Sunday, August 11, 2013

Guilt and Grace

I’ve had nearly a year of working as an author and perhaps one of the greatest transition challenges has been my schedule. While my previous job enjoyed a degree of flexibility, nothing is like having long-term deadlines and feeling momentarily like I have all the time in the world to meet them. (I don’t.)

When I wake up in the morning, I don’t punch a clock, arrive at a new location, see a co-worker, have accountability, or receive on-going evaluation and yet, I still have to work. I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic, so I thought this transition would be peaches and cream. (It’s not.)

There is a real difference between a daily/weekly to-do list and meeting a deadline a year from now.

Authors are stressed about getting the book done, but more than that, we’re stressed about getting it done right on time. This seems to require being a creative superhero, social media god, reader of all the good things, time-balancing goal-making extraordinaire, type A/B mutant. (It seems impossible.)

Here are the things I’ve noted over the past year:
-The daily freedom can be daunting.
-I’m an introvert, but I still crave being a person who matters to others. It’s hard to tell that from my little apartment.
-I need something that brings the big picture into the single day in front of me.
-I might write words sitting down, but I create stories standing up.
-Pressure, grace and guilt are a revolving door in the creative world.

I want to focus these thoughts on that last dash.

Pressure- the need I feel to get something done now 
Guilt- the paralyzing emotion that doesn’t make me a better writer.
Grace- the self-forgiveness I need when I don’t get something done.

Pressure works like a vice. It’s the necessary device (the strategy) that holds the material I'm working on in place. For instance, I might tell myself I’m going to draft something in sixty days. Then I take my typical book word count (78k) and divide by sixty. The math says I need to write 1,300 words a day to make this happen. This is an obtainable goal.

Pressure applied.

But I didn’t account for:
-Being sick for three day
-Being creatively dead for five days
-The doctor’s visit that went too long
-My friend who needed help moving on a particular day.
-That one day I just wanted to watch X-Files reruns and answer tweets.
-Pop up requests (like an interview, a review, a talk, a blog tour, learning the next social media thing, etc.)

Guilt felt.

Grace needed.

I have a choice. Which emotion will I feed? Grace or guilt?

Most of the authors I know handle the pressure, but they struggle with guilt and grace. Guilt is such a convenient and available weapon. We wrongly think if we give ourselves grace that all of our self-motivation and deadline-meeting skills will be erased and we’ll never get anything done. You know, if I give myself an inch, I’ll take a mile, kind of thinking. But grace is super important, because most of us can’t write/be creative when we’re frustrated or worried. Letting go of what I didn’t get done today is just as important as planning what I will get done tomorrow.

Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about grace and writing and putting down the self-inflicting weapon of guilt. This isn’t the best list in the world, but it works for me. Maybe it’ll work for you, too. *I realize there are real consequences for not meeting deadlines, but I acknowledge that unless those consequences are life or death, let’s not make them such.

I will give grace to myself when:
1. It’s about family. My family is important. I do not have to feel guilty if a need arises in which I am called upon to act.

2. It’s an unusual season. Some seasons, days, weeks, are more stressful than others. (A change in a marriage, a move, a sickness, a new kiddo, etc.) I must accept that productively is not a respecter of my seasonal challenges. I can lower my self-expectations in stressful season and not lower my self-respect.

3. It’s about love. Love of friends and family and strangers is important. Maybe I’ll be remembered for the books I write, but it is much more likely I will be remember for my actions. Will there be any? Or was I typing while love walked by? I want to meet deadlines, but I try to remember my highest obligation is to make a better community and world. (I’ve found when I put others first, it makes my head happier, and I work faster in shorter blocks of time.)

4. I’ve been unrealistic. Let’s be honest, sometimes the epic fail is in the planning of a goal, not the meeting of it. I can be a prideful idiot from time to time and think (or tell others) about some grand scheme I have to get more done. I should not stay that course for the sake of those boasts. No one cares. No one is paying as much attention to me as me.

5. I’ve been emotionally or physically unwell. Enough said.

6. I’m grieving a loss in the book world. I’ve had some successes in this business, but I’ve also had some failures. THEY HURT. The time following those failures takes recovery. I can’t lick my wounds forever, but I must respect the grieving period.

7. My brain is tired. I want to function like a deadline machine, but I can’t. This test is open-book, not scantron. It’s subjective, not objective. A day watching X-Files sound like a waste, but maybe my brain is intaking story or resting. Recovery is built into every healthy thing. When it comes to time: Our weeks=weekend. Our days=sleep. Our years=holiday. When it comes to our lives: exercise is balanced by rest, indulging in rich foods by self control, work by recreation, etc. Our brain deserves the same recovery opportunity.

8. The uncontrollable happens. This is a huge category, but one that effects us. I can’t help that it took forty minutes to go to the bank when it usually takes five or if my dad gets sick the weekend I set aside to write 10k words. I can’t control the uncontrollable. I can control how I rebound.

I have a choice every day to apply grace or guilt. Guilt has NEVER, not for one day, made me more productive. I do own what I don't get done, but I can't afford to wallow in it. I can only chose to forgive myself and apply new pressure tomorrow.


  1. Courtney, You know how sometimes the exact thing you need to read pops onto your radar the exact moment you need to read it? Well, THIS piece is it for me. Thank you so much for the very much needed words of wisdom.

  2. This is brilliant and exactly what I needed :0)