On Forgiving “Writer’s Guilt” & Paying Your Rent – Daniel Jose Older on the #BGNPodcast

Daniel Jose Older NYCC14

Here’s Daniel at a Geeks of Color Go Pro Panel at NYCC this past autumn

I did another podcast this week with Black Girl Nerds, this time featuring author Daniel Jose Older, whose book, Half Resurrection Blues came out last week. He was very insightful and open about his writing process — offering many great pieces of advice — which I found very encouraging as a writer.

On finding your writing process:

“A lot of what being a writer is, is finding out what your process is and not doing somebody else’s.” He says that even when you’ve found your process, it can still change, depending on your life at the time and what’s necessary for you.

On the realities of being a writer:

“I believe really strongly in taking days off, even when you’re deep in the throes of trying to finish a project. You have to live. You have to be alive. And you have to pay your rent.”

On the advice to “write every day”:

“I’m a big advocate of not feeling like you have to write every day. If that’s your process, then awesome. But that’s not everybody’s. And what really happens with that advice is that people start feeling guilty, shameful, and they don’t write every day and they feel bad about it so they have a really unhealthy relationship to the blank page or the project or whatever. You can’t sit down at the writing desk feeling guilty already! You have to forgive yourself before you begin writing otherwise you’ll be cramped. You’ll just be mad at yourself — that’s not a good place to write from.”

You check out the full podcast here, where Daniel gives more amazing advice on being a writer, the ways in which we should and can use sci-fi/fantasy to discuss power and control especially with regard to racial and economic injustice, and the books and cultures that inspire his writing, but these two quotes above especially stuck with me.

Maybe it’s because I am a chronic procrastinator (most writers are — but I feel like I really take the cake), but I don’t think writing every day is my process. I certainly need to write more, and I need to overcome at least a basic level of sitting down and writing for more than an hour or so at a time (also, I need to make writing more than chronic outlining, though outlining definitely is my process), but it’s encouraging to know that writing every single day doesn’t have to be my process. Because there is a level of guilt or reluctance to sit down. And when you’re in that mindset that you’re “forcing” yourself to write, that often makes the words come harder, because you’re so distracted or you don’t want to be sitting in that chair (even if it’s a bungee chair from Target).

I have this one.

I need to write more, but if I don’t every single day, I’m not failing as a writer. It’s just not my process. I think I am getting closer to what my process is (it involves my shiny new iPad Mini), but it’s good to hear again (because I’ve of course heard it before) that your process doesn’t have to match what the books say or what anyone else’s process is. In the end, as long as you get the work done — and being reasonably happy and healthy during the process might also be nice — then that should be what matters. Your writing process just has to be for what you need, as a person, as a writer, for your genre. So I’m going to keep finding my process, but if I don’t work on my spec script today (I totally did, so HA!), I shouldn’t be harder on myself or feel guilty. That, as Daniel said, develops an unhealthy relationship with the blank page. Writing is hard enough and full of negative emotions based on how inferior you’re feeling, how your words aren’t flowing together, how plotting is SO HARD. When you are able to sit down and write, you shouldn’t be worried about if you didn’t write yesterday. You had other things to do (like pay rent, or get some much needed rest). And as they say, write forward. Work on bettering your writing and your process so that you WILL want to write everyday — no guilt necessary.

I’ll stop blathering, I feel like I’ve stopped making sense. Listen to the podcast, read Daniel’s book, ask me if I’m writing, but don’t expect guilt if I haven’t been. (You might get a little guilt.)(And I should’ve been writing recently at least.)

(Ok, I’m really done now.)

Happy writing!

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