Writing is a Selfish Task But It Needs to Be

I’ve always put family and friend duties, work responsibilities, writing group tasks, and other schedules ahead of my writing. When a family member or friend calls for help, I drop whatever I’m doing and help out. Sometimes the task is simple and takes fifteen minutes. Other times, the task requires all of my mental and physical powers and hours later, the task for a loved one is done but I am left too exhausted to return to the task I was originally doing for myself –usually writing or editing. Same goes for all the groups I belong to. When beloved writing organizations and other social groups ask, I deliver. Whatever little writing time I have left is often taken up by menial but necessary chores such as keeping the house livable and getting the bills paid.

We all play different roles. As much as I am a writer, I am also a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend, a leader, a worker, a blogger, a martial artist. If I am to be happy, I must find a way to balance the time I spend on all the things that matter to me.

As it stands, however, the one role which I tend to set aside often is my role as writer. Why? Because it is the one role above all that directly relates to ME and me alone. All the other roles point to relationships I have with others.

I was brought up to put others needs before my own, and there really is nothing wrong with that. But when I started writing with the goal of publication in mind, I realized that this way of thinking needed to be changed. If I kept on putting everything else (dirty laundry, messy house, socializing, etc) before my own writing, I would never get published or I would never get published within the timeline I’ve set for myself.

Generosity and selflessness are traits I value greatly in myself and in others. But just because these are good traits we should all strive for, it doesn’t mean that the opposite traits are necessarily evil.

The thing is, life is all about balance. As bad as they sound, stinginess and selfishness actually have a use in our lives.

To be stingy means to be hesitant to give or spend in terms of time or money. To be selfish means to be dedicated to caring for oneself or primarily concerned with one’s interests. Both are necessary if one is one is to achieve success in writing.

Writing is a selfish task, but it needs to be.

To be a writer (or any creative artist, for that matter), one must put her art and craft above most things. Writers must demand time for themselves, away from loved ones and day jobs and adult responsibilities. Craft can get better only with constant practice. Voice can be instinctive, but needs to be developed and nurtured. Good art cannot be rushed.

Others may think of us writers as selfish people. They may not understand that the time we spend daydreaming, and reading, and writing is a necessary for our happiness. But writing for us, isn’t a hobby or a passing dream. It is for us, as essential as air and food and water. Writing fulfills an emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual need. We may write to escape, to fulfill our fantasies, or to leave a mark in the world, but we all write because we need to.

Author Justine Musk explains this need beautifully in her post: why you need to write like a bad girl, part two: selfish


“The need to write isn’t about the desire to find meaning in the world, but to make meaning. If you have it, you know it; it’s lived inside you from a young age and will never leave. It will continue to call and nag and eat away at your soul until you start to do something about it. To deny it, to allow others to deny it, is to kill off a part of your personhood.”

Writing is not only what we do. It is who we are. And it is an injustice to deny ourselves the joy of being, simply because other people might perceive it as silly, or juvenile or meaningless or useless.

Writing is an important element of our personality, our spirit, and we must stop thinking of it as something we can set aside, simply because others around us may not understand its joys. Happiness is something we must all strive for, because the happier we are, the more productive we are as a part of society.

Balance is hard to achieve, but it is a must if we are to lead a happy, productive life. For writers, balance means making sure that the time we dedicate to ourselves and our craft is equal to the time we devote to others.  

Time is a writer’s currency. But unlike money, time is finite. It is something we cannot produce more of, something that once spent cannot be made again. Time is a writer’s most valuable asset and every moment spent not working on our craft is a moment we cannot make up for again.

We must make every heartbeat count.

This is a mantra which I strive to live by, a mantra which I’ve shared to all my students. (It’s the one thing I hope they remember above all the lessons I taught during their English classes.)

Steve Jobs once said:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

The reality is, we don’t know how much time we are all given on this earth, and we need to make sure every second of our lives is spent doing a task that means something to us. Whether it’s spending time with loved ones or spending time working on a craft we love.

Be a wonderful parent, a super spouse/partner, a good child, a great friend, an efficient leader and a studious worker. But also strive to be a real writer. Your relationships are all important, but YOU are important too. Your happiness matters just as much as other people’s. So go ahead and be selfish, and know that the people who truly love you will understand.

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13 Responses to “Writing is a Selfish Task But It Needs to Be”

  1. We can also give of ourselves to the point that there is nothing left to give. We need to refill our own well sometimes.

  2. Great post, Nutschell. You hit the nail on the head. You are such a giver, but you do also have to give to yourself. However, I know first-hand that can be tough to stomach. I always feel like I’m not giving enough to anything, so then I’m hard on myself to give more to make up for it, but I forget to even consider myself until I’m cranky and burnt out. Or, I insist on my selfish time, but not at the detriment of others’ time, so I lose precious sleep. And that doesn’t help anyone!

    I’ve recently started something a little funky to make sure I concentrate on writing or my task at hand, which is putting on headphones. It helps me disappear into myself and reminds me that it is time to shut off the rest of the world and focus.

    If you still can’t harness the selfish vibe, think of this — every minute you are stealing from writing for yourself is a minute robbed from the readers who need to see your story. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for them!

    Hope this year brings you the right amount of balance, and you are able to stick your neck and say when enough is enough.

    We’ll all be a little shocked to see you’re human and not Superwoman (well, at least not 100% of the time), but we’ll all be here to support you and accept what you need to do to be healthy and give without resentment when the time is right.


  3. M.J. Fifield says:

    Such a wonderful post, Nutschell.

    ‘Writer’ is always the role I end up having to set aside. And though I know what you say here is very true, I always feel bad when I do carve out that time to write.

  4. mooderino says:

    Time is definitely a precious commodity for writers. And when you spread yourself too thin it makes the time you do set aside that much harder to focus properly. A little selfishness is necessary.

    Moody Writing

  5. This is a phenomenal post! I’ve been really frustrated with myself because I put my writing last, and I couldn’t put my finger on WHY I put it behind everything else. If I we something to someone else, if someone needs something from me or I have a deadline with them, that thing comes first. I need to make sure the house is in good shape first. I have a volunteer position for a local writer’s group where I put in 30 hours per week, and I put them first, because people are depending on me. But *I* depend upon me to write and to make time to do so. I had some time the other day and didn’t feel like writing, but I forced myself, and the moment I figured out WHAT to work on, I was off. I actually got a few hours in. It felt so good!

  6. You have your priorities in the right order! But I knew that from following your blog. Family and friends must be ahead of our personal goals. That’s just how the world works best.

    I’ve left you a small award over at the Write Game. Hope you like it.

  7. Karen Strong says:

    Love this post! Time is finite and we have to create priorities.

  8. Nutschell- Great post and something we should all remember. It is very hard to put your writing before others and family yet we do it everyday with our paying jobs and don’t feel guilty about it.

    I hope you are able to make time for your writing.

  9. Teresa C. says:

    I am more of a selfless person than selfish. So I do for others before doing for me and that’s not always good. Great post!

  10. Hilary says:

    Hi Nutschell .. you do so many things for others – some will help your craft too, others will ensure the family and friends’ needs are taken care of ..

    You have enormous drive and energy … but the time you can grab for yourself is critical for your balance of life ..

    Cheers and so well done … you’ll achieve .. Hilary

  11. Excellent post. It’s vital, no matter what your goals in life, to take time for yourself. I think writing has a bit of a bad rep in some circles. Because the fruits of it can’t be seen right away, like many other artistic endeavors, it’s regarded as time-wasting or frivolous. But we owe it to ourselves to make that time and, sometimes, choose ourselves over others.

  12. […] promised myself that I would give my writing the time that it deserved, so despite all my many responsibilities and activities, I made sure that I worked on my novel […]

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