Guilt: The Most Useless Emotion of All

See full issue for 2016 06-20

I’ve noticed that a lot of my writer friends have something in common. We can all be ridiculously hard on ourselves, and not just in our writing. We’re good at feeling bad about a lot of things. We didn’t make our stupid word count goals (get rid of those, silly) or we didn’t read this month or we forgot to take the dogs out and the little one just pissed all over the new drapes, and there’s a laundry mountain growing steadily in the bathroom. Shit, where’s the cat? For the love of… Timmy, stop falling in the well!

If we just worked more hours, we could afford to take a holiday so we can devote quality time to writing. But part of that holiday should be spent with our family. Why are we so selfish? If we don’t spend time with our kids, they’ll feel abandoned. If we don’t go out with friends, they’ll feel like we don’t care about them anymore. If we don’t stare at the television or go to wherever with our spouse, they’ll feel neglected and/or unloved.

Jesus Christ, people. Get a grip. Look, I dealt with the same guilt when I went to work after having my first child. She was three weeks old and I realized my ex wasn’t going to be of much use, so I had little choice but to do it myself. I felt awful. I saw my daughter a few hours each day and during those few hours, I was so tired I couldn’t enjoy her. I missed little things, like her first smile, the first time she giggled or ate a particular food, and I felt awful about it. When my second child was born, I stayed home for a few months. I did all the mom things and I made sure I didn’t miss any of it. And I STILL felt guilty.

I had to find a balance, and I did, and then I rediscovered the joy of writing and the guilt started all over again.

Oh, how we love our guilt, right? We feel guilty when we spend days on end in our writing cave, ignoring our spouses, friends and children. Look, little Jenny is playing in traffic! The other one just flushed the hamster. Gross.

Just kidding. On the other hand, if we don’t write, and do all the things a healthy, balanced person is supposed to do, like play with the kids, clean the house and socialize, we feel guilty for ignoring our writing. How will we make a career out of this shit if we don’t devote the damn time? But if we do devote the time, how will we be super mom or dad or friend or child? Why can’t we do it all?!

There is no winning when it comes to writer’s guilt.

Life is short and no one gets out alive. So never feel guilty for doing something that you love. Very few people find that. However, you really have to get your shit together. Find a way to do all that you love, while also doing the adult things you SHOULD be doing as well. Find a balance. It’s hard. I still struggle with it, but it’s possible if you let go of the guilt. The truth is, most of the things we feel bad about, such as letting the kids play alone for a while, or not making dinner on time or not making it at all, or taking a day off work “Just because” are things that our loved ones don’t really mind. That’s guilt we give ourselves. If you have someone in your life who is making you feel bad about it, get rid of that person.

Getting rid of the guilt is particularly difficult for writers, because we like to suffer, but suffering for your art is just cliché and stupid. Stop that. Push the guilt aside and do what makes you happy. Be a good person and handle your responsibilities. Find the balance. Don’t tell me you can’t. You’re being a lazy whiner. Figure it out. Throw away the guilt, because there is only one person whose happiness you can control: You.

If you still feel guilty after reading this, here’s something to chew on for a while:

“Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. ...this a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.

Drink and be filled up.” ― Stephen King, On Writing


Renee Miller

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