether and spend the time with my kids. I mean, it's really hard to justify all the hours and spending time away from your kids when you're just making a few dollars an hour.

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  10. I have felt guilty before- but I agree that we shouldn't feel guilty! We are working and spending time getting better at something we love. People spend time doing all kinds of things that they don't get paid for (watching tv, gardening, playing on the computer, etc.). It is important to spend our time doing things we love and following our dreams and this is what I try to keep in mind when I start to feel guilty. Of course, we need to also make time for the people we love and care about. :)

    Great post!
    ~Jess

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  11. Yes, I feel guilty often. But I've learned to consider that time an investment and tell people I'm a writer...author :) Once I began to take myself seriously, it lessened some of the guilt. Now I feel guilty not writing!

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  12. Your article is very helpful thank you very much for sharing .

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  13. All the time. Thanks for the reminder it is valuable to take time for ourselves as well as our families!!

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