Why are writers so hard on ourselves? – Laura Heffernan
By Laura Heffernan
The other day, I was at the gym, and I decided to do something completely out there: I stuffed my phone into a locker to force myself to relax and rest my brain, rather than pretending I planned to watch Sister Wives on my phone while working out, then randomly surfing Twitter for forty-five minutes. (As much as I adore connecting with people on social media, it’s simply not restful much of the time. And it’s not conducive to creativity at all. Neither is checking my email, which I’d do every five minutes if I had my phone in hand.)♥
Anyway, about half an hour into my ride, I realized that I hadn’t spent any time plotting a new story or thinking about changes to my work in progress, and next thing you know, I was berating myself for not having “written anything” in about two weeks.
I let the self-bashing go one for about three minutes before I realized it was uncalled for. Writers need breaks. The mind needs to rest. Sometimes I need to read and recharge before I have anything else to say. On top of that, to say I hadn’t “written anything” wasn’t even true. I’d participated in a promotional blog hop and posted guest blogs on two websites. I’d written two other posts in preparation for my upcoming blog tour. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis for a proposal. I’d edited the first four chapters of a manuscript I finished awhile ago that’s being reworked. I read two (excellent) manuscripts for my critique partners. I’d even started editing the third book in the Reality Star series.
But somehow, in my head, because I wasn’t drafting, I wasn’t “writing.” I’d accomplished “nothing” because the things I worked so hard on didn’t involve sitting in a chair and churning out new pages. The hours I spent researching marketing and how to get people to buy my books somehow didn’t matter in my head, because there was no tangible result. The fact that I can’t see the benefits of that work for several months left me convinced I’d wasted the afternoon away. Basically, I was making myself feel bad for no reason at all.
It’s been a busy year for me. I’ve written three manuscripts. One is fully polished and submitted to my editor, the other two are in various stages of revision. I did content and copy edits on America’s Next Reality Star and Sweet Reality. I helped host three writing contests and worked as a mentor in two more. I’m far from a slacker. So why do I always feel like I’m “doing nothing” when I’m not actively drafting?
I’m not the only writer who does this. In fact, I’m not sure I know any writers who don’t beat themselves up unnecessarily over little things. Some people insist they’re not writers if they take even a day away. And most writers I know make ourselves feel bad for taking “too much” time away from writing, but “too much” is completely arbitrary. What’s too much time away? Ten years? Probably. Ten minutes? No way. That elusive “too much” lies somewhere in between, but there’s nothing wrong with taking some time off.
Our brains operate pretty much all time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need any rest. No one can be creative all the time. These days, I’m basically always working. When I’m “relaxing” on social media, I’m trying to be witty so people will like me and follow me and maybe want to read my books some day. When I’m reading a book, my brain is racing, studying the author’s craft, filing away new words I want to use, or even just mentally writing reviews I need to post when I finish. So it’s completely OK that sometimes all I want to do is close the laptop and watch old Top Chef episodes. The fact that technology allows me to basically work 24/7 doesn’t mean that I can–or should–actually work 24/7. And I certainly shouldn’t make myself feel bad about not working…. Or about doing one of the dozens of things I do as a writer that may not technically be writing but that is still vital to being successful.
Beating ourselves up for not “working” (or worse, for resting) is so unhelpful. We need to learn to quash those inner voices. One day, when the internal doubt monster was particularly loud, I sat there and reminded it of all my little accomplishments. I made a checklist of publishing milestones I wanted to hit – everything from completing a first draft to debuting on the NYT Bestseller list. Will I hit everything on that list? Probably not. But at least I have a tool that helps me see how far I’ve come.
The most important thing any writer can have is a support system to tell them when they’re being too self-critical. But we also need nice things we can do for ourselves: go for a walk, take a bubble bath, drink hot cocoa, make a check list. But don’t forget to celebrate the little victories. And don’t let other people’s “rules” for their writing dictate your happiness. Some people write every day. Some people write once a week. We’re all writers. Do what works for you. There are enough obstacles in publishing to get people down without us bring ourselves down for no reason.
And whatever else you do: keep writing. Show that internal doubt monster who is boss. That’s what I’m going to do. But first, I’m going to reward myself for finishing an article by going to watch Rich Bride, Poor Bride and not feeling bad about it.
Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off: America’s Next Reality Star, the first book in the Reality Star series, is coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Press in March 2017. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.