Permission NOT to Write

by Marg McAlister


Quite a few years ago, I enrolled in a Degree in Criminal Justice. My main reason for doing so was my interest in reading and writing crime and mystery fiction. I thought by doing this course, I would gain a good grounding in police procedure. I was particularly interested in forensic science and profiling.

Unfortunately, after completing the first semester, I discovered that some subjects (naturally, the ones in which I was most interested) were available only to those working in the field. On top of this, I was finding it hard to fit in course requirements around other demands on my time (notably, bringing up four children and working part time). Everything was suffering - my family, work, my health and my studies.

I really wanted just to stop - to never have to do another assignment. But I kept going. I'd started the course - I felt I 'had' to finish. What would people say if I just tossed it in? "But you've paid all that money - it seems a shame not to carry it through" or worse still "I'm not surprised; I never thought you'd finish".

At the end of the first year, I quit. It simply wasn't worth the price I was paying in stress and lack of time. I didn't have to do the course - I didn't need it for career advancement, after all. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt happy again.

And what did people say? Most didn't even comment. It was obviously a far bigger thing for me than it was for them. Those who did say something were supportive: "You've got to do what feels right for you."

How true that is. If something is 'not right' for us, it's so much harder to generate enthusiasm. It's so much harder to find the time. Things just don't flow. This is as true for writing as it is for anything else. There are many reasons for feeling you need 'permission not to write' - but the only one who needs to give that permission is YOU.

Life Gets In The Way

No matter how organised you are, there comes a time when life will get in the way of your plans. You get sick, or lose your job and find that stress sets in. A member of your family might need your support. Or... everything happens at once! How often have you found that when one thing goes wrong, more disasters follow?

At times like this you need to give your attention to the obstacles in your way. If you don't have the time or inclination to write, then don't. It's your life. Do what feels right for you.

You Start A New Job

...or you're offered a new and more challenging position. You're torn between focusing on the job and splitting your energy between that and your writing. Eventually you begin to resent your writing for (a) taking your time away from your new responsibilities and (b) making you feel guilty.

Assuming you wanted the job in the first place, doesn't it make more sense to take some time out from writing at this stage? If you love to write, you'll come back to it. And if you don't return to it - then perhaps writing wasn't as important to you as you thought. It's good to find that out.

You're Losing Interest in Writing

It's getting harder and harder to drag yourself to the computer and write. You find yourself relieved when the house simply *has* to be cleaned, or the school holidays arrive and it's impossible to find any peace to write. But everyone knows you're writing a book, and they keep asking how it's going. You know you sound as though you're making excuses... and you are.

Look around you. Hundreds - no, thousands - of people pick up and put down one hobby after another. They go to art classes, they dabble in photography, they take up martial arts. It's fine to try things out. That doesn't mean you have to keep doing them if you've discovered they're not really for you.

So what if you're halfway through a book? Just tell people the truth: "Writing takes a lot more creative energy than you'd think - I'm not sure it's for me," or "Writing is a long-term commitment. Meanwhile, I'm not getting to try out other things I'd like to do. So I'm having a break from it for a while."

Never, never keep writing just because of what other people might say or do if you stop.

You're Feeling Burnt Out

This is not quite the same thing as deciding that writing is not for you. Let's suppose you absolutely love writing. You've always loved it, and creating characters and plots gives you a huge buzz. But... you've written six books and although the rejection letters are getting more encouraging, you still haven't received a 'yes'. Or maybe that agent that was recommended has knocked you back.

You're tired. You know that you'll never stop writing, but... you're feeling down and you wish you could just stop for a while.

Fine. Do it. Take a month off, or a year off. Take as long as you need, until you feel that unmistakable urge return and you just have to sit down and write. Give yourself permission right now to take a vacation from writing - for as long as you like. What's the difference between letting a field lie fallow for a year or so between crops and letting your imagination rejuvenate itself between projects? Giving yourself permission not to write for a while might be the very best thing you can do for your writing career.

And while you're taking that time off, you can stay connected by reading and filing articles on writing, joining a chat group for writers, or building your writer's website. Or simply read a lot! :-)

There are, no doubt, many more reasons for needing permission not to write. The best guide is your own gut feeling. If the thought of not having to write for a while makes you heave a sigh of relief, then take action.

Permission not to write is hereby granted.

(c) Copyright Marg McAlister


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