Have You Given Yourself Permission?

by Jami Gold on September 8, 2011

in Writing Stuff

Green traffic signal light

I had a really bad day of writing on Tuesday.  My muse was off in his own little world.  I was frustrated about getting further behind on…well, everything.  And the words I did write felt like crap.

(I know, I know.  It’s my own fault my muse was distracted, because in my last post I wondered how to include the phrase “a low-class hornet’s snuggery” in a story.  And yes, if I ever have time, I now have a short story in mind for that phrase.  So once again, my muse wins.  *sigh*)

I should have given up trying to write and instead found something else to do.  Reading, tweeting, even paying bills.  Something.  But I didn’t because a) I’m stubborn (*insert your sarcastic shocked face here*) and b) I want to be a professional writer.

We’ve probably all seen the advice:

“If you want to be a professional writer, you can’t wait around for the mood to strike.”

So gosh darn it, I was going to write.  No matter what.

Yep, that worked out as well as you’d expect.  Where did I go wrong?

Give Yourself Permission

I hadn’t given myself permission to not write.  After all, I’d written each day of the long holiday weekend here in the U.S.  and every day since returning from my trip, despite picking up a nasty cold during my travels.  A day off wouldn’t have been out of line.  Yet I didn’t do it.

In retrospect, almost everything in writing comes down to permission.

  • We must give ourselves permission to “waste” time on a dream.

Writing, like many activities, has more opportunities to fail than to succeed.  So when we commit to writing despite those odds, we have to give ourselves permission to fail—at least temporarily.

  • We must give ourselves permission to slack off in other areas.

Time spent writing means we’re not spending that time cleaning our house, making perfect meals, cleaning out the garage, being there 100% of the time for our family, etc.  Life is about choices and trade-offs, and to write, other things must be sacrificed.

  • We must give ourselves permission to listen to the voices in our head.

Most people consider hearing voices in their head to be a bad thing.  They ignore the voices, hoping they’ll go away before someone notices.  Not writers.  We worry when the voices of our muse and our characters go silent.

  • We must give ourselves permission to hit dead ends.

We might have to explore different genres, point-of view styles, and tones before we find the outlet that works for us.  Sometimes we have to discover what we don’t like to know what we do.

  • We must give ourselves permission to write crap.

A draft isn’t supposed to be perfect, or anywhere close to perfect.  In many cases, a first draft is like a glorified story outline, getting the gist of the scene down for us to work on later.

  • We must give ourselves permission to have off days.

Writers, especially those of us with day jobs, tend to consider every minute that isn’t scheduled for something else “writing time.”  This helps us squeeze every bit of writing into our day.  But that doesn’t allow for vacations or sick days from our writing job.  We have to balance writing with life-in-general.

  • We must give ourselves permission to not be perfect.

Yes, we’re writers, but that doesn’t mean our blog posts, tweets, status updates, or even our stories are free from errors. If we let it, the need to be perfect would paralyze us from finishing anything.  We must accept that no matter how many editing passes we make, our work won’t be perfect.

  • We must give ourselves permission to let our “babies” go.

Sometimes, we have to give up on a project that isn’t going anywhere.  And when we finish a piece of writing, it must succeed or fail on its own.  Whether a blog post or a story resonates with others is beyond our control.

I’m still working on many of these obviously.  But maybe recognizing the problem is the first step.  *smile*

Have you given yourself permission?  Are you able to accept failure and imperfection and move forward?  Do you struggle with any of these?  Can you think of any other ways we have to give ourselves permission?

Photo Credit: marganz

51 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Shain Brown September 8, 2011 at 6:09 am

I am quite the serious person no matter how I come off. I go to work everyday, I have goals, and I work hard to hit them. So, giving myself permission to waste time, take a break, or slack off as some of us call it does not come easy. Actually it gives me the shakes and my left eye quivers uncontrollably. Who knows maybe now that I know others might be giving them self permission to deviate from their schedule for a little fun I may do the same.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 8:55 am

Hi Shain,

Exactly! I understand. I consider writing to be a career for me, so I don’t treat it like a hobby or “wasting” time because I intend to be successful with it. But that means I take it seriously like a career – sometimes too seriously. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Michele Shaw September 8, 2011 at 6:20 am

I’m still working on all of these too, Jami! I wrote a great chapter on Tuesday, and the one I wrote yesterday sucks. I’ve been stewing over it like crazy and berating myself…forgot the “give yourself permission to write crap” part. Thanks! Great post!

