Weekend Edition – Fear of Self-Indulgence Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

Navel gazing and other writerly fears

"Quick Splash" by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

“Quick Splash” by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. πŸ˜‰

You self-indulgent, spoiled brat.

If someone hurled these words at you, it would feel like a physical slap in the face. You would flush with reflexive shame and regret before shifting to feeling indignant or even angry. Thankfully, these words are only ever spoken out loud in rare moments of extreme conflict. To hear them, or anything like them, ringing in your ears is – I hope – something you never have to experience.

However, while the circumstances that would incite another person to deliver such a sharp insult seldom occur in the real world, the possibility of suffering such an attack from our own inner critics is, sadly, a much more likely event. After all, our inner critics are not bound by any sense of propriety. They are severely lacking in social graces and have abysmal impulse control. Whether they are shouting their cruel accusations or, more insidiously, whispering them, they always appear frighteningly confident and justified in their judgment.

As writers, we spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in what might understandably be perceived as navel-gazing. We create and inhabit internal worlds that ultimately serve as vehicles of self-expression. We have the audacity to believe that our dreams and ideas have the right to a life outside the confines of our own minds. Cheeky, aren’t we?

Most of the time, your focus on the craft provides protection against would-be assailants intent on character defamation. But a moment’s doubt is like a blade slipping through your defenses to deliver a small but decisive wound. You falter. A moment ago you were blissfully immersed in the creative flow, but now there is a covert poison working its way through your system. There is a small voice asking, “Who are you to tell this story?” And, suddenly, you don’t know who you are or what possessed you to believe you could do this thing.

You have succumbed to the fear of self-indulgence.

You have given in to believing that your writing is a selfish, conceited, and frivolous act. You have accepted your inner critic’s ruling that you are unworthy. Only Real Writers have the right to write, and you are most certainly not among that high and lofty set. After all, no one is reading what you write. No one is paying you to write. No one needs to hear your stupid story.

But, they do. They do. Who are you to tell this story? You are the only person who can tell this story. And do you know what is selfish and self-indulgent? Keeping the story to yourself. Staying scared and silent. Giving up. Using your fear to protect you from the possibility of rejection.

Writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is brave and generous. It is the act of digging deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul; extracting the truth you find there; polishing it to the best of your ability; and sharing it with others. Writing is the opposite of self-indulgent. Yes, it requires that you look within, but ultimately that internal searching is an effort to connect. Stories are not meant to be kept inside. Stories are, by nature, shared. They are the best gift you can give.

 

What I’m Writing:

writing classA few weeks ago, I signed up for a Fiction I class offered by the Grub Street writing center and taught by KL Pereira. The first class took place this past Tuesday, but I was unable to attend because my daughter came down with a nasty cold on Saturday and was convalescing on the couch through Thursday. Happily, she is feeling much better now and was able to return to school on Friday. Sadly, missing that first class felt, for a moment, like a particularly unking karmic injustice. But, I’m over that now.

Pereira was wonderfully gracious and accommodating. She provided me with handouts and assignments and even shared my classmates’ “intro questionnaires” via email. Though I was sorry to have missed that first getting-to-know-you session, I felt welcomed and was already excited about being engaged in the learning process … even if from a distance.

This coming Tuesday (knock on wood), I will have the pleasure of meeting these people in person and giving myself the not insubstantial gift of five hours dedicated to my non-business writing. Despite my heavy freelance workload, I will prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent. I will put my money where my mouth is. I will choose desire over obligation.

I know that it won’t be easy, and I know that taking this one class will not dramatically change my writing life. But, it is a small step in my right direction. It is tangible evidence of my intention and commitment. And that matters. A lot.

 

What I’m Reading:

book tin houseThough my temporary role as Florence Nightingale left little time (or energy) for reading, I did manage to do my “homework reading” from the Grub Street class that I missed. This week’s assignment was a short story called “Moving On” by Diane Cook. Since I was not in attendance to receive the hard copy, I ended up downloading the back issue of Tin House (Memory) which features Cook’s story alongside others by writers whose names were mostly unfamiliar except for a few whom I recognized right away (Stephen King and Cheryl Strayed).

After wrangling the MOBI file onto my Kindle, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (with, perhaps, a splash of Bailey’s) and settled onto the couch to read.

The very first sentence drew me in, “They let me tend to my husband’s burial and settle his affairs.”Β It’s a simple enough sentence, benign at first sight except for those first three words: They let me. With three words, Cook raised all kinds of questions – conscious and subconscious in my mind. Let me? I read on.

I like short stories because I can usually enjoy them in one sitting. Unlike a novel, which has the potential to steal me from the real world for hours at a time, a short story invites me to indulge in a more controllable and defined time out that I can safely shoehorn into almost any day. Despite this advantage, I have always struggled a little to understand the short story form, particularly those of the literary kind. I usually come away feeling like I’ve read the beginning of something but had to walk away without gaining any closure. I also sometimes feel like I’m not smart enough to “get it.” Short stories often feel like intellectual riddles that I’m too dull to solve. I’m left puzzling over the last sentence – something cryptic but obviously full of meaning that goes right over my head.

I enjoy the language and the imagery. I am interested in the characters and their actions and thoughts, but I’m left wondering, “What was the point?”

I have a feeling I’ve a lot to learn about the short story form. At least the literary kind.

