GUEST POST: The Guilty Writer

Jenny Kaczorowski

Jenny Kaczorowski

So I ran into a friend at the grocery store around 5:30 p.m. and she was like, “Oh my god! Why are you here?” But it wasn’t a question. “I have to be here now,” she said. “But you? You can grocery shop any time.” Because, you know, I don’t have a JOB job.

Like I just sit around all day, Facebooking and watching my toenails grow? I totally do not watch my toenails grow.

I do feel guilty about not having a highly structured day gig, but it’s not like I don’t get it. Not so long ago, I worked all day and went to grad school at night while raising a couple of kids somewhere between research, writing, and reading from an endless stack of enthralling freshman comp essays.

I didn’t tell her that, though. Instead, I just turned red and mumbled something self-deprecating so she’d feel better knowing that I DO REALIZE, ON A CELLULAR LEVEL, just what a lazy, lucky sombitch I really am.

I’m no longer teaching and I’m no longer covering heated island politics or salacious small-town scandals. It was a choice I made so I could write fiction and raise my kids with less guilt. Except now that the wee one is the full-day kindergarten type, I have weird guilt about actually using my writing time for writing. Don’t get me wrong, I DO IT, but I feel almost apologetic about it.

The guilt builds when I wonder if I should be volunteering more at the school or coaching an AYSO team or at least getting a better handle on when people like me ought to be at Publix.

And there’s the guilt-oozing fact that I’m not generating much (okay, any) income right now. My family’s down with it, but I’m hyper aware that my people have given up things they’d like to do or have just so I can spend a few years (possibly 10, but definitely no more than 20 or 30) chasing my dream.

Guilt isn’t going to get me any closer to seeing my first book in print, though. I mean, people believe in me. They’ve given up things for me and they’ve taken chances on me (thank you, Linda). The least I can do is protect my writing time from evil outside forces, like the PTA. Plus, I want to remind my kids that I have personal goals for success outside my job as their laundress.

During my JOB job days, did I leave during class to fold the whites real quick before they got wrinkly? Did I take off in the middle of deadline day to go work lunch hour at the kids’ school? Did I alter office hours to accommodate Shark Week programming? Hell no!* I couldn’t. I was working.

And I’m still working. Jesus, I have my dream job! Time to get better at treating it as such. Time to stop giving so much brain space to futile guilt.

Writers, what’s your brand of guilt?

*Except for the Shark Week part.

Headshot RhondaSeveral years ago, R.L. Saunders quit her job as an English teacher, sold her house, dropped out of her Ph.D. program, and moved to an island. In Key West, she spent a couple of years teaching, then had a boatload of fun as associate editor and columnist for an island newspaper. Now she writes full-time under a palm tree, sipping rum from a coconut. Living real life in the middle of everybody else’s vacation is a constant challenge.

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25 Comments

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25 responses to “GUEST POST: The Guilty Writer

  1. Wonderful post! I am so training myself to say “NO.” I am doing everything I can to protect my time from the evils of the PTA AND shark week! 😉 NO, no, no, no, no….the more you say it, the more time you have to write (or watch shark week). Thanks, Rhonda!

    • Shark Week (and FB and twitter and Instagram) is totally research, anyway. As a contemporary fiction writer, I have an obligation to stay abreast of popular culture. I DO IT FOR ART.

  2. Lesley C

    I can definitely relate, Rhonda! Thanks for giving it a voice.

  3. Great post! Hey, listen, whatever works for you WORKS. And that’s amazing. Life’s too short to not be doing what you love for the majority of the day. I’ve have shorts stints between jobs where I was working on my novel fulltime and those were THE BEST DAYS OF MY LIFE. And yes, I felt guilty the whole time. But I’d take a bit of guilt over writing press releases for body hair removal products any day. (And yes, I wrote those.)

  4. Barb

    Too bad you don’t get paid for your blogs! You would be rich! You make reality humorous and the Gurnee clan can’t wait for your next post. I am sure Rachael will be calling later to ask if I read the latest! Keep up the sharing!

  5. I completely relate as well. My first and only kid is only in pre-k a couple hours a day this year and already I’m feeling the guilt. And I freelance, so most of my writing is earning a bit, but still.
    And Debra’s comment. “Where can I buy your books?” YES! I cringe at that one. Great post R.L.