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 8:56 am

Hi Michele,

Even the best writers write crappy drafts sometimes, so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Allison Chase September 8, 2011 at 6:30 am

Wonderful post! You hit the nail squarely on the head when you talk about the need for giving ourselves permission. What is it about writers and the obsession to be perfect and perfectly disciplined? It’s ok for the first draft to suck – you can fix it later, but you can’t fix an empty page. So take THAT, oh fickle muse! But there are times when we do just need to get out of the house, for crying out loud. Creative energy doesn’t just generate out of thin air. We need to, you know, LIVE. See things, experience things, feel a little sun on our faces. It’s amazing how just having coffee with a friend can send us home recharged…. Anyway, thanks, Jami, for this great reminder to go a little easier on ourselves, lol.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 8:59 am

Hi Allison,

Creative energy doesn’t just generate out of thin air. We need to, you know, LIVE. See things, experience things, feel a little sun on our faces.

I always smile whenever you stop by, my friend. 🙂 You’re exactly right about that. My third favorite place to brainstorm is in the car. So yes, getting out of our little writing cave helps us in the long run. Thanks for the comment!

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Shellie Sakai September 8, 2011 at 6:34 am

With my daughter going off to college I have been stressed to the max. I was to the point of tears because I couldn’t think of a single blog subject or even write a crappy chapter on my book. So I stopped, and told myself that the world would not come to an end if I took some time off to get my head on straight. It worked. I stopped obsessing and took a breather. And you know what? I actually feel better. My emotional turmoil is over and I am now more focused. Yes, the blog and book suffered, but somehow I believe they will let me make it up to them! >:)

Great post Jami. Thanks!

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 9:01 am

Hi Shellie,

First of all, *hugs* for you and your daughter! And I’m so glad that you were able to recognize the issue. Yes, sometimes our obsessing about our “failures” makes us more crazy than the failures themselves. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Roni Loren September 8, 2011 at 6:39 am

I’m working on many of these too–particularly the perfectionism part. And I agree that you have to step away from the writing sometimes when it’s just not working. I find that if you empty the well and don’t replenish it with reading, down time, or well, life, then the words run out. Part of the job of a writer is to live life in order to have things to write about, lol. Sometimes I think we forget to actually give ourselves permission to do that. 🙂 Great post.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 9:02 am

Hi Roni,

It’s good to know I’m not alone with all this perfectionism and obsessing. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jeffe Kennedy September 8, 2011 at 6:41 am

It’s a good caveat. I do beat the “write every day” drum, but it’s true that some days are off. Some days all the work is in staring at the screen. Hmm. Was deciding what to blog about today. This.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 9:05 am

Hi Jeffe,

Yes, my goal is still to get some writing in every day (I can’t turn this obsession off completely 🙂 ), but some days that writing might be just a paragraph. And beating ourselves up about that fact hurts more than it helps. So forgiving ourselves is a big part of what will keep us mentally healthy, I think. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Susan Sipal September 8, 2011 at 7:14 am

Boy, Jami, you really hit the writer on the head with all of these. So true, especially “waste” time on a dream. There ARE so many opportunities to, if not fail, at least not achieve what we hope to. And thus the pressure to work, work, work, write, write, write, and not take that time off that we desperately need. I hope you’ve given yourself permission to refresh and renew!

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 9:22 am

Hi Susan,

*hands you ice pack for your head* 🙂

Exactly! *I* don’t see it as wasting time because I know I’m treating it like a career, but we have to acknowledge that the possibility exists that all this work won’t lead to the success we want. That’s not insanity, however, as long as we keep growing in the craft and keep writing new stories. (What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, right? 🙂 ) So as long as we’re growing and learning, we’re moving forward and keeping the potential alive. And that’s all anyone in a creative field (including inventors like Thomas Edison who failed more often than they succeeded) can do. Thanks for the comment!

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Kait Nolan September 8, 2011 at 11:17 am

“Writers, especially those of us with day jobs, tend to consider every minute that isn’t scheduled for something else “writing time.” This helps us squeeze every bit of writing into our day. But that doesn’t allow for vacations or sick days from our writing job. We have to balance writing with life-in-general.”

I am SO SO bad at this. SO BAD. Since I’m on a quest to ultimately replace my assorted day jobs with writing as a career, any free time NOT spent writing feels like a delay in that eventuality.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

Hi Kait,

*hugs* You’re not alone at being bad about this. This drive to consider writing our career makes us a tad…er, obsessive. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Gene Lempp September 8, 2011 at 11:39 am

Having put together a regimented system and watching it blown out of the water by life, I agree that we have to be willing to fail. We also have to give ourselves permission to get back up, dust ourselves off, smile, take a deep breath and adjust. I would say I either do or have struggled with everything on the list, perfectionism being the greatest curse and the thing I have found the hardest to give myself permission to let go of. But it is a necessity.

