Home > Motivation > Guilt


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Every now and then, I fall off the wagon – I’m out of my routine, I’m out of my word processor. I’m not writing. If I can claw my way back into the routine of my own volition, all the better for me. But if it goes on for too long, guilt will bring me back.

Doug, wearing the "collar of shame" in Pixar's Up

The Collar of Shame! Maybe I should wear one of these round town.

I’m not entirely sure why that should be if I’m honest. On the surface it doesn’t sound unreasonable to say I feel guilty for not writing. But who exactly am I feeling guilty for? I decided to do this, for me, and if I want to stop for a while (or altogether) then I should be able to make that decision without feeling bad about it, shouldn’t I?

I guess that’s part if it – the decision. If I really had made the decision to stop the wagon and climb out, rather than falling off, maybe I wouldn’t feel quite so bad. But most droughts come completely by accident (well, laziness).

Still, why should it gnaw at me so? It seems an unreasonable overreaction, the steady maxim of “I should be writing” growing until, with the shrillness of nails on blackboard, it is a wail in my head that I can’t ignore.

And it’s just as well. Let’s face it, if I need guilt to get me back into the routine there is something wrong. When things are that bad I’m not just ignoring my writing, but also the other systems I’ve put in place that keep me in check, or ensure I’m in the “writing mood”. I stop listening to writing podcasts, I may ignore tweets about writing articles that I should find interesting, and I stop reviewing my work and looking at my wordcount and targets spreadsheet.

Bad times.

Picking up any of these good habits again still doesn’t get me in the mood necessarily, but it does increase the guilt. I hear about other people’s successes; read a bit of writing advice, or I look at my spreadsheet – vacuous and pathetic, a skeleton only of the aspirations I had at the beginning of the year, and something dark will grind away at my laziness.

In the end, I suppose, I feel guilty because I’m letting myself down. I was told at school (too much I suspect) that I was talented, but I’ve got to this point in my life without really doing anything significant with this ‘talent’ (for the record, I’m not sure that innate ‘talent’ exists to the extent that it’s useful with a truckload of hard work).

So I feel bad for not trying for my potential, for the time I’ve spent so far without seeing any returns, for the time I’m wasting now (well, not right now, obviously).

In that way, I suppose guilt has its uses. It gets me back to writing if I’ve strayed for too long. It’s a nasty feeling though, and it would be great if I didn’t need it. And I don’t, when I’m solidly in my routine. But those nasty ruts outside of it really do bite.

It all comes down to discipline of course. I know what I should be doing, and I know the kind of extra things I do to keep that going. The answer, as always, is to buckle down and do it!

What about you? Do you get wracked by guilt? Maybe you still get the guilt, even if you do stick to your routine – you could always be doing more, right? Please leave a response in the comments.

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  • Craig

    Oh dear god the guilt!  I have guilt for not getting on with it, piled on top of the guilt that I felt for not attaining my rather meagre targets, piled on top of the guilt that I’ve failed in just about every aspect of my life.

    It comes down to whther you feel its actually worth it, right?  Like if you think you will achieve anything by going through the torturous process of writing and what you will get out of it.  Quite frankly, I’ve lost all hope fo achieving anything with it.

    Not very motivational, is it?

  • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

    Dude! Chin up! If it helps, you’re more productive than me. You have a finished novel, don’t you? Find yourself a freelance editor to give it a once-over and you’re on your way to having a proper finished piece!