—The Advice Column
Feelings–they’re such flighty little things. In one moment, they brighten your life, encouraging your mind with hopeful views for the future, and the next instant they stab you in the back, turning on you with dark forebodings and discouragements.
A writer knows this about emotions more acutely than any other artisan (yes, writers aren’t emotionless cyborgs who only delight in ruthlessly killing off characters and worlds, even if it may seem so a lot of the time 😛 ). Sure, every businessman has the stresses and cares that come with his work: deadlines he has to make, projects he has to finish, workload he has to manage… But most writers, if not all, are a specific type of person. They are very emotional and passionate about the things they craft with their mind, and pen into being with their hands. Every little particle of parchment they fill with their words and worlds are babies, precious beauties that are more highly esteemed by their parents than diamonds. Sometimes our babies misbehave and then we must steer them back into the right path with the help of editing and rewriting. But through it all is carried in the heart a fondness and empathy for our creations.
In fact, the hardest part of writing that I have encountered so far is the emotional roller-coaster it takes me on. Up, down, happy, depressed… it’s struggle enough just to stick to the track.
Don’t get me wrong: emotions are a valuable commodity for a writer. The most compelling story, the most hair-raising narrative, and the most interesting fiction is created when a writer lets emotions show through the piece. The more interesting a novel, the more emotion was incorporated and used in the making. Emotion makes jewels out of dirty rocks, a masterpiece out of rubble. Even insecurity can help a writer mature and grow into an author. Insecurity ensures that you write the best you can, and fills the role of a diligent sentry, constantly looking out for a way to improve what you’ve written.
But emotion can also just as easily break a potential wonder. Think of the times you yourself have, faced with this sudden enemy disguised as a friend, turned away and buried a manuscript that could have been the next bestseller, vowing never to see that growing novel again. I would like to bet that 99% of the time a writer rejects and neglects a story is because of the emotional battle he or she is fighting.
A typical battle between muse and writer might look like this:
Muse: “Mister, what do you think you’re doing with the title of writer? You haven’t written anything worthy of being called written in centuries!
Writer: “I’ve been super busy this month, okay? School has been eating up all my time, I visited my brother last week, and had to practice like crazy for that concert a few days ago. Besides, I did too write a bit: just yesterday I finished that chapter up that’s been hanging over my head for the past week.
Muse: “Yeah, some chapter.”
Writer: “Why, what’s wrong with it?”
Muse: “Oh nothing, nothing at all, it’s just disgusting, that’s all. That dialogue between Bob and Bill…I was glad I had a trashcan next to me after I read that, because then at least the lunch I had eaten an hour ago had someplace to go that wasn’t all over the floor!”
Writer: “Wh-what are you talking about? Here, I’ll show you that it wasn’t that bad!”
*Writer determinedly pulls up document and scrolls down to the debated spot*
Writer: “See? Except for those-little typos there-” *hastily backspaces a few minor mistakes* “it’s a pretty solid ending to a chapter.”
Muse: *chuckles provokingly* “Really? Look at that spot right there. You seriously think that’s the best it could be? You really think any professional writer would have written that? And that’s not even to mention the obvious typos you just erased.”
Writer: “Well-okay, maybe it could be worded a little better. But-well, pretty much anything can be improved upon! And-anyways, I don’t really know how I could improve it, even if it does need some more work.”
Muse: *snorts* “Exactly; you know that it needs work, but you don’t know how to fix it. That shows you’re a horrible writer: you’re incapable of improving your own work. In fact, you don’t even deserve to be called a writer! You’re a wannabe, at best.”
Writer: “No I’m not! I’m just-really busy right now! Maybe later it’ll hit me what’s wrong with it, and I’ll be able to change it then. Now just-go away, I have work I need to do!”
And so, embarrassed and worried by his nagging muse (who points out things that aren’t as bad as he makes them out to be), Writer puts off writing, too ashamed of what he’s written to write anymore, afraid that he’ll just make his current WIP more messed up than it already is. Months go by, with no more progress, until the Writer, discouraged by both the little he’s written and how much more he would still have to write to tackle this project, finally throws the whole story out in his frustration, vowing never to look at that disgraceful mess in his life.
