Guilt and Writing

There are a number of quotes that writers love to site that are along the lines of “writers must write.” Here’s one:

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is ultimately to be at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.” –Abraham Maslow.

I find these to be some of the most destructive quotes and thoughts that any writer can have. If you want to give up, to quit, take quotes like these to heart. If you want to write, to finish, to publish, you must put these thoughts aside and have a more reasonable view on the craft of writing.

First, let’s talk about my background. Why I should have an opinion with any more gravitas than any others. I’m a writer in the truest sense of the word. Most of what I write is crap – I’ll admit that. It’s usually poorly worded, sometimes poorly edited (if I edit it at all), and has any number of errors of spelling, grammar, and sentence structure (just spend some time on this blog and see how poorly I can write from time to time). But I write. Every day.

And I can honestly say that most days, I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it. I’m writing stuff about which I’m trying to find something interesting to say just to keep myself from falling asleep at the keyboard. Many think that reviewing home theater equipment is a dream job. The fact is you’d be shocked how many people we’ve tried, literally TRIED, to pay to work for us and wouldn’t come through. They’d give us article after article for free but as soon as you offer to pay them, they disappear. It’s crazy.

Or is it?

When you are required to write, or required to do anything for that matter, you automatically feel resistant to it. You don’t want to do it. You find all sorts of other things you’d rather be doing. Things much more pressing. Even though you’d spent hours of your free time on the same task, the minute you are given a deadline, even a self imposed one, you balk.

And that’s what I hate about the above quote and others like it.

A long time ago I was told I’d never make it as a writer. That I didn’t have the drive. That a writer has to write. And since I could put down a pen without a second thought, I’d never be a writer. Writing is in your blood. Real writers write because if they don’t they’ll go crazy. On and on. Here’s a secret:

That’s all a lie. And if you believe it, you’ll never write again.

I’m one guilt-stricken guy. There are moments in my life that I look back on, from as far back as primary school, that I still haven’t forgiven myself for. But when I write my books, my secret is to not kick myself every time you play video games or get drunk or watch a movie or spend time with your kids or just watch TV instead of writing. I don’t write every night on my personal work. I rarely write two nights in a row to be honest. But if I felt guilt every time I could have written and didn’t I’d never pick up a pen again.

So, what should you do? You’re trying to get a novel or novella or short story or limerick out and just can’t. Breathe. Relax. Realize that you are not really under any sort of timetable. That any pressure is coming from you or from outside sources that have no business telling you what to do. I remember when the doctor told my wife that if she didn’t give birth by a certain day, he’d induce. She flat out told him no. Babies have been born for thousands of years when they were ready and we were not about to pressure our’s just because some statistic says they are slightly more likely to be whatever if they are a day late.

Books are the same. They come when they come. You can force them out but you’re just rushing the inevidible. And if you push too hard, you might abort. Just relax and let it go. If you make yourself feel bad, you’re not going to want to do it. And that’s not what you want, is it?