Motivation and the Writing Life (Part 3 of 8)
DEALING WITH WRITER’S GUILT
Do you feel guilty about writing? Do you experience the twinge of discomfort when you sit down at your computer to write instead of applying yourself to endeavors more worthy of society’s approval, like working at a “real” job? I believe this is a common ailment suffered by not only writers but by others who hear a different drummer. When I was a kid I wrote funny stories, shot funny Super 8 movies, and drew funny cartoons. I was blessed with a junior high teacher named Mr. Smith who used my story about a hero named Super Flub to springboard a class assignment to develop a comic strip. In high school another teacher supported me in more ways than one: He let me make a movie for credit, he encouraged me to write a humorous newspaper and he plagiarized in part a script I’d written called “A Play on Words,” which he called his own. No matter how you look at it, theft is wrong, but in a strange sort of way his actions affirmed me—my stuff was good enough for a teacher to steal (by the way, my fellow classmates booed him when they realized he’d copied some of my work when he read his version to the class).
Soon after graduating from high school I began writing a novel about my experiences in Boy Scout summer camp, and I wrote several short horror stories that I thought were pretty clever. But I’ll never forget the time my mom walked into my “office,” which was actually her bedroom with my desk in it, and told me I was wasting my time. I was devastated.
“Don’t you have anything better to do?” she asked. That one event instilled in me a sense of guilt about my writing that lasted for decades. And over the past thirty years, I’ve found that most non-writers wonder when writers are going to get actual jobs. Even though I’m comfortable (now) in what I do for a living, that question can still incite me to write sarcastic blog posts, which isn’t a bad thing.
So how do we writers fight the guilt about making a living with our imaginations and ruminations? How do we convince ourselves that what we’re doing is not only worthy, it could be world-changing? First, affirm that this writing itch is more than just a whimsy—it’s something you have to do. It’s a gift. It’s a calling. It may even be God’s will.
Second, don’t let the detractors have their way with you. Believe in yourself even when no one else does. No one in this world will have more passion, drive and commitment to your avocation as you do, so quit whining, man up (even if you’re a girl), and write anyway. Live “despite.” If you touch one other person’s life in a positive way with your writing, then it has all been worth it. You have changed the world for the better.
Third, have fun with it. My daughter, Hannah, is a competitive gymnast. At seven years old she’s been doing gymnastics for five-and-a-half years. She’s an accomplished Level 3 athlete, placing in practically every event she’s competed in since reaching that level. Before each meet we pray over her, we encourage her and we tell her above all to have fun. So she does. She’s the team goofball, the class clown, the one who sits on the mat and grooms herself like a cat while waiting to mount the beam, the one who imitates a squeaky toy (to a T) when someone squeezes her rock-hard tummy. She takes having fun to heart, and she’s good at it.
Our society has placed on us a double standard. On one hand, if we’re having fun, it must be a waste of time. Or worse, it’s not any good for us. On the other hand, society says, “Just do it,” that having fun is everything. But understand this: it’s okay to enjoy writing. In fact, the more you enjoy it, the more your passion will shine through, and the more your passion shines through, the more others will engage with you. Writing can at once be a blessing and a curse. But it’s what we do. So if you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it well. After all, what do you have to lose but the guilt of doing it?
(Next up: Fear is the Mind Killer)
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes