They say that guilt is like pain: it’s there to tell you something’s wrong, so you can fix it. And this is true – or at least it can be. Sometimes, though, you feel guilty for something you really shouldn’t feel guilty for.

Eating, for example. Unless you’re eating in a self-destructive way, you shouldn’t feel guilty for eating. Eating food with more calories than celery is how you fuel your body, not a transgression that requires penitential exercise to exorcise. As it were.

Donut of DOOM

(Speaking of celery, I’ve heard that it takes more energy to consume than you actually receive from it; which suggests it’s only good for three things: carrying dip, making loud crunchy noises, or wearing on your lapel.)

Generally speaking, I avoid food that’s labelled “guilt-free!” because a) I don’t want to fund that kind of thinking, and b) they might as well label the food “taste was not our priority”.

I admit, eating is not something I tend to feel guilty about. But, as the Caped Gooseberry gently pointed out to me the other day, I do tend to set goals or targets for myself and then feel guilty if I don’t meet them.

As guilty, mark you, as I would feel if I had broken some more important rule, such as “Do Not Kick That Puppy”. Now there is nothing wrong with having a moral code (the puppies of the world thank you) but to put everything at the same level lacks perspective.

Weim Pups 001

On the other hand, setting goals can be good, and having targets is about the only way to reach them. The problem is when the goals become, as it were, a measuring stick to beat yourself with.

What to do?

I have set myself the goal of finishing the first full draft of my WIP by the end of the month. I’ve rearranged my daily round so I have two blocks of writing time each day: three hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon; and this has definitely helped kick the productivity into high gear. But there’s still no guarantee that I will reach the end of the story by the end of the month.

So I have to keep reminding myself that it’s ok; that I will have made a huge and pleasing amount of progress even if I don’t write “The End” on the day I desire, and I do not need to feel guilty if I don’t.

The End Book

This goes hand in hand with reminding myself that I haven’t “failed” for the day – or the month – if I start a little late or don’t manage as many pages as the day before. Guilt can be crippling, and that leads to further failure – the genuine failure of giving up altogether.

It’s worth asking yourself, the next time you’re feeling guilty: have I really kicked a puppy? Or is this guilt a false friend who should be shown the door?

Look Both Ways Before You Cross

Looking forward to the new year, but also looking back over the year just passed. Coincidentally, it has been exactly a year since I started this blog.

During that time I have written all of eighty-eight posts (although about 25 are simple quote-and-picture posts). Over the course of the year I have gone through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, reviewed various books on writing, and asked for advice on a myriad of subjects (moving house, staying sane…) which I mostly didn’t get.

I also set goals for myself (see here and here) which I mostly failed to meet, in that I did not finish my WIP by December 31st. But I did make some strides in taking myself more seriously as a writer and doing a bit of would-like-to-be-professional development. As with so many things, Work In Progress.

Among the questions which I have mulled over during the year are whether to keep using my nom de plume (my parents, by some oversight, failed to name me Sinistra at birth) and what precisely it is I am trying to achieve here.

This blog was originally intended as a form of accountability against procrastination, but since no-one is actually holding me accountable but me anyway, that purpose has taken a bit of a back seat.
Procrastination is apparently one of the mysteries of the human condition, as articulated by Paul back in the 50s AD: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it.” (Romans 7:15, New Living Translation).

Motivation is perhaps key, but I struggle to find a motivation strong enough to overcome tiredness and self-doubt. Duty doesn’t cut it (unlike Frederic, I am not the Slave of Duty); ambition is by no means my strong suit – perhaps I just need to develop more character. Or a means of reminding myself of what it is I stand to lose.

In any case, over the coming year I hope to look more at subjects of interest to more than myself – that is to say, less of the writing, and more of the whatever-I-happen-to-be-obsessed-with-at-the-moment – steampunk, knitting, millinery, sustainability, odd bits of history, or any combination of the above.