My muse is calling back to work now. Great post, Jami 🙂

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 11:41 am

Hi Gene,

Oh yes! Just as much as we have to give ourselves permission to fail, we have to give ourselves permission to keep trying anyway. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Roxanne Skelly September 8, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I tend to be pretty bad about setting aside time to focus on writing. I spend a lot of time learning (talking to people, reading blogs, and so on), but as I’m in that awful ‘revision’ phase of my WIP, I can’t just dump crap on the page. I have to actually think…

And some days, after a long day at work, I just can’t brain. I haz the dumb.

Then I have the guilt…

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Hi Roxanne,

I just can’t brain. I haz the dumb.

LOL! But ugh, yes. My editing time tolerates less interruptions than drafting time, because of that same reason. Good luck with revisions and thanks for the comment!

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Sheila Seabrook September 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Wow, you have perfect timing, Jami, since I’m having one of those days today. Midway through the morning, I finally decided that I wasn’t accomplishing anything on the WIP and gave myself permission to tackle one of the many other writing related jobs I’ve recently taken on (which is probably why my muse picked today to hitch a ride to the nearest amusement park! She was feeling a wee bit stressed). So I spent the rest of the day completing a critique, which made me feel less guilty for not writing. And now your post has reminded me not to feel guilty about days like today … as long as there’s not too many of them. 🙂

Thanks for a wonderful post!

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Hi Sheila,

Yes, as long as there’s not too many of them, we need to take days off sometime. I know you saw Jeffe’s post too, and she makes a great point. There’s a difference between not writing because we need to do something else or take a day off, and not writing because we’re procrastinating or avoiding. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Andrew Mocete September 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

This post was awesome, Jami.

Permission to fail is something I wrote about last week. I called it having the guts to suck because I recently found out my skill level isn’t where it’s supposed to be if I want to go to the next level. And let me tell you, the road to greatness is loaded with suckage. But that’s okay because each time I suck is a chance to learn.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Hi Andrew,

Yes, it’s like even when we think you know something, we’re waiting for that other shoe to drop and tell us we’re delusional and we don’t know half of what we thought we did. Definitely loaded with suckage. 🙂 I’m glad you were able to have a good attitude through it all. Thanks for the comment!

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Lynn Kelley September 8, 2011 at 7:44 pm

‘I wondered how to include the phrase “a low-class hornet’s snuggery” in a story.’

That phrase sure caught my attention, so I had to go back and read your last post! I haven’t had any spam on my blog. (Knock on cyber wood.)
I agree with you that’s a very cool phrase. It sounds like something from a fantasy or paranormal novel. Sci-fi? I don’t know, but keep us posted when you write a story with it!

I’ve learned to give myself permission to fail. Good thing since I do it often. And writers do need a break now and then. Sometimes a break helps us regroup, get refreshed, get some sleep!

Lately I’ve given myself permission to take risks and put my goofy side out there, realizing goofballs aren’t for everyone. Rejection and failure are kinda the same, and we have to take risks to experience either, so I gave myself permission, despite how hard it might come back to bite me. Gotta take risks to find success, too, right?

Cheers to giving ourselves permission!

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Hi Lynn,

Great point! Just as much as people like different stories, people like different personalities too. And putting our voice, our personality, out there is a risk, as some people won’t like us. I’m a dork, and I can’t pretend I’m not without being inauthentic. So you’re right – it’s a risk, but one we have to take. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Michael Haynes September 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm

What has worked well for me so far has been to balance “write every day” with *what* I’m writing every day. It can be work on my fiction OR it can be work on a blog post OR it can be work on a critique for a fellow author. That way, if I just can’t get unstuck that day on my own work, I’ve got SOME productive work I can legitimately call writing that day. And it’s a step towards being able to say “I’m a more experienced writer today than I was yesterday” every day.

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Jami Gold September 8, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Hi Michael,

That’s a great approach! I usually try to do that, but I’m also close to the end of my story, so I have this push-to-the-finish attitude as well. That probably means I’m creating my own problem here, doesn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Haley Whitehall September 9, 2011 at 12:56 am

Jami,
You have figured out the secret! I have found that once I gave myself permission not to write my muse decided to be more cooperative. Sometimes it just needs a day off. There are many other ways to be productive than just writing. You can even help your writing career by networking with other writers or reading blog posts. I’ve been spending more time on Twitter the past few days. I haven’t written much but I have sure enjoyed catching up with my friends. My muse is ready to dive back in to the story tomorrow 😉

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 8:25 am

Hi Haley,

Yes! Our muse needs to be re-energized occasionally, and food alone doesn’t cut it. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Samantha Stacia September 9, 2011 at 3:05 am

Great article and great advice, its something I need to remember because until I started writing seriously I didn’t know what a workaholic I can actually be.
Thanks for sharing it on facebook!

