Sometimes, when I’m gardening, I feel the guilt of not writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes feel guilty about not gardening. And I don’t mean having fun in my yard, though I love to do that too. I mean gardening for work, for money, my day job. I own a tiny (as in me) gardening business where I either design a garden or part of a garden or clean up a garden. This business is a blessing for a writer. I have flexibility. I can schedule my jobs, take a free day when I need to. But in summer, when it’s hot and sunny and there are many clients waiting, gardening work comes first. Writing comes second. And unfortunately second often means rarely.
Forgiving Your Self
I’ve learned to forgive myself for this. In January, when it’s cold and rainy and no one’s inspired by the natural world, I have as many hours as I need to sit and work on a manuscript. But in July, I’m beholden to the clients who hire me. I’m combing plant nurseries for a pretty Threadleaf Nandina, pulling Shotweed and Morning Glory, trying to find a place to park my SUV full in the city. It’s all about boots and dirt and following the shade as it moves around a house. My tarps fill with plant material as I listen to podcasts. My plastic containers empty as I plant shrubs and perennials. Life as a gardener is active and exhausting. And my confession here? I love it.
A famous writer said, “Don’t feel guilty about not writing, the life you’re living is the material for your next book.” I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert or Ann Patchett. This is such a precious quote. An established writer giving license to writers not to write. Acknowledging life gets in the way. We’re not all James Joyce with a bunch of kids and a wife who dutifully types up our manuscripts every day. We’re working men and women in the modern era, an era where corporations work their employees harder than ever and kids are expected to be treated like royalty. And then don’t even mention the worries of global warming and terrorism. Our 21st century has a multitude of pressures that no other century has had to deal with. The complexity and struggles of regular life are tougher than ever before.
So I urge writers to write. You will produce work when you devote the time. But if you can’t, don’t waste energy beating yourself up about it. There’s a whole world out there and you need to first live in it so you’re able to give the gift of it in your stories.
Do you struggle with the guilt of not writing? Let me know in the comments below.
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Welcome to my blog about the writing life and who knows what else in time to come. It’s meant to inspire, inform, and support those out there who love language and love to express themselves through it. This first post is the outcome of my reading Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s first-person account of her spiritual journey. If you’re not familiar with this funny, vivid, contemplative memoir, make it your next read. It’s the kind of book that, while telling the story of one woman’s transformation from depressed wife-who-has-it-all to untethered woman trying to get her physical and emotional and then spiritual life together, inspires anyone who reads it into taking at least some sort of small action to make their own life (and maybe even others’) better.
Don’t Be Perfect, Just Be
I’m starting this blog against all of my better writerly intentions today. If I don’t, I never will. You see, I’m often at war inside my head about what to do, what is quality, what is interesting, what is The Best way to post on a blog. I’ve had this idea, for months actually (when I first created the blog and then abandoned it). I decided this blog needs to premiere with no errors, with lists and photos and recommendations and helpful resources and an archive. I wanted to create a faux archive of the postings I would’ve published had I been dedicated to writing. This ambitious goal lives in my head as if anyone out there, anyone who might be reading this now, would be disappointed if I just posted what I’m posting now — a journal entry about the writing life that’s meant to help myself and others.
An Epiphany About Self-Criticism
Why, of all times, did I have a breakthrough? Well, in reading Eat, Pray, Love, I had an epiphany (several actually, which is difficult not to do after reading that book, especially if you’re a woman). But it was Gilbert’s words on her website about writing that helped me most. She says:
One day, when I was agonizing over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realized: ‘That’s actually not my problem.’ The point I realized was this – I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows.
And though I might have heard words to that effect before, under the most intellectual of circumstances, I didn’t really register it. It didn’t zing to my core until I read her book. Then I related to a thirty-something woman eating delicious meals in the ancient city of Rome, battling with her minds’ wild thoughts in meditation in India, falling in unplanned love. I guess my imagination had to be triggered in order to really listen through my heart.
So in an act of dedication to making my writing life better, and hopefully, others’ as well, I’m launching this blog. I will update as often as I can. Some public blogs say, “Updated every Tuesday” or “every two weeks,” but if I commit to a window, I may fail. I’ll confine myself to a schedule and that, I suspect, is the quickest way, to kill the momentum I have going now. So I’ll just say “as often as I can,” which today, feels like it might be in just a few hours.