Looking back, my most popular post by far (inasmuch as I can tell, since the majority of views are recorded as “homepage/archive”) is Great Wizards of Literature. I blush a little every time I see another hit on it, as it was originally titled Favourite Wizards of Literature, only some were more great than favourite. It wasn’t until after I had clicked ‘publish’ that I realised I had listed one of my own creations as a Great Wizard of Literature.

He isn’t great, really, but he’s doing his best. (If he’s very lucky, he may one day be published.) An excellent example of how not to blow your own trumpet.

You’re doing it wrong.

The gong for Most Under-Appreciated Post (from my point of view, anyway) goes to Mid-Week Quote: Reading, for the play on word(s) if nothing else.

On an entirely unrelated tangent, if your New Year’s Resolution includes being more generous, giving to charity, doing something good for someone else or even (aim high!) saving someone’s life, consider this from Throwim Way Leg, one of the blogs I follow.
Getting an ultrasound machine really will make a life-or-death difference to people in Papua New Guinea. Imagine if your local hospital had no ultrasound, no x-ray, no lab for tests… you get the idea.
And do please feel free to pass the link on to anyone you think might be interested.

Thanking you all for your company in 2013, and looking forward to your company in 2014, I remain,
Sinistra Inksteyne hand250

Great Expectations

Not the book. Or even one of the dozen and a half films, TV movies and mini-series listed on IMDB under that title. (Why so popular, I wonder? Myself, I much prefer Nicholas Nickleby and A Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Genius.)

No, I refer to the expectations we have of ourselves, as writers, and as doers generally. We will work so many hours per week. We will keep our houses in such a state of cleanliness. We will maintain so many relationships to such a degree. We will have hobbies. We will read. And we will write.

As previously mentioned, there are 168 hours in a week. One can only do so much, and if you pack each minute ’til its sides bulge like a spring-loaded suitcase, sooner or later you will wear down, and go splat.

13/365 - Splat!

So Sensible Expectations are key, if not so much of a runaway best-seller.

But how do you know what are sensible expectations to have of yourself? No two people are exactly alike, nor do they live the same lives, so you can’t really base your expectations of yourself on what someone else is able to achieve. They’re not you. You can’t compare.

Trial and error? That sounds sensible (if time-consuming) but we are in a constant state of change, are we not? What tired me yesterday when I did it for the first time may well be manageable today, and even easy tomorrow.

So do our expectations of ourselves need to be continually adapting to our changing circumstances and changing selves? And if so, how do you maintain them as an expectation?

If the standard can be flexed indefinitely, does it still constitute a standard? Does ‘getting out of bed at 6:30am’ count as a standard if it can be adapted to the circumstance of ‘being tired’ which results, in point of fact, in ‘not getting out of bed at 6:30am’?

Bed Time!

Do you see what I mean? And better yet, do you have any nuggets of relevant wisdom you have distilled over a long life? (Or a short life – the indigent mendicants not being noted for their selective abilities.)

This is an issue I have been mulling over a good deal lately, with regards to many aspects of my life, but the only definite conclusion I have come to concerns my Word Count.

I have decided to revise my target from 500 words a day, 6 days a week (a total of 3,000 words a week) to 400 words a day, 5 days a week (a total of 2,000 words a week) – effective 14th April.

To be sure, targets are set to be aimed at, but there is something rather depressing to the spirits about mostly missing, even if you expect to. If you don’t believe me, read an ‘aspirational’ women’s magazine (making sure to look at all the pictures), and see how you feel at the end.

Michelle Moore, America's Perfect Woman 2011

(Unless you happen to be of the male persuasion, in which case think of a situation in which you fork out your hard-earned to have someone point out how perfect you and your life aren’t, and suggest all the self-improvement (and purchasing) you ought to be doing, in order to be as much like the perfection you aren’t as possible. Then let me know what that situation is, I’ve always wondered.)

400 words a day. Five days a week. That’s my Sensible Expectation. For now.