Friday, February 28, 2014

The Secret to Defeating the Guilt Monster

Hi, lovelies!

Today I'm going to talk to you about this epidemic I've been noticing in the publishing world ever since I started writing seriously a few years ago: Guilt, with a capital G.

I don't know how many tweets I've witnessed, or how many I've written myself, that include some version of "OMG I'M NOT WRITING I'M SUCH A SLACKER." I wrote one yesterday, for cripe's sake. (Note: old habits die hard.) Never mind that I've been teaching, raising two babies, taking care of my family, and finishing a graduate degree. No, all I could focus on was that I hadn't written a single word in a week and that I was a failure and a schmuck and that my writing career was going to shrivel up like an unwatered house plant.

But then I re-read this wonderful, brilliant advice my agent posted on her blog last month about the difference between procrastination and incubation, and it made me realize that I had no reason to be guilty at all. And you definitely shouldn't either.

Think about it: how many of us are constantly incubating our thoughts? Incubation is a tricky beast; it can look a lot like it's uglier sister, Procrastination, but they're not at all alike. How many of you daydream about your characters? Write down little snippets of dialogue in your phone? Smother your desk or car or refrigerator with stickies? I know you all do it. That's what writers do.

So all that time you're not writing down "a single word," you're actually writing down tons of words. In fact, you're probably writing down the most important words of all: the ones that touch you, inspire you. The ones that make you antsy to find time to sit down at that computer. One day. After the baby sleeps through the night or your finish that report for work or you get over that chronic head cold. That way, when you finally do have the time, you'll know exactly what you want to write.

In a way, incubation is actually pretty productive. 

Here's another thing to think about so that we can banish the guilt monster for good: the best stories are written by people who are actually living. So all that running around you're doing? You're out in the world, living (even though I always feel like errands are going to be the death of me). You're out there, interacting with people, listening to real-life dialogue, brainstorming ideas on life and love and world peace or whatever the hell you talk about with your friends. Even if you're changing poopy diapers instead of traveling the world, you're still downloading new beliefs and thoughts and ideas everyday and that is no small feat, my friend. Those little life nuances are what makes good stories great.

So instead of beating yourself up about what you haven't accomplished, pat yourself on the back for what you have been doing. You're snuggling babies and smelling the lavender soap in their hair. You're laughing your face off as you find one of your bras hidden under your son's bed (this actually happened to me yesterday, PS. He loves dressing up and wearing our clothes. And apparently hoards them?). You're having a drink a little too strong at your friend's house, you're reading a book that makes your heart break. These are the things that matter. And in between all of that, you're incubating, collecting your little snippets of inspiration so you can use them when you're ready.

That sounds pretty damn productive to me.

Andrea Hannah writes about delusional girls, disappearances, and darkness with a touch of magic. When she's not writing, Andrea runs, teaches, consumes epic amounts of caffeine, and tries to figure out how to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (unsuccessful to date). She's represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman-Schneider/ICM, and her debut novel, OF SCARS AND STARDUST, is coming from Flux in Fall 2014. You can add it on Goodreads here!

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1 secret replies:

  1. Wonderful post! Sometimes you get more ideas just by living your life than sitting in front of the computer. Example: last Sunday, I had to take my 16yo daughter Prom dress shopping, using up the 5 hours I'd planned for writing. I learned a lot more about teens by watching her and the other girls pick out & try on dresses than I would have if I'd been at home!