Thursday, January 28, 2010

On Writer's Guilt

Usually when we refer to writer’s guilt, we are talking about how we feel when we are avoiding writing. But I suffer from a different malady—guilt when I am writing.

When I think of all that needs doing in the world at this moment, I am reluctant to tap out my insignificant little stories or even this blog. That world encompasses the unfathomable numbers of people in Haiti who need food, shelter, and medical attention as well as my friend whose grown daughter stopped breathing and consequently lost most of her vision. It includes the daily pleas I receive to phone my congressman and let my views be known on important pending pieces of legislation to improve our general welfare.

I gave money in aid of Haiti; I made a vegetable lasagna for my friend because she said she wasn’t eating properly; I’ve signed a few petitions. These acts aren’t dues so that I can write with a clear conscience. They don’t feel like enough especially when I hear or read about individuals who sacrifice their time in service of others. I can remind myself that my paid work targets programs intended to meet the needs of underserved populations, either directly or indirectly, and that this work takes up a great deal of my time. Then I feel like I am rationalizing. Is it all those years in Quaker schools?

I know that the arts of all kinds enrich people’s lives, whether they themselves are participating in the creation of that art of whether they are enjoying the fruits of someone else’s creativity. But who, other than my loyal writing friends and family members, even sees what I produce? I can convince myself that I will have more to give if I meet some of my own needs first (kind of like putting on your own face mask in the airplane before you put on your child’s)—to eat properly (unlike my friend), to exercise, and yes, to write.

And maybe there is some truth to that. I often fantasize about what I’d do if money were no object, if I was the next J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or John Grisham. I’d like to think that I would use my wealth to make others’ lives better. The paradox is that if I wrote with the goal of making large sums of money, I probably shouldn’t be writing. Unlike the protagonist in the very funny novel How I Became a Famous Novelist (Steve Hely, 2009), I don’t believe there is any obvious formula.

So I am back to my dilemma. Maybe the everyday acts of kindness should be enough, and maybe, just maybe if I work at it hard enough, one day….

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