Why is writing still a guilty pleasure?

Posted by Mairi Oliver on


by Writer in Residence, Eris Young

As I write this, I’m sat on the sofa in my new flat, with google docs open for the first time in maybe two weeks. All I did yesterday was Christmas: I wrote cards, put them together with presents, worked out when I had to post things for them to be approximately on time, and worked on a gift I’m crafting for a friend. I went out to buy some things for the flat in the evening, and somehow all of this took up the entire day.

But I slept well last night, and I’ve finally got some time off work, free of admin demands, so that means writing. Finally. I realise how much I missed this: a full(ish) day stretching out before me, a project that’s been simmering at the back of my mind for the last week, demanding my attention.

But somehow writing, the thing I want to do for money for the rest of my life, still feels like a side project, a guilty pleasure. Next to the massive undertaking of moving house, and the stress of Christmas admin that somehow still surprises me every year, writing has become a lower priority. I’ll write if I have time after doing Christmas cards. I’ll write if I have enough energy after work. What the hell?! Writing is my career, so why do I feel selfish when I try to actually do it?

When did it become a guilty pleasure?

Part of this is unavoidable: to pay the bills, I have to stay at my day job, if I want to maintain relationships with the people I care about, I have to do the work of communicating with them. Part of it, though, is related to the pleasure I feel when I get to immerse myself in a short story, thinking deeply about it for hours at a time when everything else in my life is tending to feel bitty and surface-level. Because writing is a treat, something I genuinely enjoy (I’ve never understood writers who say they don’t actually like the process…) it’s as if my brain can’t compute the idea that something I like doing might also count as “work”.

That’s not a bad position to be in, if I’m honest. But it does make it difficult to justify prioritising writing above life admin and socialising- and I'm way past the point in my career when I should be doing just that.

A lot of the time I feel like I’m chasing after some ideal state of peace and focus, where I’ve slept well, I’ve got an uninterrupted block of time to work in, and a project I’m motivated to work on. Most days I feel like I have only the last thing and not the first two.

And because I have so many friends who are writers, and when we chat we talk about our work lives and the projects we’re all simultaneously juggling alongside our day jobs, not about how much downtime we find ourselves with or how we make downtime, and not about the other demands on our time and physical and mental energy. It’s easy to feel like I, in some nebulous and ill-defined way, don’t measure up. It’s a bit like being on social media and seeing everyone’s accomplishments but not their graft or their failures. Not quite impostor syndrome, not quite jealousy and not quite guilt, but a weird mix of these. I know, intellectually, that I “measure up”, whatever that means, but only when I give myself time and space to do work and accomplish things.

So how do I fix it? Well I’m pretty sure there’s no magic button I can press to make all the other demands and distractions disappear. Like most problems, there seems to be a lot of little solutions for one big problem. My plan so far involves (somewhat predictably) staying off social media where I can, since the whole point of twitter and instagram seems to be to distract its user from other things. I’ll be making some practical sacrifices irl, too: I know my building is quietest at the beginning of the week, so I’m most likely to sleep well before my day off work Wednesday. That means no socialising on Wednesdays.

I won’t bore you with the whole list, because my point is that it’s these multitudinous little changes and adjustments to the way we live our lives that can make a difference. Just like recycling and buying local are tiny everyday changes to try and mitigate climate change, these adjustments do accumulate. We just have to commit, and give them time to work.

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