You should be writing. No. Seriously.

I see a lot of motivational posters aimed at authors. You know the ones: a movie character pointing out that you should be writing. Or maybe it’s a pop culture icon. Or maybe the message is framed as a comic strip. Or maybe it’s just a blank page with the words “You should be writing!” emblazoned across it.

And while some are fairly benign, many seem designed to guilt the viewer. I don’t know about you, but I write to feel free of my daily obligations. Writing is my own world, a world free of deadlines and restrictions. The concept of feeling guilty because I haven’t put enough words on paper lately is anathema to the whole reason I write.

Why is it that we, as authors and as a society, conflate guilt with motivation?

Comic about writing

Guilt and positive motivation are fundamentally different things. While guilt can motivate, it’s not a particularly pleasant feeling. For most authors, writing is more of a joy and an escape than something we need to be guilt-tripped into doing. And, as with anything, sometimes we just don’t feel like it.

In today’s world our free time and ability to relax is constantly being infringed upon by the demands of work, family, and extracurricular activities. Most of us are busy managing these demands on our attention from the moment we wake up until the moment we fall asleep. Why does writing need to join the queue of things we feel guilty about not doing?

Why is it wrong to take a break to make food, to play with our kids or pets, or to go for a walk? Why are we being told to feel bad because we chose to read a book or watch a show instead of writing? Why do we need the specter of guilt looming over us during every moment of free time?

Guilt

I feel guilty and stressed about a lot things right now. I imagine it comes with the territory of filling in for two echelons of upper management, while my division is short-staffed, in the midst of the kick-off of my company’s busy season.

I feel sad that I haven’t gotten to spend much time working on any of my works-in-progress lately, but I don’t feel guilty. I regret that this job, too, is eating my life– but I don’t feel guilty about the writing I haven’t had time to do.

Sad Kermit the Frog

The world’s a sad, stressful, depressing enough place as it is. Don’t you think writing should be the one thing you give yourself the freedom not to feel bad about?

I hereby give everyone reading this permission to take as much time off as needed without feeling bad about not writing. In a world full of deadlines and expectations, give yourself a break. You can do this. When you’re ready, you’ll create something great.

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