A writer’s (bad) conscience
… will it ever stop?
I started writing seriously when the kids were small and at home, with me. Back then, writing didn’t feel like a job yet, because I did it in the evenings/nights, not during “official” working hours. Now that they are still smallish, but leave home in the mornings, I have a few hours to myself that I utilise for my work, and I can take the evenings off, just like other people. But whenever there are holidays, or one of them is sick, the writing has to wait and I’m back to being a full-time mummy. Which is fine, but can be nerve-wracking (before the long summer holidays I always get grumpy and stressed out, knowing I won’t be able to work properly for six weeks in a row …). When hubby pointed out my reaction to me, I stepped back and thought about it. Why was I being so impatient, restless, stressed out? It’s a phenomenon all artists probably know too well.
A writer’s conscience never sleeps. And there are outer and inner factors that govern how loud it roars, and how much it affects my work-life (and often enough, private life, too, although there isn’t much of that, everything feels “worky” for artists, don’t we know that?).
This bad feeling of inadequacy and guilt can come from either outside or within myself. And I found that the latter source is stronger, more numerous, and more persistent.
Outside sources for the bad conscience can be other people and their doubts or perceptions, and I constantly want to prove to them:
- to be “working”
- to be “successful”
- to be “rational”
Most often, I have just a slight inkling, a feeling that another person doesn’t take my choice of work seriously. They just never ask me about it, avoid it, raise a brow when I talk about it. There is no real interest, no obvious (even polite) acceptance of writing as a job. This may stem from ignorance, as I feel that most people have no idea what a writer’s job is about and just how much work it is apart from just “writing words”. I get the feeling that some people don’t want to know, they just think I’m being irrational in my choice of career, that writing (or more general, being an artist) is not a real job, and OH, the risk! So I’m either unreasonable, or lazy. I’m pretty sure many of my hard-working (haha) outside-of-home-office acquaintances think just that. She’s having a good, fun time at home, making up stuff with the excuse that her kids are still small and she can use the spare-time to fool around. All artists will battle these prejudices.
Art is enjoyed, but is the making of it really valued? Is the process respected? I doubt it (with Germany being especially tough. We’re such a reasonable bunch).
And that’s mainly because artistic work is so hard to be valued, in comparison to other jobs. My own father proudly boasts about my brother’s job, who is a successful consultant, with big car, big money, big house, travelling. It’s plain obvious in which ways he is successful. Whereas the writing daughter? She’s … well … typing at her computer? And else? Father has no idea, really, and he changes the subject when I start talking about my job. It’s an itch I can’t quite scratch. Of course, I have a physical book out, he can weigh it in his hands, and as an avid reader, I’d think he values the people who make these books, who provide entertainment. Why do I always want to prove to him that I’m equally as hard-working and worthy of acceptance as my brother? Hitting a visible bestseller list could do the job, or a regular, high enough, monthly income.
My own inner cravings include:
- to be “successful”
- to “prove myself”
- to be “as good as” or other comparisons
- to not neglect my work
To define what “success” is for an artist is a topic of its own, and different for every writer, painter, sculptor etc. I know what kind of success would shut other people up. But myself? Money, yes. A regular, good income would go a long way. Being liked and respected for my work, to do readings that are attended by some people, to be on bookshelves (in stores, homes and libraries). To have fans! 😉
I want to prove to others that I’m good and doing the right job; and I want to prove to myself that I’m not a failure and took a very wrong turn when I decided NOT to go back into a normal day-job with instant monetary reward. I decided to take the bumpy road, the risk, I chose passion. I can only hope it will work out one day, with “success” as I define it. To some extent, I feel that I can influence these two factors. I must work constantly and hard, and believe in myself.
But then there are the factors I can’t influence that much, and which really can be a nagging nuisance. I read writing and career advice, I follow the discussions, I try to bond with “colleagues” and readers. And I want to help improve the possibilities for indie-authors, to make us a respected part of the publishing industry. We need to stick together, support each other, and also help each other improve. Therefore I love reviewing and critiquing other indies and follow their paths and progress.
But then: Great works and success-stories make me want to be “as good as”. I want to write as good as, do as much hours in, do as much marketing, etc. Many colleagues seem to work harder, to have more success, naturally. So the nagging feeling of not doing enough sets in. It’s a constant source of bad conscience. There’s always someone (without kids, a smaller house, more focus) who works harder and is better. I know that, and that it’s unhealthy to compare myself to them. Still, honestly, who doesn’t know that pang of envy? It can be a driving force, too, it can nag me on to do more.
But there are times when I have to neglect my work, when the mummy-job comes first. How often have I sat brooding over a scene, and suddenly the phone rings and I just KNOW it’s school and they have bad news, which means the writing job has to stop and mummy-job comes first. It’s never easy, dropping the pen and within seconds putting my mum-hat on. To let the writing wait until our usual routine sets back in. But of course it has to be done and I love caring for my kids. I’d always put them first. But while I sit at the doctor’s with them or watch them sleep a fever off, my bad conscience keeps nagging me: so much stuff left to do, so many words, so many pages of edits; calls, marketing efforts, research, you name it. I neglect not only my work, but people, friends and writing buddies who also deserve attention. But I can’t beat myself up, life happens. I blogged about it here. And I preach to my fellow authors to relax and just accept that an artist’s life is never smooth and easy. But still. I’m far from having silenced that nagging voice of conscience.
Which probably is a good thing. I learned that it’s one crucial source of motivation for me, too. 😉 I hope that little voice never stops its nagging.
Over to you: Which items on my lists are familiar to you, and which would you add? What is nagging YOU when you work, or cannot work? I’d love to hear from you and share your experiences!