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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

It’s Always Time to Write, Right? Wrong!

One of my coaching clients confessed that she always felt guilty about not writing. She felt so behind on a writing project, it seemed logical that if she could write, she should write.

She never really knew when it was time to write – it was always time to write. She certainly didn’t know when it was time to stop writing for the day – it was always time to write.

In the evening, she felt guilty relaxing on the couch, watching TV with her husband because she could be/should be writing. She’d try to write after her husband went to bed, but rarely had the physical or creative energy she needed.

So she’d go to bed, feeling guilty about not writing. She’d wake up the next morning feeling guilty about not writing enough the day before (no matter how much time she gave the project). This increased the pressure to write even more (more time, more words) and to write perfectly to “make up” for lost time.

Of course, the guiltier she felt, the bigger her resistance grew (that’s how the brain works) and the harder it was to show up. Which made her feel even more guilty, more resistant, less likely to show up – you see where this goes.

My client was a frequent flyer on the Guilt Spiral.

When Enough Isn’t Enough

Officially, she committed to show up for Product Time for 15 minutes a day, several days a week as I recommended.  Through coaching, she recognized that her unofficial, unspoken truth was that the commitment was never enough. She should always be writing.

I realized I’d contributed to the misunderstanding with my reassurance that the 15 minute commitment didn’t mean she had to stop after 15 minutes, that she could keep going if she got on a roll.

Expecting herself to write all day, when she couldn’t possibly do that, meant she spent far more time violating her expectations of herself than she could spend honoring her commitment to herself.

My client had a much bigger, much more entrenched habit of not writing and feeling guilty (which she practiced nearly all day, every day) than she had for actually writing.

My theory is that guilt doesn’t help us write; it makes us more resistant. What does help us is recognizing when we’re not satisfied with our current practices or the results we’re getting.

Quitting Time Defines Enough

So I suggested my client set a quitting time, a time when there would be no expectations to write.

If that time, say 8 pm, rolled around and she hadn’t honored the 15 minute Product Time commitment by then, she would acknowledge her disappointment about not honoring the commitment that day, but would not spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about not writing.

In essence, I suggested a guilt-free time zone. The concept was not only foreign, it was suspect. But my client was persistent and courageous (or she’d wouldn’t have struggled so long to find a way to get that project finished). She accepted the challenge.

It worked. When she noticed feeling guilty, she reminded herself that it was “Quitting Time.” Furthermore, guilt was not useful and she wouldn’t entertain those thoughts. In the beginning, she had to remind herself to push guilt away several times an evening. The more she practiced, the easier it got.

Releasing herself from guilt in the evening helped her sleep better. She woke the next day with a sense that this was a new day with a clean slate. No longer dragging the weight of months of guilt and remorse, she had more energy and creative insight.

Reducing the pressure (and therefore the resistance) allowed her to show up for the 15 minute commitment most of the week. Unlike guilt, which increased her resistance and made it harder to write, remembering the dissatisfaction she felt when she didn’t honor the commitment encouraged her to show up.

Some days she white-knuckled her way through 15 minutes, some days she actually enjoyed writing.

I’m all for flexible schedules and taking advantage of small bites of time (instead of postponing until some magic day when you’ll have hours of open time, which as we know, never happens).

But as my client reminded me, writers need boundaries about the times we devote to writing. It’s seems paradoxical that giving ourselves boundaries frees us to do what we yearn to do.

What structures free you of guilt and help you show up? Do you have a quitting time? If not, give it a try and let me know what it does for you.


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8 Comments on “It’s Always Time to Write, Right? Wrong!”

  1. Julie P June 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm #

    This is exactly what it happening to me. I’m in the guilty spiral. Thanks for writing this.


    • rosannebane June 12, 2017 at 12:46 pm #

      You’re welcome Julie P. Now that you recognize the guilty spiral, I suspect you’ll start moving in the other direction. Keep me posted.


  2. maryvb May 25, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    Dear Roseanne,

    This is exactly what I needed today.

    Thank you,

    Mary vB

    “Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”?? Marcel Proust


    Liked by 1 person

    • rosannebane May 25, 2017 at 9:38 am #

      You’re welcome Mary vB! It’s great to hear my aim was “on target” for you.


  3. samanthamurdochblog May 25, 2017 at 1:57 am #

    Such great pointers! And just what I needed at this moment in time! Thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • rosannebane May 25, 2017 at 9:37 am #

      Thanks Samantha for letting me know the post is so timely for you.


  4. gerrie1020 May 24, 2017 at 5:20 pm #

    Oh thank you Rosanne! I am SO like this! I’d gotten to a point where I practically hated myself for not being a “good” committed writer. I will work on implementing this right away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • rosannebane May 25, 2017 at 9:36 am #

      You’re welcome Gerrie! It’s gratifying to hear about a post that resonates. No more guilt! You are a “good” committed writer — if you weren’t you wouldn’t worry about your commitment to writing. Thanks for your comment!


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