The Shame and Guilt of Being a Writer

By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

You don't normally think about shame and guilt when you think about being a writer, but it's there, and it's more common than you've imagined. It may even keep writers from admitting that they're writers or trying to get their work published.

I'm Really Not Arrogant

Admitting that you're talented requires a bit of boasting. If you say, "I'm a writer" when talking about your profession, then you are saying "My ideas are so great, that other people want to hear them, and my writing skills are so good that people should pay me to read what I've written." Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of bragging, so they often won't admit to being writers just so other people don't think they're arrogant.

I Guess I'm Not Really that Good

Unfortunately, when we admit that we're good at something, everyone around us seems to just wait for us to prove that we aren't. If admitting that you're a writer is equivalent to boasting about your ideas and writing skills, then you may worry that people will judge your work harshly and point out every tiny flaw just to put you back in your place.

It's very difficult to put yourself in such a vulnerable position. It's like inventing your own armor and saying, "Go ahead, shoot me. I'm sure this stuff is bulletproof." Even if you think it really is bulletproof, there's always the anxiety of "what if it isn't?"

I Don't Really Work Hard

True, when you're a writer, you aren't physically working up a sweat. You aren't lifting heave equipment (unless you have a very big, old typewriter). You don't have to run. You're not outdoors plowing fields. You don't get your hands dirty (except with ink).

True, when you're a writer, you aren't doing traditional white collar work either. You don't have to manage a large staff. You don't handle large amounts of money. You aren't taking customer service calls.

The writer's job is mentally stressful, though. I know it doesn't seem like daydreaming, reading, and writing all day seems like hard work, but it does require hours of focus, and eventually it hurts your brain (I often get headaches after very productive days). Plus, you get to have the frustration of working on a piece for weeks only to scrap it and start all over again.

It's Not an Important Job

Writing is one of those jobs people don't take seriously. I don't save people from burning buildings for a living. I don't fix cars. I don't have a time card that I punch every day. I don't have a traditional boss, and it may be months before I actually get a customer.

Without writers, though, we would have nothing to read during long trips, nothing to watch on television, nothing to see at the theater, no historical stories to teach us about our past, no science articles to teach us about our future, and no instruction manuals to help us figure out how to set our digital clocks. Without writers, we would still be in a society of hunters and gatherers sitting around a campfire without any written record of our past or our wisdom.