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What do you feel most guilty about?

31 October 2014

From Humans of New York:

“What do you feel most guilty about?”

“Not finishing my novel. I’ve already built the room where I’m going to write it at my house in Sag Harbor. The walls of the room are painted Venetian red. It has shelves filled with every book I’ve ever read. There’s a scallop striped Victorian chair. A little pine desk— two feet by three feet, with all my pens lined up, and an 18th Century sang de bouef vase lamp. And there’s a French door with a step that goes out onto the roof so I can look at the clouds. I have everything I need. Except the time.”

Link to the rest at Humans of New York and thanks to Bill for the tip.

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51 Comments to “What do you feel most guilty about?”

  1. It’s an interesting contrast between that quote and the story from yesterday, where the girl compulsively writes down her story on a broken laptop while waiting for theater practice to be over, or with the story from a week ago where the girl wrote two or three books on her cell phone while she was… just about everywhere.

    • So very true. It’s almost like the person is in love with the idea of writing, not the writing itself.

      • I know someone like that.

        • Me too. Some people want to ‘be a writer’ but they don’t actually want to write. On the other hand, I’m reminded of a friend of mine who I first met when she won a competition at a writing conference in Scotland. She had a job, young kids, not much free time at all. The novel that won her the competition was amazing – brilliant and original Scottish fantasy. ‘Oh’ she said. ‘I’ve got several more books in the series already written.’ Several years down the line she’s extremely and deservedly successful. She made the time she needed. We all have twenty four hours in a day. Sometimes we need to borrow a few hours from sleep, but if we really want to write, that’s what we do.

    • You have time for what’s important.

  2. I’m sitting in my breakfast nook, at my kitchen table, which I’ve repurposed as my desk. When I first set up this office space my father kept sitting at my desk to eat his breakfast and lunch, refusing to accept that it no longer functioned as a kitchen table. Next to my kitchen table/desk sits the dog’s food and water bowels, which I still occasionally step in if I’m not paying attention. The kitchen is directly adjacent so I can be constantly reminded that I haven’t figured out what we’re having for dinner yet and that those dishes won’t wash themselves. I feel guilty about making the same sort of stuff for dinner every night and yelling at my father when he leaves crumbs on my desk.

  3. I love these HONY pieces. They are some of the most fascinating, insightful life-stories possible. Every day it proves how much you can reveal in just a few sentences.

  4. This guy is in love with the IDEA of writing. He thinks its some romantic pursuit that will somehow, someday, make him happy. He has no story in his head screaming to get out. If he did the time to write would magically appear.

    I doubt he’ll ever write anything.

    • Oops, posted before I saw your comment. Yes, I think he’s definitely more intrieged with the ‘idea’ of writing.

      Also, he might be caught up in destructive belief systems. The ones that tell you everything has to be perfect before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard. If this were true, then no one would ever have time to write.

      I believed it a while for myself, so I can relate.

    • I doubt it has anything to do with having a story in his head screaming to get out. I don’t, but I still make the time to write.

      Unfortunately, this type of writer is much harder to motivate, and usually needs something external pushing them. Without that external push, they’ll never find the time. I would know, because I go through it every day. If I could find every story I want to read, I doubt I would write a thing. But I can’t, so I do. To this day, I still consider myself a reader first, writer second.

      I quit my job a few years ago, knowing it was sink or swim. I started writing every day after not writing much of anything for over a year. It worked. Now I make my living with my writing and when I go too long without doing it, I look at my bank account, stop reading for a while, and get my butt back to work writing those stories I really wish I could find.

      • I attended the Clarion SF & Fantasy Writers workshop. I wrote nine stories in six weeks. People were constantly saying, “ANOTHER one?”

        I was there to learn about writing, so I figured I’d just write anything and everything, no matter whether or not I thought it was good, fair, or excellent.

        I feel guilty now when I don’t write every day. Because I know I can, and I know I should.

        • Huh. I had always assumed that Clarion writers were expected to do at least one new story a week, if not two. How many new stories do people usually write while they’re there, then?

        • I’ll take it one step further.

          IF, by some miracle, he does actually write something, if its anything less than a bestseller, with all the trappings that it includes, he’ll never write again.

          Simply because writing for him is more about what other people think of him doing so then the actual story he has to tell.

          Sad really. He’s still in high school in a way.

          • Nothing to worry about there, Randall. He won’t get that far.

            • Yes. He has failed to launch. Not interested in writing at all, just being a ‘writer’. Whatever that means.

              Which is fine. Nothing wrong with a romantic notion. He should try not to beat himself up about not being a writer. Few people are. No biggie.

              EDIT: Or maybe the Great American Novel just isn’t his channel? Start a blog! Look how awesome PG is with his blog!

        • Meryl I hold high volume writers in high regard. The old pulp guys pounding away on three typewriters at once. I love that stuff!

          That’s my goal. Volume. Dean Wesley Smith volume. Lester Dent, Robert E. Howard, Moorecock, Patterson (okay…that last one was just a joke).

