Getting Over Productivity Guilt: Why Sometimes Not Writing Is A Good Thing

I haven’t been writing in as dedicated a fashion as I planned, and likewise feeling guilty for not writing as much as I should. As we enter the busy Christmas season, I know I’m not alone. Are you feeling guilty about not writing, or not producing as much as you feel you should be? At this time of year – and indeed, perhaps at all times of the year – there may be reason to feel better.

All right, first, let’s get something clear: if you’re a writer, you write. You need to write. (Just like a painter paints, etc.) That’s the situation, and knowing this, obviously you feel guilty when you’re not doing whatever it is that defines you, or is such a big part of your life. However, here’s the catch: creative work doesn’t necessarily work in the same way other kinds of work do. Sometimes, perhaps creativity needs room to breathe, stumble around, or whatever it is that it does which later allows you, the creator, to get more creative work done.


Put simply, sometimes taking a break isn’t such a bad thing. In fact, a break or thinking time could give your creative self both time to recover and reflect, and then make a plan on how to next act or express itself. Some may consider this a kind of “soothing or caring for the muse,” and while I’m not sure I believe in a muse entity or not, a creative self does need some care.

If you’re producing around the clock, working very hard all the time, where do you get your inspiration? Is it possible that the well of creativity, of ideas can dry up or empty out? Every so often, you need to refill this well of creativity. What inspires you? Art? Pop culture? Being out amongst people? Whatever it is, indulge, and indulge deeply, allowing new ideas to swell up, for the well of creativity to fill brimming to the top.

Working hard all the time can also be very tiring, physically, emotionally, and mentally. Muse or not, what have you been doing to take care of yourself and those needs? Have you been getting enough sleep, or physically taking care of yourself (exercise, posture, etc)? When some parts of creativity wear you out emotionally, how do you deal with it? Do you keep a journal? Take a long bath? Talk it out with someone else? What keeps you mentally balanced and where you need to be? Perhaps this means a better balance between work and play – has play gotten cut out of your schedule entirely?

Perhaps you haven’t been adding to your word count, but have you been thinking about writing? Has a character been talking in your head? Have you been seeking out settings for the next scene, or mulling a new plotline? Sometimes this kind of work is much more difficult to classify or characterize as writing and producing, but it doesn’t mean you’ve been doing nothing. Sometimes tossing an idea around in your head until it’s ready to be born on paper or the computer screen is part of your process, or necessary for the particular plot / idea / character / whatever. Rather than simply chastise yourself for not writing, consider: have I been making progress on this next book during this break? Am I working it out in my head a bit more before I can get it down in definite words? Is it possibly just not ready for a physical form yet?

Then there’s the question: if you haven’t been writing, what have you been doing? Often creative people have different outlets for their creativity. Have you been creating in other ways? Painting, sculpting, designing, etc? Does one type of creativity possibly inspire the other, or does one supersede the other? I personally find writing to be my top creative choice, as it fulfills me most completely, but other outlets (crochet, sculpting, painting, sewing, etc.) are also things I sometimes feel the need to do, perhaps because it’s a change from the usual, and because working in different ways (sometimes expressing myself in a more physical way) is helpful.

Finally: give up the guilt. Feeling guilty about not writing, or not writing enough, or whatever it is you’re feeling guilty about can often become yet another barrier which prevents you from being as creative and productive as you can be. After all, if your head and thoughts are half-filled up with guilt, it means there’s only half the capacity left over for whatever you want to create or really think about. Cut yourself a bit of slack. Should you be writing? Yes. But a break every now and then isn’t the end of the world – provided there is a definite end-point for said break. For me, I know I’ll be back to working hard come the new year, but honestly doubt I’ll get too much done between now and the end of the holiday season that isn’t holiday related. I’m not thrilled about it, but at least I feel less guilty about it, which makes the possibility of sneaking in some writing days a lot easier. I know I’m a writer, and I have to write. But I also adore Christmas holidays, making all the gifts for family and friends, and generally enjoying the season. What’s so wrong with that?

What about you: can you take a break from writing and not feel guilty? How do you get yourself back to work when the break is over? How do you know when the break is over? Please, I welcome comments below.