✍️ Love, Love, Love
Or, The Importance of Self-Compassion for Writers
A writer I am helping – let’s call him Fitz* – recently intimated to me that he is frustrated with the progress on his book. So I told Fitz, I said, “Fitz! You have other projects on the go right now! Other priorities. It doesn’t mean the book you’re working on is any less important. It just means that priorities are competing, and those other priorities need you right now!”
I think the reason I was yelling at him is that I’m in the same boat. I get embarrassed when people ask how my novel is going. Especially if I hadn’t written so much as a cliché since I last talked to them.
But I’m learning to let that go...
Fitz and I are not alone. Another writer I know named Gerald** has other personal projects on the go and can’t find time for his own writing. (But it’s on the list.) It’s to the point where he wonders if he can even call himself a writer anymore. Other writers I know have other life things: new grandchildren, huge life changes, burnout – the list goes on. The worst part is, I think it’s making some of them feel less than “real” writers.
Most of us do not have the luxury to write whenever we want. Most writers have day jobs – we have to. The only poet (for example) that I can think of who doesn’t have to work is rupi kaur, and even there I’m not quite clear whether her success comes predominantly from her poetry books or from her social media presence. (Or if there really is a difference between the two these days. Not to take anything away from her – good on her for living the dream!)
Point is, we all have lives.
Self-Compassion and the Key to Living with Yourself as a Writer
This was supposed to be a post on self-compassion for writers. However, when I started doing the background research, I was surprised to find that there are actually many articles, posts, musings, dissertations, YouTube videos, and white papers on self-compassion in general and for writers in particular. Most of these posts revolve around the teachings of Dr. Kristin Neff, an educational psychology professor and mention her three elements of self-compassion.
Google “self-compassion for writers” and you’ll find them. They’re great, but I have no interest in writing yet another one.
However, I do believe self-compassion is an important topic. We already feel so many emotions around writing including fear and lack of self-worth and imposter syndrome that the last thing we need is to feel guilty and embarrassed by the number of pages we haven’t written.
That’s where the self-compassion comes in. Once again, we all have lives. For many of us, sleep and work take up two-thirds of our lives at least five days out of seven. If we have kids, there is another two-thirds of our day. We gotta eat. We gotta pay bills. We gotta mow the lawn and shovel the driveway and do the dishes and put on some laundry and... well, it sure would be nice to see a friend once in a while. Or, you know, your spouse. So that’s, what, seven-thirds of the day taken up already?
Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over the Time You Don’t Have
One of the best self-compassion books I’ve ever read is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Sh*t”. Spoiler alert – it’s not about being a jerk to everyone like the title might suggest. But it is about giving yourself a break.
My mantra for the last 18 months or so has been, “You can only do what you can do” (my wife may have given it to me...) Letting go of the rest is vital. And like so many things, letting go isn’t a single set-it-and-forget-it act. It’s an ongoing choice you have to make several times a day.
So How Do Writers Balance Self-Compassion with Getting Things Done?
For the record, this post is not permission to flake out on the couch and binge Stranger Things on Netflix for the next six hours. By all means, do that if you need to – everyone needs a break. But sometimes, we need a kick in the pants instead. This post is aimed at those break people. For those kick-in-the-pants people, I say: read this post instead, then get up and write!
But for those of us who are struggling with lack of time and the guilt that goes with it, here are a few strategies:
Don’t put pressure on yourself to write. Make a schedule – that’s helpful. But if your daughter has a fever and disrupts your writing schedule, well, that comes first, right?
When people ask how the writing is going, say, “Great!” and smile and leave it at that.
If you have to put your book in a drawer because you’re dealing with some life stuff right now, give yourself permission to do that. Come back later when you have the time and creative energy to give it the attention it deserves.
Writing should be your secret escape, not your secret shame. Feel guilty about slipping away to write, not vice versa!
Okay, one last thought – and it’s going to get highly esoterical or philosophical or some sort of -ical, so bear with me: The universe is huge with literally light-years of empty space between solar systems. But those stars and planets and asteroids are what make the universe interesting.
Likewise, being a writer is filled with a lot of empty spaces where you’re not writing. That doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. Being a writer isn’t a competition or a fight club. There aren’t any monthly quotas or dues to be paid. You write when you write, and you don’t write when you can’t. And that’s okay. Your book will still be there when you come back.
Oh, and your writer status – that never leaves you, no matter how many light-years*** are between writing sessions.
It’s okay to be too busy to write. That doesn’t make you any less of a writer. In fact, some would argue, that’s part of being a writer. So give yourself a break and let go of the guilt. Writing should be your secret escape, not your secret shame.
What Secret Shame Do You Carry?
Do you feel guilty when you don’t write? Why? What do you do to solve it? Let us all know in the comments below!
Today I leave you with perhaps the most uplifting video I’ve ever added: the Beatles singing “All You Need Is Love”.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
*His name is not Fitz.
**Also not a real name.
***Yes, I know that a light-year is a unit of distance, not time. But if I said “...no matter how many miles are between writing sessions” you wouldn’t question the metaphor. So why are you doing it now? Get off my back already! Sheesh!