Guilt-Free!

They say that guilt is like pain: it’s there to tell you something’s wrong, so you can fix it. And this is true – or at least it can be. Sometimes, though, you feel guilty for something you really shouldn’t feel guilty for.

Eating, for example. Unless you’re eating in a self-destructive way, you shouldn’t feel guilty for eating. Eating food with more calories than celery is how you fuel your body, not a transgression that requires penitential exercise to exorcise. As it were.

Donut of DOOM

(Speaking of celery, I’ve heard that it takes more energy to consume than you actually receive from it; which suggests it’s only good for three things: carrying dip, making loud crunchy noises, or wearing on your lapel.)

Generally speaking, I avoid food that’s labelled “guilt-free!” because a) I don’t want to fund that kind of thinking, and b) they might as well label the food “taste was not our priority”.

I admit, eating is not something I tend to feel guilty about. But, as the Caped Gooseberry gently pointed out to me the other day, I do tend to set goals or targets for myself and then feel guilty if I don’t meet them.

As guilty, mark you, as I would feel if I had broken some more important rule, such as “Do Not Kick That Puppy”. Now there is nothing wrong with having a moral code (the puppies of the world thank you) but to put everything at the same level lacks perspective.

Weim Pups 001

On the other hand, setting goals can be good, and having targets is about the only way to reach them. The problem is when the goals become, as it were, a measuring stick to beat yourself with.

What to do?

I have set myself the goal of finishing the first full draft of my WIP by the end of the month. I’ve rearranged my daily round so I have two blocks of writing time each day: three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon; and this has definitely helped kick the productivity into high gear. But there’s still no guarantee that I will reach the end of the story by the end of the month.

So I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok; that I will have made a huge and pleasing amount of progress even if I don’t write “The End” on the day I desire, and I do not need to feel guilty if I don’t.

The End Book

This goes hand in hand with reminding myself that I haven’t “failed” for the day – or the month – if I start a little late or don’t manage as many pages as the day before. Guilt can be crippling, and that leads to further failure – the genuine failure of giving up altogether.

It’s worth asking yourself, the next time you’re feeling guilty: have I really kicked a puppy? Or is this guilt a false friend who should be shown the door?

Of Goals and the Nature of Infinity

They say everyone needs something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. I’d add a fourth, although it’s sort of a mixture of #1 and #3: something to aim for. Goals.

Not that sort – for someone with my athletic ability, a good game is one in which I don’t catch the ball with my face (I’m good at this, regardless of the sport and whether I’m actually playing it or just happened to be walking past).

I’m practically addicted to setting goals for myself, but they tend to be either unachievable or unachieved. Or both. See Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C. The prosecution rests, m’lud.

My official goal as a full-time writer is 13 manuscript pages a day (2,000 words) or 65 pages a week. My first week as a writer seemed to be spent largely at the vet, and this week I wrote even less (for personal reasons I won’t bore you with).

Let me set the scene for you.
INT: HOUSE. THURSDAY EVENING.
Deborah looks at this week’s page count: six. Nearby is the Caped Gooseberry (M.Sc, Mathematics).

DM: Six pages is something. Six is infinitely times as many as zero. (thinks) Is that right?
CG: Um… (trying to be tactful) it’s difficult to be consistent when multiplying by infinity. (encouragingly) Six is six times as many as one.
DM: What makes you think I’m trying to be consistent? (thinks some more) One is infinitely more than zero.
CG: No, one is one more than zero.
DM: (defensive) One can be infinite, if it’s the right one.
CG: Umm…

Apparently my theoretical mathematics is what is known as “not even wrong”.

Still, something is better than nothing, and next week is a new week (just to get all my clichés in one basket). Today I counted up the pages left unwritten in my current exercise book (the one I bought before Christmas) and decided that my goal for the coming week would be to fill those 42 pages up. It’s less than my original target, but (ulp!) more than I actually wrote in the preceding two weeks combined.

Of course, this is a thinly disguised carrot: if I fill up this book I will then have to go and shop for another one. Mmm, stationery shopping! (It’s not just me, is it?)

A thinly disguised carrot.

Are you a goal-junkie too? Do you actually manage to have reasonable expectations or are you like me, careering wildly from aspiration-induced high to shortfall-induced low? Is there a cure? Your insights welcomed.

Look Both Ways Before You Cross

Looking forward to the new year, but also looking back over the year just passed. Coincidentally, it has been exactly a year since I started this blog.

During that time I have written all of eighty-eight posts (although about 25 are simple quote-and-picture posts). Over the course of the year I have gone through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, reviewed various books on writing, and asked for advice on a myriad of subjects (moving house, staying sane…) which I mostly didn’t get.

I also set goals for myself (see here and here) which I mostly failed to meet, in that I did not finish my WIP by December 31st. But I did make some strides in taking myself more seriously as a writer and doing a bit of would-like-to-be-professional development. As with so many things, Work In Progress.

Among the questions which I have mulled over during the year are whether to keep using my nom de plume (my parents, by some oversight, failed to name me Sinistra at birth) and what precisely it is I am trying to achieve here.


This blog was originally intended as a form of accountability against procrastination, but since no-one is actually holding me accountable but me anyway, that purpose has taken a bit of a back seat.
Procrastination is apparently one of the mysteries of the human condition, as articulated by Paul back in the 50s AD: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.” (Romans 7:15, New Living Translation).

Motivation is perhaps key, but I struggle to find a motivation strong enough to overcome tiredness and self-doubt. Duty doesn’t cut it (unlike Frederic, I am not the Slave of Duty); ambition is by no means my strong suit – perhaps I just need to develop more character. Or a means of reminding myself of what it is I stand to lose.

In any case, over the coming year I hope to look more at subjects of interest to more than myself – that is to say, less of the writing, and more of the whatever-I-happen-to-be-obsessed-with-at-the-moment – steampunk, knitting, millinery, sustainability, odd bits of history, or any combination of the above.

Looking back, my most popular post by far (inasmuch as I can tell, since the majority of views are recorded as “homepage/archive”) is Great Wizards of Literature. I blush a little every time I see another hit on it, as it was originally titled Favourite Wizards of Literature, only some were more great than favourite. It wasn’t until after I had clicked ‘publish’ that I realised I had listed one of my own creations as a Great Wizard of Literature.

He isn’t great, really, but he’s doing his best. (If he’s very lucky, he may one day be published.) An excellent example of how not to blow your own trumpet.

You’re doing it wrong.

The gong for Most Under-Appreciated Post (from my point of view, anyway) goes to Mid-Week Quote: Reading, for the play on word(s) if nothing else.

On an entirely unrelated tangent, if your New Year’s Resolution includes being more generous, giving to charity, doing something good for someone else or even (aim high!) saving someone’s life, consider this from Throwim Way Leg, one of the blogs I follow.
Getting an ultrasound machine really will make a life-or-death difference to people in Papua New Guinea. Imagine if your local hospital had no ultrasound, no x-ray, no lab for tests… you get the idea.
And do please feel free to pass the link on to anyone you think might be interested.

Thanking you all for your company in 2013, and looking forward to your company in 2014, I remain,
Sinistra Inksteyne hand250