I love writing. Those moments when I build tension that terrifies even me, or add dialogue that brings a character to life, or write a description I can’t believe came from my own brain — those are the moments that make writing magical. But there are some days when, dammit, I just don’t feel like writing. After a full day of work, sometimes I’d rather do anything than sit in front of the monitor again.
And that’s fine. I know it’s okay to take time off from writing. Burnout is a real issue, especially for authors with full-time jobs, and everyone needs some time to re-energize. I love spending time with my husband, getting dinner with friends, going for long walks, going to the movies, and reading for pleasure. But the guilt always creeps in. I can never fully enjoy what I’m doing because I’m always thinking about how I should be writing.
This has been bothering me a lot lately. The fact that I can’t focus on enjoying anything in life because of this nagging in the back of my brain is downright exhausting. After figuring out what’s up, I thought this revelation might help fellow authors grappling with the same issue. So here goes.
I wrote my first novel in three months. Looking back, I don’t know how the hell I did it. For
years my whole life, despite the stories that swirled around in my head, I convinced myself I didn’t have what it took to be a full-fledged author, and didn’t even attempt writing fiction. Then one night, I was on the metro in Paris, and I witnessed something shocking. I couldn’t recall a novel or movie featuring what I just saw. Someone had to write about this! Why not me? Struck by this sudden inspiration, my first book poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in a month, and by the end of a third month I’d written my final draft. Maybe it was all the years of pent up words finally exploding from my brain, but I wrote for the story, for the characters, for the creative outlet even the most fulfilling of jobs couldn’t replicate. It was fun.
Then I tried getting published.
And that sucked.
After months of suckage, I knew it was time to give it another go and write a second novel. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket, and all that. And one night, inspiration struck yet again, and I had a unique story that needed telling. But this one didn’t come as easily. I didn’t start writing this one for the story, for the characters, or for the creative outlet.
I wrote this one to get published.
And that sucked more.
Writing from a place of resentment, rejection, and fear is counter-productive. Recognizing this, I stopped writing for a while. Stresses of “real life” got in the way, too. But finally, I was ready to dive back in. I learned more about my characters, rethought the plot, and got excited about the book I was writing for the book itself, not for any dreams of getting published. I rewrote the entire thing, and after three more rounds of revision, I’m on my fifth and final round going into month nine.
Despite the fact that I’m back on track, I’ve been slipping the past month. There are days when I just don’t feel staring at the monitor anymore, when I just want to be lazy or social or whatever. But that pesky guilt interrupts whatever else I’ve decided to occupy myself with. Why won’t it go away?
Whenever something upsets me, I tend to let it build until my husband tells me to write a list of my stresses until I find the root of the problem. So here’s my little list. It didn’t take me long to find the trend. This list is called: “Why I feel guilty when I don’t write.”
1. I’m not getting any younger.
Time just ticks on, doesn’t it? I don’t mean this in a sense of “I’m wasting my life” or anything. I’m in my late twenties, so I’m not exactly old, and I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot so far (happily married, have had great jobs, traveled the world, etc.). But so many Young Adult authors are young. I mean, really young. Some have gotten six-figure deals and/or sold film rights before they were even twenty. If I were writing in any other genre, this sense of feeling like I’m “running out of time” might not exist. But with so many successful YA authors being a decade younger than me, sure, I feel like I’m running out of time, and every day I don’t write is another day I stretch my pre-published existance. Hence, guilt.
2. It takes a long time to get published after the writing’s done.
Many self-published authors have given me advice that if I ever do decide to self-pub, I should wait until I have three books ready to go. But as I’ve learned, I can’t finish all my books in three months. These things take time. And if I go down the traditional publication route, even if I manage to get a book deal in a year, my first book wouldn’t even come out until a year or two after that. That’s 2-3 years from now. But right now, I’m the only person holding me back because until this book is done, I can’t move forward publishing-wise. Hence, guilt.
3. I can’t market a book until I publish a book.
I spend a lot of time talking about how to market books. And let me tell you, I’m SO excited to get to this phase of things. Once I get a book out there, marketing the thing will be entirely too much fun. But I can’t do that until I publish a book, one way or another. But see point #2. Hence, guilt.
4. I can’t get my name out there.
So we’ve established self-pubbing requires having three books ready to go, and trad-pubbing will take at least 2-3 years. And in all that time, I won’t be building a fanbase. I can’t even get started until then. Hence… yeah, yeah, you know the drill. Guilt.
OH HEY! There’s the revelation. All four of those point are about publishing. They’re all about getting readers, not getting the words on the page. They’re not about the story that excites me, or the characters that pretty much write their own conversations for me, or the joy or writing. Whenever I’m focused on the story itself, I plow through it, and make so much progress. But whenever I start thinking, “When am I going to send this to my agent?” or “How long might it be until I get this thing published?” I get off track, and the guilt of stagnating weighs me down.
I think this happens to a lot of authors. Losing sight of the writing itself is our greatest hindrance. And who can blame us? In the game of publishing, winter is always f’ing coming. There are always holidays around the corner, crickets in our inboxes, and expectations falling short.
When writing is fun, it’s not a chore. And when you’re doing something else that’s fun, you’re not feeling guilty for that other fun thing you’re not doing — instead, you’re enjoying life. But when you associate your writing with publishing itself, that’s when your word count feels like a slog.That’s when the burnout happens. And that’s when the guilt creeps in.
So from now on, I’m going to try my best to write for the joy of the words on the page, the worlds I’ve created, and the characters I love.
The guilt can stay on the other side of the wall.