Ah, being a writer! What a life. Walking down the sandy shore in front of my secluded beach house, the salty breeze tousling my sun-kissed bangs, sounds of seagulls passing overhead, as I contemplate my next manuscript.
Who hasn’t heard this glamorous vision of a writer’s life? But as writers, we all know it’s more likely to look like this:
Ack! My hands flap at the smoke coming from the skillet I forgot was on the burner while I was racing between edits, the piles of laundry on the counter, and the crying baby. Sweat beads on my forehead, the smoke alarm blares overhead, as I contemplate my chances of finishing this draft before my early morning work shift.
It’s a Messy Business
Being a writer isn’t all that glamorous. The days can get a bit messy. It’s also often a solitary effort—few of us meet with other writers (or have time to) outside of an infrequent conference or periodic online group chat. (NaNo cabins, anyone?) We can be left quite alone to deal with the good and the bad days, no matter what they bring. In the midst of that, we try to remain creative.
There’s no better support in the writing community than to have other writers help give assurances that you are not alone in undertaking this arduous and sometimes messy journey. With that in mind, the Insecure Writers Support Group (IWSG) brings writers together each month to share stories of writing journeys –from insecurities to stumbling blocks to nuggets of hope. Previous IWSG topics (such as this one on writing fears and taking risks) can be found at my blog, On We Merrily Stumble.
On We Merrily Stumble
Some of you have asked why my blog is titled “On We Merrily Stumble”. That’s a great question. The title is a nod to the same simple concept IWSG supports. The idea of helping each other through this thing we call writing, picking each other up, and sharing a smile along the way, as we happily stumble toward typing “The End.” To that that goal, I try to post primarily positive informational articles related to motivation, attitude, and the writing process, along with tips for writing resources. Subscribers to my Newsletter get the link to a Motivational Workbook. It’s all supporting the same philosophy.
This Month’s Topic: The Highs and Lows of Being a Writer
For this month’s blog share, the IWSG asked us to consider sharing our writerly highs—those days when we really feel that beach breeze could someday blow back our tresses—and the lows, the rough days when we vow to shred the newest manuscript and call it quits.
This is a bit of a trick topic for me and may be a bit one-sided. I rarely focus on the negative for long. I’m a pain-in-the-rear-glass-half-full kind of writer. As such, I try to see most of my writing days in an optimitics light. So, do I have bad writing days?
Oh, hell yeah.
I have days when the words won’t flow, days my editor hands back a page where the red ink drowns out the black font, months (like this past one) where no matter how many drafts end up in the garbage can, I can’t quite seem to get out a new blog post or newsletter. I have plenty of days when other obligations toss me around like a rag doll, so when I finally cozy up to my computer, I have absolutely zero creativity left, as I stare at a blank page.
Worst of all, I’ve opened those emails…the ones arriving after months of hand-wringing and wearing out the refresh button on my keyboard. The one’s that start out: “I really loved your story, but …”
The challenge has always been to find a way to turn these tough moments into something positive. Does that mean I always successfully turn these ugly times into fantastic writing days? Not at all. Some actually do become good days; others just become “a little better” days. BUt I do try hard to not let them tear me down permanently. Generally, that means I need to go through a process. It’s a simple 2-step process. And it’s not always pretty or easy. I’ll share it with you below–see if it helps you, too.
2 Simple Steps to Changing A Rough Writing Day Into Something Better
- Step 1: Grieve, cry, get frustrated, or vent.
- Step 2: Pick yourself up by your britches and get back on the horse that just pitched you into a mud puddle.
Step 1: Let Your Emotions Flow
It isn’t always realistic to toughen up and laugh off a rough day. Sometimes, that “think of it as an opportunity to grow stronger” mentality just makes me want to wretch. I’ve seen posts on social media from writers having a really tough day, still staring at the email with their umpteenth rejection. Usually, this garners an onslaught of well-meaning replies, such as:
- That’s just part of writing. Let it go.
- Laugh it off and keep querying.
- So-and-so (famous writer) got 60 quadrillion rejections before they got “found” by the right agent.
- (And unfortunately) If you can’t handle rejection, this isn’t the business for you (yes, I have seen that out there!).
Look. Let’s be honest. Rejection is tough. We spend countless hours (often years) perfecting the passion of our story to send it out into the world (which takes a great deal of courage). To see rejections, sometimes personalized, but more often as a “form letter,” is hard.
~Sometimes we just need to grieve~
I can tell you when I read the last rejection on my first ever queried manuscript, I quietly closed the computer lid and let the tears flow. I let myself get rid of pent-up frustration and opine about my heart being flailed open. I definitely didn’t tell myself to toughen up and ignore it!
According to the University of Washington, not allowing yourself to acknowledge loss or go through the grief process has a number of negative health impacts, including:
- Drained energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor sleep
- Sense of uselessness
And how is any of that going to help with the motivation to write or our ability to be creative?As a bonus, allowing yourself to address the loss can free up emotions to invest elsewhere and offer a sense of peace.
Your Permission Slip
So, on those tough days, when you’ve hit your proverbial threshold of tolerance for writer’s block, red ink, or rejections, give yourself permission to grieve—whatever that looks like for you. Take a little while to clean out the frustration or disappointment. Acknowledge it head on.
Notice I said “a little while.” While your grieving may include a pint of Blue Bell ice cream before the evening is done, complete with ugly crying, and reruns of Mean Girls, it needs to have an end.
How do you end it? Go to Step 2.
Step 2: Getting Back on the Horse
Somedays it’s harder than others to climb out of that mud puddle (or wipe that chocolate ice cream from your face), roll up your sleeves, and get back on the horse. Sometimes, when I first sit back down to the keyboard, I find it helps to remember why I started writing in the first place. This may help you, too. Is writing s a lifelong dream? Are you working on a story that you feel compelled to tell? Whatever it is, keep it in mind, as you fire up the computer and start to type.
If your still having trouble convincing yourself the potential risk of getting tossed off that horse again is worth it, you may need to put that ice cream down and get more serious about refueling your motivation.
At this stage, I find it’s a good idea to assess my mental surrounding. I take a hard look at the positive and negative influences impacting my writing pathway. Those influences can affect writing motivation. I would strongly encourage you to do this anyway, even if you think you’re doing emotionally well now. One item to scrutinize are the social media groups you’ve joined. Are other members helping build you up? Or are they known for shredding anyone sharing a writing sample? Are posts in your social media feed promoting positive ideas or ranting about how terrible the writer’s life is?
Outside of the social media world, what motivational factors do you surround yourself with? How do you refuel your creative side during a busy and challenging life? If you need a few pointers on what to look at more specifically and how to implement positive change, keep reading.
Creating Positive Change
I’ve done my fair share of looking for ways to help get through my rough days, from examining my social media exposure to finding ways to regenerate my imagination when I’m battling writer’s block. I’ve gathered what I found useful and posted them to my blog. So, if you’re needing a deeper dive into regaining control of your rough days, here are links to a few of my articles:
- 7 Steps to Healthy Emotional Endurance For Writers
- When a Facebook Group is Not a Good Fit
- Is Negative Social Media Impacting You?
- Finding The Write Carrot: 1 Way to Stay Motivated
- What Is Your Next Writing Race?
How’s Your Day Going?
Are you deep into a pint of ice cream? Or is that salty air carrying your bangs back, as you run down the beach? Got tips for how you turn rough writing days into something better? Share in the comments below, then check out some other posts by IWSG members (Scroll to the bottom of this link here) or check out our the IWSG May Blog Hop hosts: