How I Keep Guilt From Haunting Me

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Max knows how to keep Guilt away!

Max knows how to keep Guilt away!

I’ve just written a post for my blog next week. I’m caught up with the revisions I’m doing on my memoir. There are only two more chapters to talk to my editor about and then the work will begin to have my book become a reality in the fall of 2016. I’m excited.

But I’m feeling restless. The studio needs a good dusting and vacuuming. My computer desktop needs attention and I should start rereading the booklet of things I need to know about She Writes Press, the hybrid publisher I plan to go with. I promised myself weeks ago that I’d come up with an elevator pitch for my book and haven’t thought about it since then. There are over a hundred emails that need my attention and possible filing. They’re mostly about writing, publishing, and building an author platform, a true necessity if one is to sell the book she is getting ready to publish.

There is too much to do. It’s already late afternoon and I need to walk the dogs in about an hour and then there is dinner to prepare. But all I want to do is put my feet up and not be pushed to get more work done.

I opt to relax, write in my journal, and do some reading. But as I sit down in my favorite chair with a tall glass of iced tea to begin my friend, Guilt, arrives and begins haranguing me.

“What do you think you’re doing? How can you be writing in your journal and reading when you’re getting ready to publish a book? You need to go back over to the studio and get to work on your platform. You are not doing enough to pull in readers. You’re lazy and a wimp. Look what your friend J. is doing to promote her book. GET TO WORK!“

Despite Guilt’s unending criticism I pick up my purple pen and start a new page in my journal. I begin by making excuses.

“I haven’t put pen to paper here in almost a week and I need to remember all of the brilliant ideas I’ve already forgotten because I haven’t put in time writing here. There is just too much to do and  sometimes I just need to kick back and enjoy life without being pushed.”

Gathering steam I address Guilt: “You want me to be a writer? Then let me read. Everybody knows that reading other writer’s words is the way to learn. Now go away and leave me alone.”

I end up writing well over four pages about how important reading and writing in this journal is for me. I notice Sam and Max sitting at my feet and staring at me. They have an inner clock and they know it’s close to “walky” time and then dinner. I have twenty minutes left to do some reading before it’s officially their time and I’m going to take it.  I tell them to go lie down.  But do  listen to me? No.

I delve back into the book that has taken me over a month to get to the middle of. I haven’t read a novel in ages, my preference usually being non-fiction.  But The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt is a page turner and I need to use every extra minute I can manage to to read it.

When my twenty minutes are done, I get the dogs leashed up and drag Guilt along on our walk, stopping at every fire hydrant and blade of grass that dogs have peed on. She’s not happy when I start complaining her about her persistant nagging. She keeps trying to get a word in edgewise using her favorite words, “Yes, but.” However, I’m way ahead of her and leave her in the dust just after Max pees on her shoe.

I have to laugh. She never gives up and she’ll probably be waiting for me around the next corner ready to start her never ending pitch on how to keep working non-stop so that my book will be on the New York Times best seller list. I may have to use physical force to keep her in the ditch.  But that’s okay, I think I have the upper hand and she’ll leave me alone as long as my guard dog, Max is with me.

Does Guilt or some other critic hassle with you during your busy days? Do you have a sure-fire remedy for keeping them away?  If you do, I’d love to hear about it.


  1. Joan Rough says:

    Trouble leaving comments is fixed, folks. Thanks for your patience.

  2. I love what you’ve written here, Joan. Ah Guilt: I could write a book. So, obviously, could you! It sounds like you have a good handle on “her.” And I love that Max peed on her shoe. Very helpful.

    I’ve found that embracing my demons helps them release their grip on me. And I love that you already call her your Friend. Perhaps it’s time for you to let her do the talking next time in your journal? Try life from her POV? It’s a paradox, I know. But we both love paradox, don’t we. Our guilt can teach us, then we choose. Huh?

