FFS, Writers. Encouraging Shame and Guilt Hurts More than Helps.

We all write for different reasons, but behind that reasoning is a complex web of emotions that motivates us. No matter how much fiction might depict iconic heroes who think more clearly because they’re stoic or focused on logic, the truth is that we’re rationalizing (rather than rational) creatures. The idea that we must and should write every day or write a certain word count every month generates negative emotions like shame and guilt when those targets aren’t met. Negative emotions impact our ability to rationalize, because they can easily lead to distorted judgments of our self-worth which introduces a host of other issues that interferes with the work.

Some people are motivated to create because shame and guilt forces them to show up and prove someone (or the Universe) wrong. I would argue this type of motivation is temporary and not sustainable, because you’re tying a lot of negativity to your creative process which can lead to procrastination. A lot of writers (including myself) aren’t motivated to produce because we feel ashamed. Shame and guilt often lead to a barrage of self-flagellating, punitive thoughts for things outside of our control that do everything from muck up our routine to negatively impact how many copies we sell. The judgments and vast amount of “You should…” leads to gatekeeping and a host of assumptions that everyone has the same body, mind, and circumstances to share a similar process–which is a lie. They also exist for understandable reasons; we naturally want to share advice and position ourselves as experts so people take us seriously. The trouble with that, however, is that there isn’t “one way” to write or tell a story. So much of writing advice should be treated as a tool rather than an absolute, because there isn’t a magical solution to get words down on the page or finish a manuscript. Writing is something you have to make room for and do by yourself.

Instead of spending time focusing on more valuable traits like resilience or persistence, shame morphs the reasons why goals weren’t met into judgments of self-worth. We’re not “real writers” unless we do X, Y, Z. I still get accusations of this. Mind you, sometimes finding the reason “why” we didn’t write or couldn’t finish a thing is valuable–but that can also be incredibly punitive. Sometimes, a bad day is just a bad day and there’s nothing more that needs to be discovered, analyzed, or said. What’s more: it’s okay to have a bad day. If you’re reading this and thinking: “Oh, no… That can’t be right…” Consider where your motivation to write comes from. Consider that you are tying your self-worth to your productivity. That leads to a litany of issues–especially when you can’t produce or when the reception of your work doesn’t match your expectations. We are not typing monkeys. We are human beings who have lives and sometimes? Shit happens.

You are more valuable than your word count. Being a storyteller does not mean you “must” do anything–other than tell stories in your time, in your way, for your process (or business model). How you do that? When you do that? None of that should matter to anyone but you, and thought it is hard you can build and be part of communities if your experiences are different. Your process is yours to manage, develop, and take ownership of and no one else has the right to judge you for your life’s choices. Writing every day is a breakable rule as Tempest Bradford pointed out. In fact, every “rule” is breakable. You simply write until you internalize your craft–even then, your process could change from project to project. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong because you have a different process or you’re a bad writer because you need help.

As a friend once told me, trust yourself. Your story can only be told by one person: you. Enjoy the journey. Each of ours is different, and sometimes our destinations are, too! Good luck!

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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