How to write on the bad days

September 22 by

How to write on the bad days

Forget this.

I don’t feel like writing today.

I’ve had the week from hell — I had to help my sibling to the ER on two separate days, my fourteen-year-old cat died, my kid is sick, my hubby and I aren’t getting along at the moment, and a close elderly relative is facing a surgery that scares her. No sleep. Horrible diet. Haven’t even taken my vitamins in days, and I can feel the difference.

I definitely don’t feel like posting anything for public consumption.

But you know what?

I promised myself I’d follow a certain posting schedule, and that promise means that today is the day I’m supposed to show up, shut up, and speak. And even though those last two are contradictions, that’s exactly what it takes.

It’s easy as writers to let the circumstances in life weigh us down past the point of creativity and openness.

I don’t FEEL like making a point.

I don’t want to be here.

But I am.

And these words? Who knows? Maybe you’re feeling that way, too.

If you don’t get anything else out of this post, which is admittedly a bit whiny, get this:  it’s okay to write when you don’t feel like it.

In fact, it’s vital.

It’s how you force yourself to dig deep. Do you think bankers have to feel like banking to show up at 9 a.m.? Do construction workers talk to each other on Facebook all day instead of going to work because they just couldn’t get themselves to be in a “construction-y mood” today?

This is what we do. We write. Learning to overlook the paralyzing fog of writer’s block is difficult — but it’s not impossible.

Don’t worry that you’re cheating your muse by not waiting around for her. You show up first, and most of the time, she’ll wander in out of jealous curiosity to see what you’re up to without her.

Don’t worry that the words won’t come. Write the ones that are there. (Like my, “Hey, I don’t want to be here,” that you just read.)  Write those out of the way, and make room for the new ones you can’t hear over the whiny ones. They’re in there, too. They just can’t get through the crowd right now because nobody’s opened the door at the front of the room. Open the door. See what strolls in.

My favorite post I’ve ever written came about that way. I was writing an online column for a well-recognized literary magazine, and my column was due on Thursdays. Well, that particular Thursday, we found out my mother-in-law — who was basically the cornerstone of my husband’s entire family network — was full of cancer, and a kind they couldn’t do much about. The days were limited. I’d just had a baby a couple years before, and now he wasn’t even going to get to remember her.

I sat down before the blinking cursor, thinking of what to write.

And I had nuthin’.

I couldn’t think of a single spin on my assigned topic. I couldn’t remember anything I’d seen that week on the news or in a magazine.  I couldn’t come up with a witty story to save my life.

So, I tried to write away the elephant in the room.

I poured my heart and soul out through my fingers, expecting just to save whatever I wrote as a digital diary entry, and then get onto the business of my column.

But what happened was weird.  I found myself shifting all the hurt, all the tears, into looking at my own life, and all the things I’d always meant to accomplish, and one of those was writing enough to leave a legacy.

And BAM.

That, I could tie into my topic.

So, purely accidentally, that’s what I did.

I worried whether it was too personal, too self-indulgent, or too ranty to please my editor.  I posted it, and then went to bed, where the column became again the last thing on my mind as my husband and I held each other and cried.

I woke up the next morning to a plethora of emails, tweets, and blog comments. Apparently, the rawness had hit a nerve. The editor told me, months later, that it had been the best-performing post on the site that year, and that it still pulled in good traffic.

I could never have guessed that.

And you know what?  It just happened again.  This post you’re reading doesn’t come from such a deep place as that, and it won’t break any records.  They aren’t all going to be winners — and let’s face it, if you’re clearing out the clutter without a thought pattern of what you’ll write first, you may very well end up with things that are more for you than for your public audience. Lord knows that’s happened to me plenty, too.

But the first line of this post was a very genuine, “forget this,” and the ending actually looped around to something I can use.

And that’s my point. The one I didn’t realize I wanted to make.

I remember reading an interview Neil Gaiman did on Goodreads a while ago. Something he said there really stuck with me, and that was this:

You can have a bad week. You can get stuck. But what I learned when I was under deadline is that if you write on the bad days, even if you’re sure everything you’ve written is terrible, when you come to it tomorrow and you reread it, most of it’s fixable. It may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever written, but you fix it, and actually it’s a lot better than you remember it being.

 

And the weird thing is a year later when you’re copyediting and reading the galleys through for the first time in months, you can remember that some of it was written on bad days. And you can remember that some of it was written on terrific days. But it all reads like you. Fantastic stuff doesn’t necessarily read better than the stuff written on the bad days.

 

Writers have to be like sharks. We keep moving forward, or we die.

 

So, here I am moving forward on a day in the midst of a historically bad week.

Wanna swim with me?  We can just keep going….

Even if we’re both in bad moods. 😉

 

It's easy as writers to let the circumstances in life weigh us down past the point of creativity and openness. I don't want to be here. I don't FEEL like making a point.

(Image credit: Sally Bradshaw)

Tracy Lucas

About Tracy Lucas

Tracy Lucas is a writer, editor, and the co-owner of Inkwell Basics. She owns Four Square Creative and Smash Cake Press, and she blogs about writing and publishing at her personal website. She has written and sold more than one hundred and fifty pieces for print, web, radio, and stage.

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2 Comments

  1. Eileen O Norman

    Hey! So sorry about your absolutely wretched week. But thanks for sharing this way. Well written and real. What I needed to hear this morning. What can we do for you? Let Jerry or you sleep on our couch? Bring your favorite eat out food? I might try a new recipe for potato soup. Would all of you eat that?
    I’m trying to get Tommy to take Julian to the movie the night of the next writers meeting so I can have it here. Getting down to Rachel’s room is a challenge on a good night and was just too much since, I was really dizzy last meeting night. Love all three of you guys. You have meant so much to me.

    • Inkwell Basics

      Aw, thanks, Eileen, you’re sweet. We’re okay. I wrote that a day or two ago, and much of the dust has settled since then. You guys mean the world to me, too, and I hope you know that.

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