On Feeling Guilty.. And Getting It Right

My no.1 writing distraction

My no.1 writing distraction

Am I the only person who feels guilty all the time?

I feel guilty if the sun’s shining and I’m inside, for example.

I feel guilty if I’m reading a magazine when I’ve got a stack of ‘worthy’ books to read.

I feel guilty if I ignore the dog for too long, watch the tele’, let him indoors make dinner AGAIN, while I faff around on the computer…(erm, which, I have to admit is happening right now).

I feel guilty if I mark poetry assignments instead of writing some poetry myself … and so the list goes on.

Please tell me I am not alone!

Keeping The Illusion Alive…

If you’d been in my kitchen this morning, when I was reading a story in a woman’s magazine, you’d have heard this conversation:

Me: “Oh!”
Him: “What?”
Me: “’Alan’ – the dead husband – has just turned into ‘Brian’.”
Him: (between mouthfuls of Shreddies): “Well, maybe Brian’s another character?”
Pause while I skim backwards and forwards through story, looking for another mention of ‘Brian’.
Me: “No. It’s a mistake.”

I bet the author and the fiction editor are kicking themselves because it’s not very often that an error like that – when a character’s name changes in the middle of a story – gets through. (And going slightly ‘off topic’ here, I’m interested to know whether he was ‘Brian’ to start with or ‘Alan’ – and what made the writer change her mind about the name?!)

So what, you might be thinking? But errors like that, albeit small ones, can be enough to spoil the story for the reader.

We talked about this in my class recently. Anything at all that jars the reader out of your story is NOT GOOD.

So, spelling mistakes, mixed-up character names, too frequent repetition of a particular word or phrase, mixing up point of view or tense unintentionally, getting your facts wrong or confusing the reader by not being clear about who’s talking… I’m sure you can think of some more.

Someone (I can’t remember who, but a clever person), explained it once to me like this:

Imagine your story as a theatre production and your reader(s) as the audience. They’re engrossed in this imaginary world that you’ve created.. heck, they believe in it, they’re THERE!

And then suddenly, there’s a slip-up (one of those things above that makes them stop reading or question something) and they can see the wires on the puppets, or the curtains open just a tad at the back and they get a glimpse of the scenery and actors waiting for the next scene.

Suddenly that illusion is gone: they realise that the world isn’t real after all: you’ve spoiled it for them.

And that’s why getting all those seemingly ‘little things’ right, is so important.

And here endeth the lesson (but I’m reminding myself too!)

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20 Responses to On Feeling Guilty.. And Getting It Right

  1. Yes, I feel guilty for both reading and writing, but also relaxing. All day long I’ve work harder than usual to fit together my fiction pieces, I also did some reading as research for my work; as soon as I sat down to play candy crush on facebook, less than five minutes I get my husband moaning at me that I should play with my son as he is more important than a stupid game. Yet all I wanted was ten minutes of time out. Seriously, after four hours of work, I had just put stuff away, and hadn’t even relaxed my back in the chair, before I got the guilt trip. People don’t often see writing as work or reading as a form of education. So, with that, I am totally with you on those thoughts and feelings of small guilty pleasures, that are, reading.

  2. Morton Gray says:

    I’ve got the guilt habit too! Feel guilty about something almost all the time. I think I could be more productive if I could kick the habit. I think it is born from having so many roles and trying to juggle them in a week in which they can not possibly fit within the hours available. Deservability is also an issue – I always treat myself as last in the pecking order and then get frustrated because I don’t get my things done. Is is treatable? Or is it endemic for a woman? Lol M x

  3. Jenny Roman says:

    You are definitely not alone! It’s all to easy to feel guilty it you’re not doing something constructive every second of the day. The problem is, each person’s idea of “constructive” can be slightly different.
    PS: I had a story rejected recently, and when I got it back, I realised one of my characters had changed name part way through….probably didn’t help, eh?!

  4. sp56h says:

    You are not alone!

  5. Wendy Clarke says:

    If your gorgeous pup isn’t a good reason for not writing, I don’t know what is. Oh, and I hope that wasn’t my story with the mixed up names! I do it all the time but luckily my husband who proofread manages to catch them (I think!). There was one, though that slipped through the net and the very nice WW editor pointed it out to me – and then luckily bought it. Sometimes the second name will be one I used in a previous story – they all get muddled up in my head!

