Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What To Do When Writing Gets You Down

Writing is hard. Once you think you have the basics of craft down, you then have to deal with constant rejection, wait times that never get shorter, and the insecurities that pop up at least once a day.


But it’s important to remember that it’s okay if you can’t always put on a happy face day in and day out. Writing is work. There will be not-so-good days. The trick is being able to move past the bad and stay productive.

First, Give Yourself Permission to Feel Awful…
...Then Move On

If you can do this, the rest of this post is superfluous. Seriously though, you knew that writing would be tough when you first started out, and it doesn’t get any easier later on. But something in you had to keep writing anyway. And that spark is essential for dealing with the inevitable bumps in the road. It’s natural to feel disappointment at times; just remember why you started writing in the first place.

Distract Yourself with Something New/Different/Comforting

Break out the chocolate, if you must. Your favorite food or adult beverage—in moderation, please. Watch a movie, take a walk, try something new. These are all good strategies to distract you from whatever’s bothering you (a string of rejections, a story that just won’t work, whatever). Take a break even. Read something in a different genre from what you’re trying to write in. Artist dates are also a great distraction from whatever has you down—and also feed into your creative mindset too.

Analyze Why You’re Upset…
...Then Harness The Emotional Impulse Behind It

This requires distance. It can also force you to confront things about yourself you may not like. After all, things like shame, anger, and jealousy aren’t exactly a barrel of laughs.

Do you feel ashamed after a rough critique of your work? Anger over a rejection you thought was a slam-dunk? Jealousy over the success of another writer? Try to pinpoint why you feel that way.

For me at least, I feel ashamed when someone calls me out on something in a critique that I consciously or unconsciously know is an issue in my story. This tells me I need to listen to my gut, that nagging voice in my head that says you need to fix this.

Anger, I’ve come to realize, is going to be a part of the writing process for me. Maybe you’re wired differently. Each rejection I receive makes me angry in some way, even if I can see a story’s flaws in hindsight. But I try to funnel that anger—that energy—into the next piece I write. The one that will succeed where the last one failed. Just remember that you are writing out of anger, which can require adjustments once you’ve had a chance to cool down.

Jealousy is a tough one, and people more qualified than me have discussed it elsewhere (see Everyone Gets Jealous, Even Published Authors, Pros and Cons to Comparing Yourself to Other Writers, and A Writer's Antidote for Envy). Just remember that writing is not a competition, even though it can seem that way. If you don’t like what you’ve achieved so far, work to change that—start a new project or use a new strategy to get your work out there. Find a positive way to achieve your definition of success.

Don’t Forget To Celebrate What You’ve Accomplished So Far

It’s so easy to get tunnel vision and forget where you came from. You know, back when you couldn’t write your way out of a scene? Don’t forget to take time to look back at what you’ve accomplished. Writing is one of those fields where visible successes (like story sales and book deals) are few and far between.

So you need to unearth those smaller, less visible successes—the ones that demonstrate how seriously you take your writing and how it’s impacted others. Things like joining a crit group, a compliment from a writing colleague, a blog post that made an impact, a completed story draft. These are not insignificant successes, and they should be acknowledged as such. I had the illustration for my story in the Memory Eater anthology framed and hung in my office, not only because it’s the first of my stories to receive its own illustration, but also because it’s a constant reminder of what I’m working for.

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So if you are feeling down, I hope you’ve found some strategies to feel better about your writing. What’s helped you beat the blues?

2 comments:

Laura Lee Nutt said...

Good advice here. Sometimes it's hard to see all of that when things are lowest.

Remembering that lots of other people go through what I'm experiencing as a writer and that it is all part of the process helps me too. Thanks for sharing your techniques.

Laura W. said...

Good advice.

Weirdly, I often feel bad about claiming my successes. Like to feel good is bragging, in some way. But geez, those good days happen little enough that when they do come, we've got a right to celebrate!

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