Writer’s Guilt

I just came back from a nine-day holiday overseas. In that time I caught up with friends and family, did a baggage-allowance-load of shopping, and ate enough to sink a hippo. (Yep, durians factored heavily into it.)

I did not, however, do much writing.

Almost all writing books and advice from published (and unpublished) writers throw out the common maxim of “write every day.” The idea is to set yourself a minimum number of words and write. Whatever else you may have to do, you should always be writing.

I think it’s very important to be constantly writing if you want to make it your career. Like any other job or hobby, you will only improve if you’re disciplined enough to work at it regularly. I can’t say that I consider people who simply pound out a few paragraphs once every few months when the mood strikes them to be serious about wanting to turn a hobby into a profession.

However, I do find that some people (or perhaps just me!) tend to take it too far the other way. There is a palpable sense of guilt if I’m not working on my writing each day. Long day at work? Doesn’t matter. Public holiday? You can’t spend all day out with friends, otherwise it’s a writing day wasted.

I can’t remember the last time I settled down for a gaming day or watched TV without feeling bad about it. There’s always the small voice at the back of my mind telling me that if I’m not always writing, then I’m not dedicated enough to ever make it–that is, to ever make writing my full-time career. It whispers that I’m a failure as a writer for not making some time every single day; that my determination is not up to scratch compared to “true” writers.

I’m sure that there are people out there who are far more determined that me. People who are so enamoured with wordsmithing that it’s unthinkable not to do it on a daily basis. But lately, I’ve started to wonder: If I’m not one of them, does that automatically preclude me from being a “true” writer (whatever that may mean)? Does it mean my passion is simply not enough to get me there?

During my holiday, I talked to many people. I heard their stories–what stories they were!–and gained a deeper understanding of who they are and what makes them tick. What moves them, what infuriates them, how they see the world. I also had many different experiences, like being behind the wheel in an Asian country (both exhilarating and scary) and trying not to pay too much attention to how stalls in the hawker centres prepare their food or wash their dishes.

I absorbed and recorded… but most importantly, I relaxed. The days were such a crazy whirlwind of activity and social interaction (something I’d all but forgotten) that at the end of each day, I was too tired to do much other than collapse into bed, let alone write. And I also realised, back in my ordinary life, just how close I was coming to burning out. You know there’s a problem when it’s common that you spend the better part of a day staring at a screen, trying to write but finding reasons to be distracted instead.

There are some people who are able to hold down a full-time job, care for their family, have a social life, and still work on their writing on a daily basis. They are incredible people and I have boundless respect and admiration for them. Sadly, I am not one of those people. The thing is, it’s not something to feel guilty about. People approach things in different ways. For me, I suspect this involves intense periods of writing, followed by a period of downtime, where I’ll scribble a bit here and there, brainstorm, do some editing and critiquing, but not much in the way of actual writing.

So I think that tonight, I’ll go play a game instead. I’ll let all thoughts of writing leave my mind, and simply enjoy the time for what it is. And that is fine by me.

Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.

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