  6. Your no. 1 writing distraction is absolutely gorgeous. I wouldn’t be able to focus if I had a distraction like that.

  7. Tracy Fells says:

    Trouble is as a writer you tend to always feel guilty about something. Whatever I’m writing or reading I always think I should be writing or reading something else! Wish I had a puppy to distract me though… And quite shocked about the mistake in the mag – we’re always warned to check for these things so amazed that something like this slipped through. Mind you just read Helen Dunmore’s wonderful novel The Betrayal – it was a library book and somebody (a closet proofreader perhaps) had pencilled marked the typos and errors and shockingly there were more than a couple.

    • Puppy is a gorgeous distraction, I must admit, Tracy. I am working on the theory that, although she’s ‘stopping’ me doing a lot of work now, once she can go out for longer walks (she can only do limited amounts of exercise at the moment, otherwise their bones can get damaged) and she is better at walking on the lead, rather than tugging like a train, then I will be able to go for long, solitary walks with her, with only my thoughts about writing to occupy me! Well, that’s the theory. Sad thing is.. it will be WINTER before I can do that! I love Helen Dunmore – as a poet and novelist – she’s very talented. And yes, it’s funny when you get someone ‘marking’ the book like that, isn’t it? (must be a bit strange..?!). We had to read a John Grisham novella for the book club and obviously it has American spelling because he’s an American writer. We bought a second-hand copy from Amazon and someone had gone through the whole work, with a pencil, changing ‘color’ to ‘colour’ and so on. Very very strange…


  8. Mary Ann Gerber says:

    I have just experienced one of those spoilers. I was reading a book about the Irish Famine, mainly for research purposes, but it was an enjoyable read nonethe less. In 1845 the potato crop failed causing starvation, a work programme is set up building roads to nowhere to ease the situation, the men are so weak they can barely walk the distance from home to the far reaches of the village to do the work. Some die of the effort. 1846, the crop fails again, plus there’s a major outbreak of typhus. Now they’re starving and dying of disease. Our Hero walks to Cork harbour to see the ships laden with food leaving Ireland for profit. He walks back, collects all the starving men of the village, returns with them to Cork for a peaceful demonstration, then back home again. The problem is that the village is on the West coast of Ireland, Cork is on the East coast, at least 70 miles at the nearest point. Our Hero manages to walk a round trip of 280 miles, when he can barely make it to the outskirts of his village! Needless to say, the writer is American and has probably never set foot outside New York, but don’t they have maps over there? As research the book is a dead duck, as a credible and enjoyable tale it’s ruined. I haven’t finished it.

  9. Linda says:

    I used to feel guilty about writing when I was supposed to be doing something else, but now I feel guilty when I’m not writing. You just can’t win!
    Re writing mistakes, why is it that other people’s mistakes leap off the page or screen at me (and sometimes spoil the story) while it’s so difficult to spot my own? I check and re-check everything I write but those slips still manage to slip through.

  10. Carneika W says:

    I always feel guilty if I have nothing to do at work. I think “I could be writing now” but my boss wouldn’t be too happy if I started some non-work related writing. I look back at all the spare time I had before I got a job, most of it spent moping that no one would employ me. I could’ve spent so much more time writing!

    Also, I studied Media at college and we spent so much time picking apart things in movies, TV and magazines. I can’t help but look for the mistakes sometimes. I am terrible for looking for typos and bad grammar too.

    • Aah, I can sympathise with that. I’ve had so many jobs in which I was bored and had nothing to do half the time…! When I tried to point this out to my boss(es) they seemed to take it as a personal criticism (ie: as though I thought they weren’t managing me properly or they weren’t generating the work for me to do), so that didn’t really help. To be honest, I used to do the odd bit of writing – in a notebook, at the side of my desk. I’d just jot down ideas as they came to me or odd bits of dialogue. Otherwise I’d have gone round the bend…!


  11. Sara Kellow says:

    Maybe the editorial team had a night out or something because there’s a mix up over dates in the next story. I didn’t spot the name change but that one really leapt out at me.

  12. Sara Kellow says:

    You had me worried then but I think my anorak points are safe! 25 years after 1977 is 2002 – the year of the golden jubilee. 2012 was the diamond jubilee.

  13. b31pete says:

    You read magazines? I’m supposed to read magazines as part of my writing course, but I never find time (or inspiration) to go to the library to get any. As for buying them, I need to earn money for that – but if I have work, I don’t have time to read anything.

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