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Permission Not to Write

July 12, 2010

Image via the beautiful Mother Henna site

Writers give themselves permission to write badly. They give themselves permission to write freely. Today I’m giving myself permission not to write.

It might seem an odd statement given I’m sitting here typing, but this is not the article I should be writing today. Last week I promised you part four of the series of articles on knowing your process – the “where’s” of.

There was just no writing to be had today though and rather then beat myself up, hang myself out to dry, name and shame, and generally feel guilty about it… I decided instead to give myself a break. See, the things is, I’ve learnt guilt is pretty much a useless emotional state – it leaves you suffering in limbo – unable to learn from the past, unable to enjoy the present nor plan or dream for the future. So guilt is not welcome around here, especially when it comes to writing. There are so many more enjoyable ways to undermine yourself than to hand it over to Guilt.

It’s not a cop out though, handing myself the writer’s equivalent of a “Please excuse Jodi from Physical Education today – she’s not feeling well”.


The right to opt out of writing for a day comes with a responsibility – right and responsibility being the flip-side of the same coin. To claim my right, I need to accept some responsibility for today and that means understanding why and working towards it not happening tomorrow.

So today I didn’t make it to the page because:

  • It was the last day of the school holidays and we’re all over being in each other’s face. On top of that the number of children in my household increased from one to three – thus tripling the “we’re all so over the school holidays” energy and rattiness.
  • I need a certain amount of peace and quiet for headspace, and today putting the earphones on and turning up the music loud was only drowning out the arguing, whinging and fighting of three children, not negating the bad vibes put out by it all.
  • The more I wanted to write, the less I could focus… and the more the time slipped away… and the greater the block in my head became.
  • I spent a good deal of today away from home and even with my notebook and pen in hand, the best I could do was scratch out a few ideas – after which the only thing which happened was I yelled for the umpteenth time for all three kids to please get along and include each other. The three of them should have worn t-shirt with “I’m with the grumpy Mummy.” This has been the extent of my creativity and non-fiction musings for the day!
  • Today is also the first day of my detox from sugar, caffeine and alcohol. These are all crutches ruining my body and today was the day I decided to go cold turkey (if only I had have known!) Thus my eyes ache, my head is splitting down the middle, there’s a lump of anxiety sitting on my chest and I generally just feel lousy, mean and spiteful (no wonder there’s so many bad vibes running around the house – the kids were feeding off my bad vibes like an all-you-can-eat lolly buffet.)

And all this happened because… somehow when I got excited about school holidays allowing me to sleep in for two weeks, I lost sight of all the other things school holidays meant – less time, more noise, less personal space, more time out of the house… so on and so forth. I feel so stupid.

But rather than jab a huge red FAIL stamp on my head or work my thumb and forefinger into an ‘L’ or (like I did last week) force myself to stay up until 11pm to finish an article which was moving through me like a rusty, blunt razorblade… I’m going to grok the lesson.

Tomorrow I’m taking myself off to the movies to see something I want to see, enjoy a quiet meal and get my head around the gruelling schedule facing me down like a rabid dog. At least tonight I will sleep well because Guilt will be out in the cold looking to hassle someone else and I won’t be making the same snow-balling mess of things next holidays. And the most important thing of all… I filed my column.

Have you ever given yourself permission not to write? If it’s not too personal a question – why, or why not?

Jodi Cleghorn cannot see an Arctic Fire tea to save her life & even if she could, she wouldn’t be able to drink it. As for that lovely weekend away – it was grand, just far too short. She’s off to continue chanting: “Today is a stepping stone to the tomororw.” You can find more of Jodi’s musings at Writing in Black and White or audioBoo.
  1. July 12, 2010 4:40 am

    I find it’s essential to give yourself that permission not to write. After all, you don’t want to stress yourself out about not writing because it means you won’t be able to write, thus more stress, and so the whole sorry cycle continues! I even wrote a blog post about it a couple of weeks back – expands my points a bit more.

  2. adampb permalink
    July 12, 2010 5:41 am

    Dear Universe,

    I give permission for Adam not to write today because he has a case of Cranky-Pants, the Blues, the I-Really-Ought-To’s, the Couldn’t-Be-Bothereds, his undies are bunched in a knot, the pens have run out of ink, all the pencils are blunt, the paper’s too white and the kids are hyped up on red cordial.

    with kind thanks,
    Adam’s Muse.

  3. July 12, 2010 7:01 am

    I have. My most recent example was because I started a new position at my day job and am getting trained on too many things at once that were complicated enough to fry my brain before I got home. And you know, sometimes the brain needs a break.

  4. July 12, 2010 11:37 am

    I’ve had CFS for many years, and one of the hidden blessings it has given me is a release of guilt when I can’t do something I feel I should. Writing is a joy, so motivation is not a problem. If I don’t want to write out of fear, I might be stern with myself and power through it. If there are other reasons why it just isn’t happening for me, then I let it go and do something nice for myself. Which I highly recommend for you, right now. Chocolate or a nice warm bath are both good options.

  5. PJ Kaiser permalink
    July 13, 2010 8:30 am

    Jodi – this is a good post – I’m glad you’re letting yourself off the hook. Enjoy your family, they’ll be shuttling off to school any moment 😉 my writing life is unfortunately well down on my priority list. Not because I don’t love it but because it’s not my career at the moment and I’ve got two small kids, limited childcare and other things to attend to. When I don’t write I miss it but there’s only a twinge of guilt. I have actively avoided any writing commitments that I’m forced to do on a schedule so that I can attempt to maintain balance and write as time allows.

  6. July 14, 2010 1:22 am

    I was meant to comment on this ages ago.

    I don’t think I’ve ever given myself permission not to write. I tend to just not write, waste time and try to justify it to myself later. It took me a while though to realise this was ok instead of feeling guilty.

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