    • Joan Rough says:

      Janet, So glad you like this piece. Embracing and sitting with our demons is a sure cure, but this one comes calling every now and then, when I least expect her and we have to kind of start all over again. But once she shows her face, I try to accomodate her with something like a nice long walk. When Max is with me, it doesn’t take long!

      My friend J. in this post is you. I’ve been admiring all the hard work you’ve been doing to not let your book get lost in the chaos of life.

  3. Recently, through a blog friend and former colleague I learned about Ultradian rhythms, cycling through the day with blocks of time allotted for each activity. When Steve wants to get seriously into his writing business, he writes for 90 minutes, takes a 30-minute break, then returns to writing/editing/etc. for another 90 minutes, and so on through the day. I think he’s trying to give Guilt a kick in the pants with this ritual.

    Your post shows the push-pull of our emotions. It shows you are fully human – and ALIVE with purpose. Stay calm and carry on, says the Queen. My vote is with her.

    Because writing is so personal, it is intense, and requires our descending into a well, entering a zone. In my experience, it’s harder to get there, than actually be there. My coping mechanism? When I see a dirty toilet during a writing break, I clean it. Then I return to my writing.

    Well, sometimes . . . !

    • Joan Rough says:


      I’ll have to look into Ultradian rhythms. But I’m not one for such strict boundaries. I truly believe living a good life is a sweet mix of doing what we need to do (like putting food on the table,) and letting the limits of our thoughts drift out into the ether where they break free and become creative acts. It’s a balancing act and one that at times can be tiring.

      • Steve follows this regimen just at specific times – like when he wants to complete a project. Yes, balance is what I’m after too. Glad Mail Chimp started cooperating today.

  4. Joan — Writing gets my full attention during the burn-time of a tea light candle (the only object on my desk besides my laptop). After that, it’s on to other things that are important to me (reading, yoga, walking Willa), whatever I determine.

    Guilt? I threw her under the bus a long time ago!

  5. Joan, I’m thrilled to see how much progress you’ve made!

    A friend’s Kickstarter campaign aims to get funding to produce a lovely journal where instead of listing your “To-Dos,” your list your “Dones.” You don’t need to buy her book (if it gets the funding). Perhaps you can use your journal to write about what you accomplished in several areas of your life: Writing, health, marriage, relationships. Today you wrote a blog post and walked the dogs. You read a book you’re enjoying that’s indirectly improving your writing. No room for Ms. Guilt!

    • Joan Rough says:

      What a great idea, Valerie, and thanks for your kind words. My Journal not only is a place for me to blow off steam, it’s also filled with gratitude and the accomplishments I make. It’s a balance sheet reminding me of my struggles and the progress I’m making toward living an authentic life.

  6. Such an authentic voice you have, Joan. And Max must take some credit for it.

    I alternate between highly structured routines (when I have deadlines) and much more leisurely reflection (which I am enjoying now). Balance and rhythm are both important to me. I move from action to reflection and back again.

    Blessings on this last stage of the journey. If it’s any consolation, I had a terrible time my last six weeks of edits and technology snafus. But “this too shall pass.” And it did!

  7. Joan Rough says:


    Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, Max deserves lots of credit.

    I go for the same kind of schedule you do. It’s the balance that keeps me going, but when it slips, it hurts for a bit. But then like anything else, I find my way again. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take my time with this project. I’m aware that when I rush things they take on a life of their own and usually the result is not good.

  8. I love this, Joan! Guilt is similar to the inner critic and when I’m stuck, I , like you, write a dialogue in my journal directed right at that incessant pesky critter. I can relate to everything you’ve said. Since the guilt/critic is always there, taking that walk or reading that book is sometimes the best antidote. I want to tackle GOLDFINCH one of these days, too. Thanks for a great post.

  9. Kathy, Yes, guilt is similar that inner critique whose voice changes from my parents’, or an old teacher who didn’t like the way I write. Nasty critters indeed.

    I’m just finishing up Goldfinch and highly recommend it. I’m caught in that place of not wanting it to end while at the same time wanting to move on to something new.