So for those writers out there who have struggled, like me, with this seemingly unconquerable beast, Emotion, it can seem very daunting to finish the fight, and nearly impossible to fulfill that life-long goal of seeing your baby published. But don’t fear: there are ways to break that stalemate and get back into writing and gain back your confidence.
Here are a few tips:
- Take a ten-minute break to relax and de-stress. Drop whatever you’re doing, lie down, and take just ten minutes to relax your brain muscles. No matter how much work you have to do, or how many things on your checklist you need to check off, if you’re getting too stressed out, it’s better to take a short break then to continue. Ten minutes is enough to give your brain a rest, help you calm down, and focus on the problems with your writing. Also, who knows what kind of great plot ideas can come to you during a short ten minute break?
- Talk to somebody. If you have problems with your current WIP that is bringing you down, sometimes it helps to just get the burden off your shoulders and vent at someone. Have someone you can confide all your writerly woes to, be it a friend, a sibling, your mom… whether you just need somebody to knock you over the head and tell you that what you have written is amazing, or help you find some ways to fix it, find a person to be that helpful writer friend. If you can’t find anybody that will work-nobody wants to talk with you about writing problems (which may well be the case)-contact me. I may not know how to fix the problems you’re facing, but just having someone to rant at can help with clearing your mind and getting those creative juices flowing again. Even just writing out an email that you then delete can help solve an issue you’re struggling with in your current WIP. Just know that if you ever need an extra pair of eyes on your project or someone to simply listen or perhaps give you some needed advice, I’m here and willing to help!
- Bring up a blank document and start typing out whatever comes to mind. Once you’ve unclogged that word drainage by letting all the gunk flow out onto a paper, you might open up the way for ideas and words to spring to mind for your actual project. Don’t fret over what you write about either: A red pig floating away in space and what he sees out there, a walking tree exploring the desert, your iPhone deciding to take a swim in the toilet-be it silly, serious, or sloppy, just putting fingers to the keyboard helps to get the brain juices flowing. And who knows? Sometimes, the very best of something comes from “nothing” (Shout-out to Christopher Robin, which is high up on my list of movie favorites)! You might even wind up with another story idea swimming around in your head.
- Create a folder with your best writerly creations so you can go back and view them. It helps to have a place where you can go back and be encouraged by your own creations. Even creating a document where you house the most inspirational quotes and short paragraphs you’ve written will help.
- Tidy up your workspace. Often, your mind feels awful because your surroundings are a mess. Either that, or some hoard of tissues lying around on your desk or a pile of crumpled up papers is unconsciously stealing your eyes’ attention every now and then when you’re trying to write. With distractions around, not only can your brain feel frustrated and clogged, but it can also lead to a long death-like pause from writing which breaks whatever little inspirational spell that might spring along. With a clean workspace, inspiration is much more likely to hit you, and get you back into that writing groove you lost, and boost your confidence in your ability to write well.
- Get dressed up. Yes you heard me: get into something that you feel stylish and beautiful in (ideally something comfortable to wear as well). If you feel good-looking, you’re likely to have a more positive attitude to go with it. I know it sounds silly, but this site says that wearing certain clothes can actually change your emotions and make you feel happier. If you’re still skeptical about whether this will actually work, try it and sit down and write: you’ll never know if it works for you or not unless you try it at least once.
- Start a blog or start journaling. When you have a hobby that pushes you to keep writing on a regular schedule, not only will it improve your writing, but will also help to get you back into the writing zone if you’ve fallen behind and can’t seem to get back into writing.
And that sums it up! If you’ve tried all those seven tips above and nothing is working, I highly recommend checking out my great friend Kenzie‘s blog post she published titled, “When We Struggle.” Highly, highly recommend reading that post, it gives some really good tips on how to keep writing when all seems lost. 🙂
Just don’t do it, no matter what is bugging you (unless you don’t want to be a writer anymore, or believe that writing’s not for you. Then yes, give up on writing). There will always be something that will help you get out of whatever slump you’ve fallen into. Maybe time will heal the breach between you and your baby. Even taking a year off to take a step back and fall back in love with a project can do the trick. You’ll never know if a method works until you try it out!