Guilt, and the writer

There’s a bit of a recurring theme here: writing is a demanding activity; most writers have day jobs, families, responsibilities, etc; so how do we fit it all in and what’s the price we pay?

Related to this is how we feel about the sacrifices we – and those around us – make. Like teenagers hiding away and doing teenager things, we feel guilty. Or I do, at least.

All those times when I choose to open the laptop and do some writing, while those around me are being sociable. The family times when your kids are growing up, times you’ll never get back. The times when you realise your partner has done the cooking, the washing, the sorting, again. The household jobs that need doing. The grass doesn’t get any shorter by itself. Unless you have rabbits, but I digress.

(At this point I would like to stress that this is entirely about my own perception of what I do: my partner is hugely supportive and proud of my writing!)

To complicate matters further, so much of a writer’s professional activity isn’t actually writing. We correspond with colleagues, deal with accounts, work on publicity, have to do a lot of research.

But we’re very aware that to the untrained eye that all looks very much like we’re On Facebook Again.

And some of the time that’s exactly what we’re doing. Like any job, the time you spend chatting with colleagues can be invaluable. For most writers, much of our research is carried out online, so looking at all kinds of odd sites on the web is part of how we do what we do.

I’m not so much concerned with how people perceive our activities here, though. As I say, I’m concerned with how we, the writers, feel about them. How many people have a job where an important element involves spending time surfing the web and talking about what we do on social media? That’s where the guilt comes in: it’s not as if we’re working these hours just to pay the bills. We’re doing it so we can indulge ourselves in something we love doing, where we get to interact with lots of cool and fascinating people; we get all this time to make up stories and play all kinds of games with our characters. We do it so we can dream.

Now we get to the real indulgence, the real guilt. Me? The bits I feel worst about are the bits where I’m spending my writing time not writing. Day-dreaming. Going for a walk. Reading magazines or watching TV to prompt my mind to make connections and ask what-ifs.

Writers need time to stare into space.

And my, but that feels indulgent!

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

4 responses to “Guilt, and the writer

  • Julie Musil

    I also struggle with guilt, but thankfully my family is supportive. They tease me a lot, but it’s good natured. Yes, a lot of our writing time is spent doing things other than writing, but it all contributes to the big picture.

    • keithbrooke

      There’s an old Doonesbury (I think) comic strip where the wannabe writer is lying on a sofa, staring into space. It’s like that for three frames, then someone comes in and says something and he gets all antsy with them: “Can’t you see I’m working?” Love it!

  • Daniel 'Teddy' Eley

    I don’t suffer any guilt whilst writing, but that’s because at the moment my responsiblities are few and far between – all I have to do is pay the rent & bills on time, really. I feel most guilty when, as you said towards the end of this post, I’m not writing. Especially when I know I *could* be writing, but haven’t got the inspiration to knuckle down and get on with it.

  • stephenpalmersf

    Writing is a lonely activity… and you have to have an understanding partner. I remember Brian Stableford pointing that out decades ago, and me (naive, young) thinking, what does he mean?

    But he was right.

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