Writing with Guilt

 Today’s blog is by The Quotable contributor, A.C. Katora.  Ms. Katora’s short story, “Hungry” will appear in The Quotable Issue III, available in print and on the web October 1, 2011.

Writing with Guilt

During a publishing seminar I attended last fall, someone asked the panel of agents, authors, publishers, and editors how they juggle extremely demanding, successful careers and a life. The panel looked at each other and laughed. “We don’t have a life!” Sadly, they were serious.

I suppose the job description is pretty scary– rewrites, deadlines, late night editing, early morning writing sessions, no time for family, friends, or ourselves… Is this really our fate as writers? Wouldn’t the guilt drive us mad?

Guilt is one of the most dangerous feelings to deal with as writer. I feel guilty when I’m not shut in a room, writing. I feel guilty when I’m writing and shutting out my husband and dogs. Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to give up on writing, or being human. The two roles don’t mix. Then I remember what’s missing.

A schedule. For a long time I didn’t like the idea of creativity being locked in to a time frame. However, when I realized feeling guilty about how I spent my time was eating up valuable hours and energy, I looked to writers who were making a career and life work. They all had schedules. Some work for a set amount of hours and when the timer goes off, they stop. Others have a word count they must get to before they quit for the day. Whatever their preferred method, they were on a schedule and they stuck to it. Even if it meant breaking off mid sentence or mid thought. When the schedule says it is time to have a life, there are no excuses and no room for guilt.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions. Sometimes a big project requires a little more time away from family. But this comes with the understanding that life will get paid back in big moments– an extra day of vacation or something unexpected, like a funeral. Taking these exceptions as they come on occasion, and knowing the cosmic schedule will even out in the long run, there just isn’t any reason to feel guilty.

“We don’t have a life!” What a pathetic answer. The question was a valid one and I actually felt bad for the panel members. Being a writer isn’t something you are all the time or none of the time. And it shouldn’t come with a choking amount of guilt. If something, like Frisbee with the dogs, a morning run, or your child’s karate championship is important, make time for it. Find a schedule, a balance, and be a writer, as well as a fulfilled human being. Guilt be damned.