You receive a meager check in the mail for a piece that took weeks to write and months to sell. Suddenly, your stomach twists and your mind fills with remorse. You know the feeling well. It's guilt, and it comes on when you think you've spent too many hours writing for too little in return. Last week, it struck after a particularly long writing session that yielded less than a paragraph. Maybe I should be doing something more worthwhile, you tell yourself. Maybe I'm just wasting time.
Sound familiar? If so, rest assured that you're not alone. Every writer has probably felt this way at least once. (Imagine how J.K. Rowling felt scribbling the night away as a single, broke mom.) Luckily, there is good news. Although guilt can lurk inside you and threaten your writing future, it can't do any harm if you don't let it. In fact, by learning to overcome that unfounded notion that you're wasting time writing so much, you can shed the guilt once and for all--and discover the rewards. Here's how:
1. Think of your writing as a calling. You can't feel guilty about spending time doing what you were destined to do. If you are "called" to write, then you should write -- often! So go ahead. Give yourself all the time you need. And don't worry about what you aren't getting in return. Instead, take stock of what you are getting, especially those things that inspired you to write in the first place: fulfillment, increased knowledge, an outlet for creative expression, joy. Some day your inventory could include a steady income or your name on a best-selling book cover. For now, though, strive to improve your writing. The better you get at your calling, the more success you'll have down the road.
2. Make a list of goals, short-term and long-term. A short-term goal can be as simple as sending out requests for writer's guidelines, whereas a long-term goal might be finishing a book manuscript or receiving a contract. The point is, by making a list of goals and working your way down that list, you'll be able to see how "unwasted" your time really is. With each item you cross off, keep in mind that many people never reach even one of their goals. Be proud, then, of all your accomplishments -- they lead to big rewards. Another thing about goals is you can never achieve too many of them. Once you finish one list, start tackling another. It's a surefire way to keep guilt at bay.
3. Don't be afraid to tell people that you're a writer. Maybe your work has appeared in dozens of magazines or maybe you're still waiting for that first acceptance. Either way, you write -- plain and simple. Why fret about spending so many hours trying to be a writer when you actually are one? So if you're keeping your craft a secret until you have big credits to back you up, try doing this: Tell everyone that you're a writer now. It can't hurt, but it can help justify your time and, in turn, alleviate your guilt. The best part? By spreading the word, you might make some important contacts or discover something new to write about. You could even be offered an assignment or a speaking engagement. The possibilities are endless once you go public.
4. Realize that, as a writer, you are being productive. According to the latest Wasting Time Survey conducted by Salary.com, the average company employee spends 1.7 hours per day on nonproductive activities, including socializing, surfing the net, and taking long breaks. What makes writers different? For one thing, most of us don't have coworkers around to distract us. Besides that, the writing process takes time, which means we have to make good use of every quiet hour in our day. Serious writers do just that, even if it sometimes seems like we don't. Truth is, whether you're cranking out pages at breakneck speed or taking an hour to construct the perfect lead paragraph, you are being productive. Next to the average company employee, you have no reason to feel guilty.
5. Consider all the people who can benefit from your writing. Most writers don't write for themselves; they write to be read by others. And sometimes writers get more readers than they realize --even when it comes to the unpaid projects. For example, if you write and distribute a family history, not only will immediate family members read it, so will extended family members and possibly friends. If you donate your book to a historical society, many more might use it for research. Likewise, one children's story published in a nonpaying e-zine can entertain and enrich thousands of young people. The beneficiaries of your writing alone make the time spent on it worthwhile, not wasted.
6. Share your talent through volunteer work. While we're on the subject of unpaid projects, probably the most guilt-quenching thing writers (or anyone for that matter) can do with their time is volunteer work. And it shouldn't be hard to find. Does a local nonprofit organization or church need help with its newsletter? Can you start one for your neighborhood? You could also inquire about volunteering at one of the schools. Teachers love it when writers come in to give a talk about what they do or work with the students. Even telling family and friends to feel free to call you with their writing questions is a worthy gesture. Helping others with their writing needs also helps you, by giving you visibility and a meaningful way to share your talent.
One more thing. Remember the old adage "persistence pays off?" It applies to writers too. Not only will your dedication and long hours make you a stronger writer, you will also gain confidence and respect, which can only increase your chances of becoming successfully published, over and over. So get rid of the guilt and get back to the keyboard. It's time to write!
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