          If I could write a short novel a month for a few years I think I could die smiling.

          Working on it.


          • Ha ha! Laughed at your joke. 😀

          • Yes. Isaac Asimov volume. Julian Simon volume.

            The first time I read the following was on a rejection letter in 1981.

            “Never argue with the man who buys ink by the barrel.”


          • Walter B. Gibson (best known for The Shadow) kept a typewriter in almost every room of his house, with a work in progress on each one.

            He cranked out nearly three hundred novels in that series (along with a whole lot of other stuff). His peak year was estimated at 1,680,000 words.


  6. My gut response was, really?! That’s what you feel most guilty about? Must be nice.

  7. He has the time to build this beautiful room and paint the walls just the right color. He has time to carefully pick the furniture. He has time to read all those books which he lovingly put on the shelves. He has time to pick out the perfect chair and the perfect pens.

    He’s given himself permission to go that far, but no farther. This kind of broke my heart.

    • He also has the money. Are we supposed to feel sorry for him?

      • I don’t. That perfect room is in his Sag Harbor house which, given the photo, is probably a vacation home.

    • I confess I’m having one of those ‘WWJD’ moments here. I can just see Jesus walking into this guy’s ‘perfect’ writing space, listening to his complaint, and delivering his prescription:

      ‘Quit fooling yourself. Sell off all this crap and give the money to help a real writer.’

      • Wait, so your Jesus is a sassy no nonsense realist?

        I like this Jesus. There are so many. I put this one up there with Buddy Jesus.

        • He comes across that way in the Koine Greek. People get a skewed idea because the language of the King James translation was so high-flown and formal.

          Just remember, this was the guy who cleared out the temple with a whip. I’d say that falls squarely under the heading of sass.

          • He was a carpenter, more like a general contractor in some ways, apparently. So yeah, he wouldn’t have much patience for people misusing their time.

  8. He has time. Maybe he lacks priorities. Or, more likely, he never wanted to write a novel to begin with.

  9. The perfect writing places are the worst writing places. I found I did my best writing when I took my son to the play place at the mall. Nothing like thirty screaming children to force me into my fantasy place.

    • LOL. Been there, done that, have the books to prove it…I bring my NEO Alphasmart nearly everywhere now, because I once wrote 3200 words in my minivan, the parking lot while my toddler son took a nap in his carseat as my 11 year old went to an hour-long gymnastics class.

      Those were the ONLY words I wrote in that crazy week. And they were damn good.

  10. I have eight guitars and yet I’m still not Eddie Van Halen. I just don’t. have. the time.

  11. He has it backward: first, you write on any old space until you have several novels and finally sell one. Then, you pay your bills that have accumulated meanwhile.

    Last, you fix up the place where you’ve been writing – but only a bit; you don’t want to confuse the Muse with where she has to go every day.

    • This. I had to redo my office this summer (water damage) and it took a while to get back into full work mode.

    • I seem to remember Stephen King writing about a special snowflake writing desk sitting in the middle of an ornate writing room.

      Then he changed everything sticking a small nondescript desk in the corner of the room and got to work.


  12. Am I the only one who noticed the “It has shelves filled with every book I’ve ever read.”?

    I couldn’t fit that many shelves in one room.

  13. This reminds me of a story from the P.G. Wodehouse biography. Wodehouse and Wife had taken a house in London and his wife outfitted him a proper writer’s library, shelves full of books, a large desk. Wodehouse put a second typewriter in his bedroom. The man had work to do.

    The Last Psychiatrist has an interesting piece on creativity and workspaces, too.


  14. I cannot stand people like this.

  15. I think this is meant to be funny–one of those humor in truth things. During the acute phase of Procrastination Syndrome, I’ve been know to blame the color of the room for my inability to write. 🙂

  16. I often feel guilty for not writing and not having anything finished to publish. I feel like I need to get my priorities straight if I really want to be a writer.

    But then I remember that I do have my priorities straight. I’m a mom of 5 young kids (and a couple of them are autistic) and my family comes first, always. I really don’t have much time to write.

    So I accept that at least until my kids are older I’m going to work slowly and steadily. Writing is going to be a hobby because parenting is my vocation. That doesn’t mean I don’t take it seriously. It doesn’t mean I won’t be professional when I’m finally ready to publish. It just means that there are more important things in the world to me than writing.

  17. I know this comment is quite vulgar for this site, but that guy sounds like a pretentious douchebag.

  18. Al the Great and Powerful

    Wow, he makes me feel bad.

    I write short (20-60 pages, typically) non-fiction for a living (archaeological reports and other documents) and my desk is a mess of papers and references and Altoids and a coffeemaker and maps and none of the colors was my choice… how do I get anything done?

    I just can’t see how you long-fiction people can write at all if you don’t have your environment under control like this HONY fellow… 🙂

  19. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: there are only two types of people in this world, those looking for opportunities and those looking for excuses. That’s it. Everything else is just noise.

    Look for an excuse and you can find it in five seconds, and go on about your business. Looking for an opportunity? That may take you five years of pain and suffering.

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