Thursday, June 11, 2015

Take The Guilt Out Of Writing

by Mindy McGinnis

A writer's worst enemy is procrastination.

The second thug in our lives is procrastination's close cousin - responsibility.

Too often our writing time is carved out of the day, the niche of a few minutes where there isn't food to make, laundry to do, floors to sweep, lawns to mow, weeds to pull. The terrible truth about the to-do list I just ripped off is this: it never ends. The food will be eaten, the laundry will get dirty again as will the floor. Grass grows, and weeds (unfortunately) grow even faster.

Very rarely do we treat writing as a responsibility on its own. Even when I'm under contract or on deadline, writing still very much feels like something I do for myself. Because writing is a solitary undertaking, it's easy to identify it more as me time than as something that requires a true work ethic in order to be properly executed.

Squaring these two facts is no easy feat. Sitting down to write can often feel like a guilty pleasure if there are dirty dishes in the sink, or socks on the floor. While the to-do list is daunting, it cannot go ignored - unless you don't mind starving, stinking, living in filth, and being covered in ticks from your yard. And if all of those things sound just fine to you, I'm guessing that finding some alone time isn't all that much of a challenge anyway.

I recently went on a writing retreat, which is something I've always pooh-poohed in the past. I used to think that if I took a writing retreat, I would laze about, act like I'm in a coffee commercial while I sit on the deck of a cabin, then take long walks in the woods while pretending that I'm in some sort of medication commercial. None of these things would bulk up the word count, so I always thought a writing retreat was a euphemism for I'm going to get drunk in the woods and play Tetris on the laptop but keep a serious look on my face while doing it so that everyone thinks I'm writing.

Surprisingly, I wrote quite a bit while hanging out in a cabin, and starred in exactly zero imaginary commercials. I realized on the second day that the reason why was because I wasn't worried about laundry, floors, lawns, food, or any other myriad of responsibilities present in day-to-day life. I could sit down and write without guilt.

I realize that leaving home for three days might not be in the cards for everyone, realistically. But the lesson remains - next time something is stopping you from sitting down to write, ask yourself if it's actually the chore that is the obstacle, or the guilt?

Because if it's the guilt, don't worry - the chore will be there tomorrow.

Your inspiration might not.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author who has worked in a high school library for thirteen years. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, a post-apocalyptic survival story set in a world with very little freshwater, has been optioned for film by Stephenie Meyer's Fickle Fish Films. The companion novel, IN A HANDFUL OF DUST was released in 2014. Look for her Gothic historical thriller, A MADNESS SO DISCREET October 6 of 2015 from Katherine Tegen Books. 


Matt Sinclair said...

So, so true! This post is one of those that we all need to harken back to (when we're feeling guilty and surfing the net for some kick in the pants to get us back to our work in progress.) Which reminds me....

Marin McGinnis said...

So true. It is guilt just as often as, if not more than, procrastination which keeps me from putting words on the page. Thanks for the reminder.

Mindy McGinnis said...

Matt - I know that the internet can be a huge distraction for a lot of people, but I actually use it to give myself a little break halfway through the word count goal. Kind of a regroup... totally what I'm doing right now :)

Marin - We should be biologically guilt-immune. Guess not.

Melanie Stanford said...

Procrastination is a problem, but guilt! Oh yes the guilt! I feel guilty when I'm writing and not doing one of the many things on my to-do list or hanging out with my kids, and then I feel guilty when I'm doing those other things and not writing. It's a tricky balance to learn.
I think I have the same idea of a writing retreat as you had, but I still want to go on one! It sounds great (even the long walks in the woods). ;)