We all have bad days. Every single one of us. Even if we’re in denial. Even if we wake up the morning after a slow, frustrating, not at all productive day of writing and think, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.” It happens to everyone. Even to those who don’t want to admit it.
This doesn’t make the bad days any easier — of course it doesn’t. A bad writing day is one of the most soul-sucking things that can happen to a creator. You have all these ideas and plans, all these hopes, you’re excited to get the work done. You can’t wait to see how it’s all going to turn out. Yet when you sit down to put the words to paper, everything in front of, behind, and beneath you seems to just completely fall apart.
Suddenly a day that was shaping up to be great turned into … well. A bad day.
Here’s what one of these days looks like — maybe you’re having one right now and you don’t even know it. And if there’s a way to make one of these days a little better, maybe we can find that out together, too.
You sit down at your usual writing space and look at every writing task you have to or want to complete today. It’s not even a lot, at least, not any more than usual, maybe a little less.
You’re not feeling the least bit overwhelmed. In fact, you’re feeling pretty motivated to get started. So you do.
But then you notice something isn’t quite right.
As excited and motivated as you felt looking at your list of tasks, actually getting them done isn’t nearly as easy. You keep starting on one, getting bored, jumping over to another one, leaving that one unfinished only to return to the first and jump ship again. You keep thinking of ideas, things you want to write down, but every time you try, nothing seems to come out sounding as poetic as it may have in your head.
You’re not interested in anything you research, at least, nothing that’s relevant to what you’re “supposed to be” writing about.
You feel like you’re wasting time. But you don’t know what to do about it, or if this is normal, or if you should just walk away from your desk or stay and write anyway or … something else?
It takes five minutes just to write one sentence when you do finally get around to putting something down.
You don’t even end up liking the sentence, but it’s written, you spent five minutes of your time on it, so you’re not going to just get rid of it. It has to stay — at least that’s what it feels like. Something that takes so much time and effort can’t just disappear.
And so the simplest writing tasks feel as though hours are going by and you aren’t getting anything done.
What do you do in those five minutes you’re trying and failing to write? You’re probably distracted for at least three of those minutes. Not even necessarily distracted by doing something else but instead totally occupied by thoughts completely unrelated to what you’re working on.
You don’t even realize this is happening, which is how it manages to go on for so long.
You COULD take a break, clear your head, maybe even close your laptop and check out for the day. But not everyone has this luxury.
The problem is, you can’t always just “not write.” The same way you can’t always just “miss work” even though you would give anything and everything to not have to go in today. For some people, writing isn’t optional. You either have a deadline you’re working toward, you’re already late, or you’re trying to make a name for yourself as a writer but these “bad days” seem to just keep happening.
The reality is, when you’re having a bad day, but you still have to sit in a chair and do your work anyway, the temptation to quit, to give up, to say “no more of this nonsense” can be intense and even devastating.
What do you do?
On some of these days you’ll keep writing. Others, you won’t. You really have to ask yourself: “Am I not writing because I can’t focus? Or am I not writing because I’m distracted? Bored? Uncertain?
On a deeper level you do have to do some soul-searching. A bad writing day is almost never the result of not wanting to write, not liking what you write, or not knowing what you should write next. More often than not, a bad writing day is a side effect of one or more external factors. Your day job is causing you a lot of stress, so you’re unable to get a lot of writing done outside normal work hours. Or you’re having a disagreement with a loved one and you’re having a hard time concentrating. You didn’t meet a personal goal and now you’re feeling bad about yourself and your writing. The list could go on.
You also have to go on. You have to keep moving forward, at least to a certain degree, even when you’d rather not. The show must go on. Even when you’re not at your best, sometimes you still have to go out there and perform. The thing about being a writer is, you can technically give a terrible performance — write a really bad story — and no one will ever know. You can clean it up later “in post” and no one would ever be able to tell the difference.
This does not mean you should push yourself to the point where you start to hate what you’re doing. There is a time to stretch yourself a little farther than you normally would and a time to step away from your screen and give yourself some room to breathe.
Only you know which option is going to be best for you depending on the particular circumstances. You know yourself better than anyone else knows you. You know when you can and/or need to put your head down and do the work. You know when you can afford not to.
Be responsible. But also take care of yourself. Write to the best of your ability, but don’t beat yourself up when your “best” doesn’t look all that great. We all struggle. We all face hurdles and stumble and fall. How you handle that, how you respond to it, is completely up to you.
A bad day doesn’t have to mean a non-productive day or a do-nothing and sulk day. It can just mean everything takes longer, you’re not satisfied, and you can’t do anything other than try your hardest to Make Words Happen. It can just mean you’re overly self-critical and over-analyze everything you write. It happens.
No matter what, accept the bad days along with the good ones. Moods run in cycles, as can creativity and overall motivation. As cliche as it’s going to sound, make the most of today. Do what you can. Try as hard as you can. And be kind to yourself the whole way through.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.