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 8:26 am

Hi Samantha,

Thanks for coming over to check it out! And I know what you mean. Especially when I’m in a writing groove, I don’t want to stop to even eat. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Irene Vernardis September 9, 2011 at 3:44 am

All professionals have weekends, sick days and vacations. Where does it say that a professional writer, in order to be professional, must work 24/day, 7/week, 365/year? Where? Show me 😛

You can’t show me, because there is no such thing. And as with any job, the mind needs a rest. And rest does not mean sleeping. It means to be preoccupied with other things too. Otherwise, it doesn’t function properly or it stops functioning entirely.

NOT doing those above does NOT mean professionalism. On the contrary, it shows lack of professionalism, because professionals know how to make the best of their resources; and the GREATEST resource professional writers have is their brain! So, exhausting the brain => exhausting the most valuable resource, it means lack of professionalism.

Professionals know they must take care of their resources, replenish them etc., and they do that. So, if a writer wants to be a professional writer, he/she must take care of his/her resources and first and above all, the brain.

Cheers 😀

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 8:27 am

Hi Irene,

Exactly! You said it perfectly. *high five* Thanks for the comment!

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Laura Pauling September 9, 2011 at 4:01 am

If I didn’t, I’d spend years on the same wip! And we can’t have that. 🙂

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 8:29 am

Hi Laura,

Yes, very true. And that’s partly what I’m having to learn – moving on doesn’t mean giving up. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Jacquelyn Smith September 9, 2011 at 7:49 am

My biggest problem is giving myself permission to take a day off. (I see from the other comments, I am not alone!) I just feel like there is always something I need to be doing, whether it’s writing or networking-related, so I need to constantly be working to stay on top of it all.

I was in front of the computer for 12+ hours yesterday… And then I dreamed about what I had been working on all night long. Worst. Sleep. Ever. And now I’m back at it again today. >_<

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 8:31 am

Hi Jacquelyn,

Our massive to-do lists looming over our heads doesn’t help either. 🙂 At least we’re all in this together. Thanks for the comment!

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Chris September 9, 2011 at 9:54 am

Hi Jami,

I think the point about letting yourself slack off in other areas while writing is key. Nobody is perfect, and nobody is a robot. To me, it’s a short-term investment: slack off on the dishes now while I write, and maybe someday I’ll be published and be a full-time writer and then I’ll have plenty of time to do the dishes! 🙂 Good post.

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

Hi Chris,

Exactly! We aren’t robots, and we all need time to recharge. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Rosie Lane September 9, 2011 at 11:02 am

This is a great post. I’m trying to give myself permission to quit and say, “This isn’t f0r me. Writing stories was fun, but shooting for publication is distracting me from my main job and making me miserable.” Except, the only way I can make my neglect of everything else acceptable in my own mind is to make the writing do what it was supposed to, and bring in some much needed family income. If I quit, it feels like I screwed up everything else in my life for nothing.

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 11:06 am

Hi Rosie,

Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. Heck, I changed my major in college several times. 🙂 And how many of us end up in a job that doesn’t have anything to do with our schooling? In other words, just because we start on a path doesn’t mean we have to stay there. 🙂 Good luck and thanks for the comment!

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Ellie Ann September 9, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Ah, thank you for this. It was just what I needed to hear.

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Jami Gold September 9, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Hi Ellie Ann,

Yay! Hope it helps. Thanks for the comment!

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Nicole Basaraba September 10, 2011 at 8:00 am

I do exactly what you said: “any unscheduled time is writing time.” It made me feel guilty when I didn’t use this unscheduled time to write. This weekend I have the house to myself so I thought: perfect all the time to write, but I found myself relaxing and doing other things. I did do some writing too, but not nearly as much as I expected to do.

Then I gave myself permission to take a break, get out of the house and an idea for a scene popped in out of nowhere. So giving yourself permission can not only benefit your sense of peace but also your writing.

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Jami Gold September 10, 2011 at 8:38 am

Hi Nicole,

Exactly! Our muse needs breaks to come up with new ideas. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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August McLaughlin September 11, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Terrific post! I’m learning to give myself permission for breaks as well. My brain, writing and sanity definitely benefit when I do. 😉 Your post is timely, as tomorrow I’ve planned a “mental health day,” as my mom used to call them — play time for fun and rejuvenation.

Thanks for your insightful and honest post. Glad to have found your blog. 🙂

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Jami Gold September 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Hi August,

“Mental health day” – I like it! 🙂 Thanks for visiting and for the comment!

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