I am so over that guilty feeling.
I remember when I first used to get it. The guilty feeling, that is. It began when I was considering applying to an MFA program in creative writing. The school to which I was going to apply (I’m intentionally omitting a link to protect the innocent) melded spirituality with the craft of writing, which was initially much to my liking. I think, in retrospect, that they could be a bit heavy on the religious side, too, because I remember the phraseology that the program used. They indicated a dedication to developing “writing as a spiritual discipline.”
For those of you not familiar with the concept of spiritual disciplines, they are religious practices in the Christian faith meant to heighten the experience and connection involved in specific practices of that faith. They are not without merit. Foster’s writing on the topic is the core of the spiritual discipline concept (at least as it relates to Christianity), and he has much to say that is worthwhile.
Initially, the idea of cultivating a spiritual discipline of writing was very appealing to me. The concept brought images of dedication and higher calling with which I resonated. I determined to develop a religious practice of writing. I delved in.
The problem is, though, that I’ve never done well with consistent religious practices. I’ve always taken liturgy best in small doses, and there are few religious rituals with which I am able to engage in any meaningful way (although the few with which I can are extremely meaningful to me).
So, perhaps this was a recipe for disaster. Because, until that time, I wrote (at least from a creative writing perspective) when I had a project that I was driven to write. I never missed a deadline, and I was not captive of the illusion that I should write only when my “muse” struck. I was disciplined about completing what I was writing…I was just inconsistently disciplined (I remember writing dialogue for a scene in a play once on a laptop in the car while waiting in line for a car wash). A bit scattered, perhaps, but passionately so, and it worked.
The issue is that, when applying religion to a spiritual practice, the inevitable occurred: inhumanly high standards, and increasing feelings of guilt with each failure. I took the advice of many writing blogs that a writer should write every day, in a disciplined manner, for the sake of writing. Every day.
So, judge me if you like, fellow writers, but I have never had a week that I’ve pulled that off.
Moreover, I drove my wife crazy, because I was constantly complaining that I either hadn’t written in two days, or hadn’t written enough, or…well, you get the idea.
Then, a few weeks ago, I read a blog post by an author who recently published his first children’s novel. The post was unbelievably encouraging to me because he discussed his insanely hectic schedule at his day job (and we all have those…the schedule and the job), and that he only made time to write his novel on weekends, blocking out several hours at a time for two days a week instead of one or two hours nightly.
This, to my initial disbelief, was successful for him!
And my feelings of guilt, dear reader, flew away to never plague me again.
With their departure came the realization that not writing every day doesn’t make me less disciplined a writer, or less dedicated a writer, or place me under less of a spiritual or “higher” calling to write. It means that I favor quality over quantity, and blocking off an hour or two (if I was lucky) every night was not only robbing me of quality, but was depriving me of the life that a writer needs to live in order to have material from which to write.
In short, writing, like religion, is about substance instead of frequency, and sometimes, less is more.
I’m going to work on one or more of my writing projects this weekend, probably for a large block of time. And I may not touch them again until next weekend, after which they will have had an opportunity to coalesce in my brain. That will make for a better final product, anyway.
Not to mention a much happier life in between.
Photo Attribution: smoorenburg