Writer’s Guilt



Every creative person before me has identified and dealt with a little issue that I’m going to call Writer’s Guilt.  Writers Guilt occurs in two distinct–yet definitely intertwined–forms.

It occurs to me that everyone with a creative pursuit must go through this ordeal and come away making a choice in either direction.  I have yet to make that choice, and end up doing 50% on both sides of the coin, rather than picking one and going full force.

What can I do about this?  Let’s first identify the two sides of the story, then we’ll do a little research to find out what ways other writers suggest to get past this social and personal road block.

The Guilt of Writing

Every person out there who writes feels exhilarated by the experience of creating, and can be invigorated in their life through the creative process.  Often, when a writer gets into the “zone”, the outside world winks out, and all that is left is oneself and his craft.

This is a magical feeling that only some can achieve, and requires much time and dedication to extract oneself from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.  Admittedly, this is one of the hardest ends to achieve for myself.  Once it is achieved, though, the writer finds himself in a wonderful situation where thoughts flow freely and without bound.

Time tends to disappear for a writer in this state, and nothing seems to matter.  Eating, sleeping, exercise and social interaction become a thing of the past, not needed for this evolved animal with his lofty mental state and ideas.

The solitary writer may have no obligations to the outside world, which would mean that the guilt of writing weighs less heavily on his psyche.  But for the rest of us with families, careers, school, and friends, this state of perfect concentration can be a major drawback.

The cat litter isn’t going to clean itself, and you really should enjoy your child’s company while he is still in awe of the vast unknown world.  Homework needs attention, and that Financial Accounting Exam isn’t going to complete itself.

Quickly, a writer can find himself in the sticky situation of leaving his craft at a time of high-level attachment in order to re-enter the human society and complete the social contracts that he has built during his life.

So, like a good citizen, the writer goes back to the world of the conscious and makes an effort to become more attached to society.

This switch doesn’t come without a price, of course.

The Guilt of Not Writing

Perhaps an even stronger negative emotion, the guilt of not writing seeps into a writer’s everyday life and sometimes keeps his mind from focusing on the material work at hand.  While the guilt of writing can be psychologically draining on both the creator and his social connections, the guilt of not writing lands on the shoulder of the writer alone.

In my experience, the more time I spend away from blogging or creative writing, the more I feel like I’m going nowhere.  It’s a really tough feeling that must be experienced in order to be truly appreciated.  The fiction stories aren’t going to be read if they aren’t first written.  That just doesn’t do the materials justice.

A nagging part of the writer’s subconscious begins working overtime, causing half-hearted attempts at real world pursuits.  A seemingly basic human adaptation, this nagging voice attempts to draw the creator back to the material in any way possible.

REM sleep becomes filled not with dreams about eating giant pillows, but of skewed stressful events of the past.  This is similar to that ubiquitous high school dream of showing up for a presentation in front of the class sans-pants.  Most of the time when I’m stressed out subconsciously, I don’t notice until I have a dream where I am in high school and the normal stresses of living in cliques and the sweaty palm experience of courting that unobtainable beauty seep vividly into my sleep.

The concept of feeling guilty over an ethereal process such as writing makes me wonder what evolutionary value the creative process has for our species.  If one views the creative process as a means to achieve the 4 necessities of life, maybe then it becomes less about the act of creating and more about the profitability of the act.  This can lead to all kinds of disappointment and self esteem complexes.

When the writer finally returns to his craft after a long period in the real world, it takes some time to oil the hinges and push the rusted door of creativity open once again.


The easiest thing to do to quell these guilty feelings is to strike some sort of balance between work, life and play.  That’s easier said than done.

It’s a cop out to simply say that you need balance in your life and all happiness will then follow.  This may be true; but it’s of no societal value to state this fact and not back up the concept with any ideas for achieving that balance.

Schedule Time to Write

This sounds great in concept, but I personally have problems with keeping on task during any kind of scheduled activity.  Many articles have been written about cultivating a time to set aside to write, but I have yet to put that into practice.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield mentions that even an “amateur” creator needs to schedule time to create as if it were their day-to-day job.  Once again, this idea is very romantic for me, but I have a tough time dealing with distractions when I set down to do my work.

Separation of States

The idea of separation of states comes to me as keeping things separate in your life while attempting to balance them.  This means to put yourself 100% into whichever state you are in, creative or social.

I find that I often come up with my best ideas when I am in a social state, and I think the key to using this dichotomy is to have a way to quickly and easily record your ideas in a way that you can access at a later time.

I use Evernote extensively in this quest, but I have shed a few other methods in the past that haven’t quite worked for me.  I have two Moleskine notebooks on me at all times in an attempt to remember everything I possibly can.

That system worked for a while, but even though the notebooks are in my side pocket at all times, I still tend to forget they are there.  This makes it hard to ensure that I will in fact check the thoughts that I’ve written down, and it ends up being a waste of energy to carry them around.

But potentially, this separation could provide much needed sandboxing, allowing your ideas to flow naturally, and putting you in a situation to really put the pedal to the metal.

Any Ideas?

I have yet to find a solution that works for me, but hopefully you have a system in place that makes sense to you.  I would like to hear what system you have in place, and the tools that are needed to keep that system running.  So, post a comment, and let’s see what you’ve got.