  6. Rhonda Saunders: possibly the funniest writer this side of Dave Barry. What is it about Florida that brings out the funnies?!

    You had me snorting my tea, but now I have to clear up the mess and get on to my unJOB writing job. Thank you!

  7. Yes… YES!!! Did you crawl into my head to write this? HA! I feel all of these things and more on a daily basis. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do people actually say things like this… TO us?! I feel more busy now that both of my kids are in school full-time. I’m juggling so many [un]paid gigs and trying to keep up with everything else life is throwing my way. Sure, living the dream is one way to put it, and yes, I am so lucky that I CAN write & throw in a random music gig every couple of months. Even if I’m working my ass off for little or no $$ — I’m happy. I’m also exhausted, and sick of the random judgmental comments & glares; but you can’t put a price on happiness. Screw everyone else.

    EXCELLENT post, Rhonda!!

  8. My brand of guilt is sacrificing writing time to those outside forces like the demanding “day job” that I can’t quite leave behind, the household chores that beckon when I do get home from that day job, the mouths needing fed and attended to (okay, they’re cat mouths, but angry cats are something I’d rather not go up against), and a partner who can sometimes feel neglected amid all this chaos. I try to carve out writing time whenever I can find a few spare moments: early in the morning, lunch breaks and late evenings tend to work best. But on days I don’t succeed and my writing is ignored, I think about folks like my agent, Steve, who have taken that same chance on me. And then I feel pretty crummy.

    • Neglected partners and angry cats aren’t good for anybody! So, way to keep working at striking the balance.

      And I wish I’d consulted you before posting this because FEELING CRUMMY is the perfect title.

  9. Pingback: The Guilty Writer | R.L. SAUNDERS

  10. Great post! I worked “real” jobs most of my life. Now, I’m home and can do what I like so, of course, my days are filled with FBing, tweeting, online shopping, mid-afternoon naps, and hourly massages by Henri’ who – when not massaging my lazy, suburban muscles – poses for the cover of romance novels. It’s a rough life, but one I’m prepared to cope with. The awkward part is when people find out I’m a writer. “Awesome! Where can I buy your books?” “Um, I’m not published yet… but I’m working on it!” Eck. I hate that. It might be more fun sticking hot needles in my eye. It would definitely be more fun watching my toenails grow.

  11. I get it. “Why is the house messy?” “Why don’t we have any food?”

    If you commit to writing in your free time, the house suffers. But if you don’t commit, you NEVER get around to it. And there’s always house & kid stuff to do.

    • The key is to NEVER CLEAN. That way it becomes their normal and they don’t even know it’s messy. I learned that from Hoarders. I’m telling you, reality television has changed my life.

  12. “…like the PTA.” Ha!
    If I wasn’t working my full-time day (night, actually) job, I would definitely feel like writing isn’t worthy of being considered a job, and the guilt would come. It’s kind of the way I feel about stay-at-home moms: You’re home all day! You’re doing something you like! No one’s forcing you to clock in for this! OK I’m kidding. But really, it all boils down to people jot realizing the amount of work that goes into this non-traditional job thing, and the fact that you have to do it for free for quite a while before it pays off–if it ever even gets to that. I mean, that’s just crazy!

    Do you find that you were more productive when you were busy and always trying to find time to write? If I take time off to write, it doesn’t work. I also have friends who have taken extended periods of time off to concentrate on their writing and ended up producing less than when they were occupied with a regular job.

    • I think so. Probably. Okay, yes. I never knew what my mom meant when she’d say, “The more you have to do, the more you do.” I was like WTF does that even mean? But I get it now.

  13. I haven’t gotten the reprimands in the supermarket yet, but my husband has told me a few times that he doesn’t understand why, when I have “all this free time,” I can’t just vacuum the house a little more often. He’s been getting a little jealous of the computer lately, too, because my writing has been going so well I’ve been at it on weekends. I don’t think I’d hear nearly as many complaints if there was money rolling in, or even if I was doing something I hated “because I HAVE to.” But, for some reason, if you’re not getting paid much and you love what you do, even if you work like a dog, it’s not a “real job.” But if this is the only downside to my dream job–the lack of public understanding–then I still count myself awfully lucky.