Friday 17 May 2013

Do You Get Writer's Guilt?


It's ridiculous but I can't get it out of my head. Yesterday the gas man came over to do a routine check up on our boiler. I was hoping for a chatty man because I'd been home alone plotting a novel for over a week and was starting to hunger for human interaction. The gas man, however, was a quiet man.
I sat with my cork board slowly pinning post-it notes to it while he fiddled about with the gas reader. He declined my offer of a cup of tea.
As he finished off he said, 'Are you doing a course?'
'No, I'm plotting a novel,' I said. ' I'm a writer.'
The inevitable question came, 'What do you write?'
'Well, I've just written a romantic comedy.'
'Ah, rom coms,' he said knowingly, and then he uttered the words that would niggle at me for the rest of the day, 'a life of leisure then.'
I know I tried to justify myself. I said I did other jobs too. And as he slipped through the door I muttered incoherently that writing a hundred thousand words was not my idea of leisure. But it was too late. I was left feeling like I'd been smacked in the face, laughed at, belittled. I was a silly little girl, writing silly little stories, who spent her days relaxing while the rest of the world worked hard in the 'real' world.  
My mind kept going back to it, redrafting what I should have said. But he wouldn't have cared either way and why should he? I shouldn't care either, so, why does it bother me so much?
This morning, I decided it must be guilt. I'm one of those people that think if it doesn't hurt, you're probably not doing enough. I've always had a job, since I was a teenager. All the writing I ever did was done early in the morning before work, or in the evening. I was forever wishing I had more time. I felt like I was investing all my energy into some pointless job and giving the remains of myself to what I really wanted to do in life.

But I was disciplined because I wanted to be a writer so much, and I managed to finish a full-length novel, which I never did anything with, and later, after working on a blog for a long time, Shop Girl Diaries, which was published.
It's thanks to my husband's support that I now write full-time. It was him that suggested I take a year to just write. In that time I've often felt useless for not being able to contribute financially. At my lowest moments, Destiny's Child's song 'Independent Women', has played in my head, reminding me I didn't even buy my own notebook, let alone my own diamonds. But mostly, I've felt happy! Because what bliss it is to wake up to a whole day to write. For me, it's a dream come true.
I'm no longer a frustrated writer, which is not to say some days aren't hard going. But I love what I do. Since I've been writing full-time I've finished a new novel and at last got an agent. It is my job even if it doesn't feel like one.  
I suppose I felt guilty when Mr Gasman said I was living a life of leisure because I was enjoying myself, happy at my work. And what on earth is wrong with that?   


Creaky door writer said...

Nothing at all is wrong with that! It is great to hear of someone living a proper writer's life. I am still at the working full time, writing mornings/evenings/weekends, hoping at the end of it to get my novel published stage. Meanwhile I blog about being a writer, to persuade others, but mostly myself, that I am one. I daydream a lot about giving up work as you have done, and it may still happen... But like you, I have a powerful work ethic and know that if I do end up writing full time, I will feel doubtful of my value as a worker, and longing for a chat with the gas man. Keep up the writing, though, you give me hope!

Shop Girl said...

Thanks for reading Sophie. I think if you've got the discipline and passion to work at your writing even when you're tired from working full-time, then you'll make it in the end. Just keep going. And keep blogging too. I've just found your blog and love the title of your WIP. I read your profile which made me smile. By not keeping any of my work a secret, the best things have happened to me! I put an entire novel on Wattpad, which is the one that got me an agent. So do show off occasionally please!

PS. YOU ARE A WRITER ALREADY! (Repeat to self)

Helen Barbour said...

I'm slightly worried now, as I have a boiler service booked for Monday, which is my day off writing... However, I will be forearmed with a snappy retort, thanks to your post! And carry on enjoying your writing - all of us fellow writers know what hard work it really is.

ShopGirl said...

I'm glad you've been warned Helen so you don't have to go through the trauma, hehe :) You never know, he might inspire a new blog post though! I have to at least thank him for that!

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like Boiler Man is a little envious of someone who enjoys their work so much! Perhaps he is a secret romance novelist in his spare time.

Seriously though, never feel guilty for enjoying your work - it's the holy grail we're all dreaming of. As for the earnings imbalance, that will probably flip back and forth over the years, such is the joy of a modern marriage.

Anouska x

Shop Girl said...

Thanks Anouska! All very true (especially the bit about the Gasman being a secret romantic novelist!). My husband is waiting for me to become a best seller so he can retire. He seems serious too! I'll do my best ;)

Gabs Brown said...

Some people like to believe that one has to suffer in order to be happy (i.e. if I work my balls off and be miserable now, then I will be 'rewarded' with happiness at some point in the future). It's totally pants, and completely illogical. Remember, the hamster will only get somewhere if he jumps off the hamster wheel. Enjoy your life now, and don't feel guilty about it (and anyone who tries to make you feel guilty about such a thing is completely twisted). Life is to be enjoyed not endured. You'd be doing the world a disservice if you didn't write.

Anonymous said...

I love this graphic.

Rae Stoltenkamp said...

Have so been there and felt exactly what you're feeling. Not only have I had to deal with this guilt in relation to strangers but also with family who seem to think writing is non-work.
But we have to weigh up the difference between being miserable for all time or doing the thing we love the most regardless of the financial benefits or the constant flak we get from those around us.
"You try and write 1000 words a day" I say to all those who poo poo our efforts. Then we'll sit down and have a meaningful conversation.

Shop Girl said...

Thanks Gabs! It's great to be reminded that 'Life is to be enjoyed not endured' - sounds like one to add to the notices above my desk :)

Thanks Rae, I mumbled that he should try writing 100k. I'm lucky in that my family and friends are supportive. In general, I'm happy, it's just sometimes I feel guilty that all this work I'm doing won't pay the bills, and then I think, if it doesn't pay, it's not a proper job! But that's only in low moments and I reckon that'll change soon anyway... X

Felicity Hayes-McCoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Felicity Hayes-McCoy said...

You can't reckon it'll change. If you do and it does you'll be working with the wrong mindset.

And if it changes back, permanently, briefly or repeatedly, you'll be back on your hamster wheel.

What you know - and the gasman doesn't - is how much energy and focus it takes to live life with a sense of awareness, and to craft that awareness into words.

The necessary but difficult thing we all need to do is to lose the guilt and get on with the task of being writers. Which, of course, includes taking an interest in why and how we fall into guilt ... xx

Anonymous said...

You and the gas man don't share the same values. He has no concept of the blood, sweat and tears that can go into a book and why should he? So why waste time on a comment made in those circs? You have the support of your lovely husband and the thousands of people who read your words. Feel determined, feel empowered, don't feel guilty.