Still, I did enjoy the Cook’s piece and am now working my way through the rest of the Tin House issue. I haven’t read stories like these in a long (long) while, so it feels like an adventure in a foreign land. I’m not quite sure what to expect or how to behave, but I’m doing my best to be respectful of local customs and learn what I can from my visit.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin magic new beginnings

Eckhart Tolle

 

I hope this week brings you the pleasure of indulging – guilt-free – in your writing passions, the satisfaction of learning something, and the joy of new beginnings.Β 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally – Β trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

37 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – Fear of Self-Indulgence Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

  1. Excellent post Jamie! Whether it’s actual people questioning “what I do all day” or that evil little internal voice, it can feel self indulgent to be a writer. There is so much that goes into the work that isn’t actually tapping away at a keyboard. But you are correct. With holding the story is far more selfish than having a job you enjoy.

    • Thanks, Jennifer.
      There IS so much that goes into writing that has nothing to do with the physical act of putting words on the page. I think that’s part of where the guilt comes from. We can be exploring and experiencing things all in the name of our writing. It doesn’t look like work, so we feel like we’re just indulging ourselves, when – in fact – that IS all part of the process … and a very important part, too.
      πŸ™‚

  2. My inner editor is ruthless, and quite rude at times.
    I am new to your blog, and since I am in desperate need of distraction as I am gearing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo, the timing is perfect!

    Looking forward to reading more.

    • Glad to have you here & love your avatar. πŸ™‚
      Good luck with NaNoWriMo. I’m still on the fence, but considering …

    • I’m glad you’ll use this to help keep the guilt at bay.
      Hope you have a nice weekend, too. TKS for coming by. πŸ™‚

  3. You spoke like a messiah in the part you settled the issue of writing vs not writing for good. Thanks for the encouragement, although I feel we need not smother that inner critic fatally. Thanks again, for those fine links.

    • Thank you for being here and for your kind words.
      I agree. The inner critic need only be put in its place, not murdered. It’s incessant chatter can, after all, help us to be better writers when we are able to filter all the criticism through a “constructive” lens.

      Glad you enjoyed the links, too! πŸ™‚

  4. Saying “I’m a writer” when people ask what I “do” always feels like I’m bragging, even when I’m not. As others have said, there’s way more to writing than just the typing and imagining part. My life feels like 20% writing and 80% marketing. Writing a book is the easy part by comparison.

    • I totally get that, Beth. I have had similar feelings, though I tend to think they are a case of me projecting my own insecurities. And you’re so right about the ratio of actual “writing-writing” to Everything Else A Writer Needs to Do to Earn a Living. Such is the nature of the beast. πŸ˜‰

  5. Hi Jamie. I always say I look forward to your Saturday blog. And I do. And I am. Are we indulgent and spoiled? Does that mean we are privileged?

    When I write, I’m somewhere else, turning pages in my book, privileged to be its first reader. When I start my scene today, I knew how it would turn out, and roughly how it would go. But I was still humbled and amazed to be part of it. I think I sound like I need to go to bed. Ha.

    Silent

    • Hello, Silent. I always look forward to having you here. πŸ™‚

      I love your perspective on the question … the idea that we are, in a way, recipients of a gift. Not to say that we are “gifted,” but rather that we have the good fortune to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves. It’s like the idea of the artist as conduit. Lots to explore there.

      Thanks so much for adding to the conversation. I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  6. Hi Jamie, happy weekend 😊 Thank you for talking about the spoilt brat sense of entitlement that we sometimes have as writers – you know, how other people have to suffer in jobs they hate while we get to actually love what we do. I first came across this sense when I was trying to maintain a home yoga practice, and found that one of my stumbling blocks was the fact that it was only benefiting myself thus self indulgent πŸ˜₯ You really expressed so beautifully how important it is to share what we hold inside.

    • Happy weekend to you, too, Sara! πŸ™‚
      You know, I hadn’t really thought about that, but – as usual – you’re completely on target. I do carry a certain amount of guilt about my ability to make my living doing something that others might consider superfluous, easy, or a privilege. I do not have to perform manual labor, slave away in a cubicle all day, or punch a time clock. Interesting that I hadn’t associated those facts with feeling over-privileged.

      Thanks for opening my eyes to that aspect. I’ll get over this stumbling block yet! (And I hope you got over your speed bump so you could enjoy your yoga practice!)

      • Oh I did ☺️ It’s only when these concepts stay hidden that they have any power. As soon as I realised what was going on, I reminded myself of how a healthier, happier, more connected me was likely to benefit everyone I came in touch with. Same with your reminder about how important sharing our writing is.

      • The truth will set you free, eh? πŸ˜‰
        Love your recent post on this topic. Looking forward to sharing.

  7. Reblogged this on Evolution and commented:
    Given my recent post about my hesitancy to ‘indulge’
    in self-expression, this post was a good read. I hope it helps those of you who also have a fear of navel gazing. πŸ™‚

  8. I’ve always thought writing is a little selfish, but that’s fine. We all need to be selfish to ensure our happiness. There’s only so much time, so the key question is deciding what it is that we allow ourselves to be selfish about.

    • Interesting – I will be writing more about how being “selfish” can actually be a good thing. TKS for bringing that to the table. πŸ˜‰

  9. Hi. I just want to say that reading your post just now has seriously saved me and my blog, which has now been sleeping and at a stand still for months. I have been overflowing with creativity lately but had succumbed to the fear of seeming self-indulgent to others. I don’t know why – everyone who ever read my blog was full of praise, both friends and strangers – it was just my own phase of writer insecurity and low self-esteem that hits us every now and then out of nowhere. Just from inside ourselves, I guess. Anyway. Thank you so much for writing this. I am now going to stop procrastinating, stop trying to re-decorate my blog to make myself feel better, stick my good old trusty theme back to how it was and write. This is why sharing is important. You never know whose day you just might change. Have a lovely Monday.

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  11. Thanks ever so much for this piece. So many times I don’t write because I feel guilty but your closing words – especially the guilt-free part – is the key I need/needed to set myself free from the guilt I feel every time I create time to write.
    Thank you.

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