The deck needs another coat of oil. The door and wall trim need painting. The flooring guys are not respecting my boundaries, and it sounds like the kitchen is being destroyed with a sledgehammer.
I still can’t walk normally (I pulled a muscle chasing a cat, of all things). The onions are in the bedroom, and the stove is in the living room, and I’m about to lose my mind.
I have not written a word since Oct 16th. I feel like I am starting all over again with my writing. It’s MID-DECEMBER.
This “vacation from writing” consisted of painting the entire first level of my house and oiling a very large deck. All of this had to be done before the flooring professionals arrived to remove gross carpet and install new flooring, and before the first snowstorm. I planned to write a little bit each day (for myself and not for clients). My goal was to keep writing on Medium. A writer writes all the time, right?
What do they say about best-laid plans? You guessed it: I didn’t write a word — not even in my daily journal.
Not only did I not write, but my house was a mess from all that was happening. The painting took longer than anticipated, and I hated it.
Then I shamed myself for not writing during it all, as if THAT were going to motivate me to pull out my laptop.
You guessed it! Shaming didn’t work. My self-perpetuated abuse did not inspire me to write a word.
Self-Induced Writer’s Shame Syndrome (SIWSS), Do You Have It?
We all have days, weeks, or months where nothing goes as planned, and it feels like chaos.
Writing, during these times, feels like pulling teeth.
Or, like a jackhammer ringing in your ears.
But, shaming yourself for not writing when things are a mess is not helpful, which brings me to SIWSS, Self-Induced Writer’s Shame Syndrome. SIWSS is:
1. The voice telling you are not a REAL WRITER if you don’t write every day. You are only “pretending” to be a writer.
2. The subtle and disturbing voice that makes you believe no one reads your writing. You wonder why you do it.
3. The persistent voice telling you to just give up writing, once and for all. Besides, you can’t even write consistently. How can you call yourself a writer?
Do you have SIWSS? I do!
All writers experience this syndrome, whether a novice writer or a seasoned novelist, we pick up Self-Induced Writer’s Shame Syndrome from time to time, and it’s normal. The key is to accept that there are times in your life when your writing will have to be put on the back burner (whether the stove is temporarily in the living room or not).
How to Handle SIWSS
SIWSS occurs when we feel insecure as writers. All of us experience a lack of confidence at times.
Some of us, like myself, might have had an emotionally abusive childhood that contributed to our present beliefs. We fight the daily battle of being kind to ourselves and removing toxic beliefs. Some of us don’t believe we can write well because we were told we couldn’t in the past, so SIWSS is prevalent. Or, we might just be burned out from writing every day for years.
Living in the moment is how we avoid or battle SIWSS. This isn’t always easy. Case in point: I am used to writing with peaceful instrumental music in the background, and when I hear jarring noises coming from the first floor, it makes it almost impossible to concentrate (even with earplugs or headphones). Also, as a survivor of abuse, my first thoughts are that I am not “good enough” no matter what I am doing.
I’ve discovered living in the present, accepting what is happening, knowing that life’s circumstances can and will sometimes rattle my mind, body, and emotions, is how I avoid SIWSS. Acceptance and self-love are what kill SIWSS. Knowing I will struggle sometimes helps me avoid toxic thoughts about my identity as a writer. Embracing what happens in our lives fully and taking care of ourselves is how we avoid catching Self-Induced Writer’s Shame Syndrome.
Knowing it’s okay to oil the deck without worrying about writing is vital to avoid SIWSS. If I need to take a break from writing, I take it. If I need a longer rest, I take it. I take breaks and allow other parts of my life to calm down, like waiting for the construction workers to complete their deafening work before I write.
You can, too!
In addition, creative endeavors, such as writing, are best nourished by stepping away and embarking on something else for a while. A different activity, for an hour, a day, or even a month, brings clarity, fresh ideas, and inspiration to your writing. Resting the mind by partaking in physical activity, like painting the kitchen or oiling the deck, gives it needed rest. A relaxed mind enhances creativity.
It’s okay to stop writing for a while. The world will not end.
Dare I say it? It’s okay NOT TO WRITE for a while.
It’s okay to process your emotions and pain, take a deep breath, binge on Netflix, plug your ears from pounding noise, paint your house, or read about someone else’s life for a while. It’s okay. When you are ready, you will pull out that laptop or Ipad and write again. There is no need to shame yourself.
Writing is an art, not a military exercise. Like other things that can wait, it also can wait.
If you do a quick Google search, you will find differing types of advice on when, how, or how often you should write. The bottom line is that writing advice is inconsistent and one size does not fit all. Just because you don’t write every day does not mean you are not a writer. That is nonsensical.
There is no man in the sky telling you that you need to write every day. The writing police only exists in your mind; it’s that small “should” voice in your subconscious that repeats you are a shitty writer: “Your writing sucks.” “Who the hell are you to think you are a writer if don’t write every day.” “You are not good enough.” “You should be writing pages of words every day.” “A REAL WRITER writes no matter what is happening.”
All of these destructive thoughts are toxic shaming. The bottom line is that they will not help you become a better writer; they will stop you from sharing your words and thoughts with the world. And, they will kill creativity.
Don’t let that happen.
If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem… Be patient.
— Hilary Mantel
Know when you need to step away from writing and do it.
It is true that to improve your writing, you must continuously practice, so don’t misunderstand my point. Practice makes you a better writer, but forcing yourself to write when you need a break will not.
If all hell is breaking loose, or when your peace has been floored and you’re unable to concentrate on writing, just stop and don’t worry about it. Step away. Rest. Then write. The words and the keyboard will still be there, waiting. So will your followers and clients.
Self-Induced Writer’s Shame Syndrome (SIWSS) is not your friend. Nail it shut.