I have over 20,000 people who follow me on Twitter. That means that potentially that many can read about what I ate for lunch (or more important stuff if I choose to tell them!) I have nearly 400 friends on Facebook from all over the world. That means that potentially every story, heartbreak, and bad day can be told to them pretty quickly. Then I lead a group of writers on Facebook of over 1700 people worldwide and I am not shy about telling them about my struggles and victories. It’s from these groups that I have found some of dearest people in the world. My guest writer is Christine Hennebury, a butt-kickin’, storytellin’ Canadian who is one of my biggest cheerleaders and online friends. I can’t imagine life without her. Go Christine! And thanks for guest posting!
Everyone has bad days at work. But we writers are especially skilled at turning a slow day into a big THING about who we are as writers and as people.
I think it’s because we are so good with stories. So, for us, a bad day is not just about that individual day, it’s about our choice to write. It becomes part of a bigger story of whether we are cut out for this job, whether we have anything important to say at all, whether we *should* be writing.
And while in some contexts those could be valid questions, most of the time a bad day is just a bad day. Maybe we didn’t sleep well, maybe we are struggling with an aspect of our work and we just haven’t figure out why yet, or maybe we just don’t know what to do next. It doesn’t have to have a deeper meaning.
In many professions, there are specific steps that need to be followed on every job and the practitioners don’t have to think too much about the procedures because they have been tried and tested. If something doesn’t work, they don’t have to assign any meaning to it, they can just try something else. I like to help my clients find similar steps for their creative work so they can ease their way out of difficult days and keep working.
Here are my suggestions to keep a bad day in perspective and get some words on the page:
1) Lose the story: Say aloud to yourself ‘This is just a bad moment, I don’t have to give it any meaning.’ Weaving a story around a hard day gives it a meaning it doesn’t deserve. A bad day doesn’t mean that you are a bad writer.
2) Give it a little thought (but just a little): Are the thoughts in your head about how you need rest or that you have no ideas? Or are they harsh thoughts about your skills or abilities?
If it is the first, then consider if you need to take a little break or if you need to do something to get the juices flowing again.
If it is the second, then ask your mind to work with you instead of against you. Maybe say something to yourself like ‘I hear that you are trying to protect me from getting hurt by keeping my ideas in, but I need to get them on paper. We’ll talk about what I can do with them once they are out of my head.’
3) Do a warm-up: Set a timer for just 5 minutes or so and write about nothing. Write complaints about how you don’t want to write. Write a letter of annoyance to your muse. Make a long list of hamburger toppings. It doesn’t matter what you write, just get your brain in writing mode.
4) Try a little ‘real’ writing: Now that you’re warmed up, you can set your timer again and start writing. Here’s the catch though – don’t even try to make it good. Just get your ideas sketched out on the paper. This is not the day to shoot for the stars. Aim low. Do your okay-est.
Just get the ideas down and you can work them into something else later. You know how you are supposed to show and not tell? This is a time when telling is perfectly fine. Just say ‘She was angry’ and save the descriptions of her reddened face and her low growl for the editing phase. When the timer stops, get up and walk away.
5) Reward yourself: If you can, take a longer break that you spent writing. Make it a GOOD break – something really rewarding. Conversations with a friend, taking a short nap, sinking into the tub. Whatever really feels good to you, but indulge yourself in it entirely for however long you have available.
If your schedule won’t allow it today, then take a short indulgent break now and PLAN your bigger break for later today or on the weekend.
6) Return to writing: Once you’ve had a break, set the timer again and keep writing. Remember that our goal is to get the ideas out and to keep moving.
This is NOT about doing anything well or ‘right’ – it’s just about doing your job.
7) Find the kindness: It’s time to start being nicer to yourself about your writing process. This is how you’ve chosen to make a contribution to the world and you need to give yourself permission to actually do it.
The important thing about all of these steps is finding a way to keep your bad day in perspective. If you are a writer, then writing is your job and, like with any job, there are procedures you can follow to bring ease to the process. Why not give the ones listed here a try and see if they can help you get back to your project?
Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her story skills have improved since then. She makes up stories, shares stories, and helps people shape their life stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her storyfying at www.christinehennebury.com Read some of her recent fiction at http://mombie.com/category/writer-dame/story-a-day-may-2015/ Chat with her on twitter @isekhmet