I almost titled this post, "How to handle a bad writing day," but as with many things, I can't tell you how to do anything, I can only offer my experience and perhaps suggest ways you can handle a similar one. Yesterday started off well; I transcribed several interviews in order to file a piece. Then I sent some emails about an article I'm working on and did other tasks, but around three o'clock, I hit a wall. I felt frustrated, mostly with myself, like there was no way anything I wrote or any idea I had would be worth pursuing.
If it were nicer out, maybe I would have taken a walk, and perhaps I should have; I plan to today because I have the "excuse" of going to the post office. I did some administrative tasks while watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, but found I couldn't even get into the pole-dancing scenes. I just felt like my mind was a waste of space, and anything I started I abruptly stopped.
Now, seeing the above photo, some people might say: it's your desk. It's the clutter. But not me. I'm a firm believer in the messy desk = more productivity theory.
So instead of trying to pound out words that were only going in circles, I pretty much gave up for the day. I decided to forget about the fact that my inquiries for that article turned up several people declining to be interviewed, to forget that I had still more transcription awaiting me, to try to put aside all the frustration I felt with my day. I admit I was a bit grouchy when my boyfriend got home, which he didn't deserve at all. We ate separate dinners, which we rarely do (mine was a bagel and hummus) and watched Jeopardy! and cuddled a bit. I took a bath and read a library book (the young adult novel Wonder, which I learned from Natalie Merchant's documentary Paradise is There is based on her song of the same name).
Setting your work aside is not a strategy that's always available. Often the work needs to be done and you have to find a way to plow through. My work tends to be less urgent most of the time, which is a blessing and a curse. When I need to, I can report and file a story from the airport (especially when it's one with free wifi like SFO), as I did last Tuesday. Sometimes I wish all my writing were like that because I would have to finish no matter what, but the reality is, usually I have a week or a few weeks for an article, a few months to turn in an anthology, a few days to edit a student's story, so a few hours here or there are not going to make or break a project. But sometimes, for me, I need to step away in order for my brain to recalibrate, for me to remember that all is not lost and that even though I may not be able to write through my own seething anger at myself, that will pass.
This morning I woke up and firstly, had gotten a full night's sleep, rather than waking up at four and thinking that was prime reading time, thus throwing off my day. I'd let myself sleep even though I had that same to do list haunting and taunting me and making me feel guilty for not working every second of the day. Then when I checked my email, I found that rather than the daunting declines I'd gotten the day before, I had messages from people eager to discuss my article topic. I made oatmeal and brainstormed new ideas. I made a relatively reasonable to do list. I noticed that the Amazon price keeps dropping on my new book and an older one is on sale, neither of which directly relate to my writing but are still pleasant things that will hopefully earn me a little extra money down the road.
Will today be a perfect writing day? Who knows? But I can say that I already feel more motivated than I did at the end of yesterday. Given that I'm going to be launching two websites soon to promote my work teaching both erotica and nonfiction sex writing, it feels a little dangerous and perhaps self-defeating to admit that I have bad writing days, to share that I get so stymied by my own demons I let them get in the way of my work. I am aiming to file roughly one article a day in order to meet my 2016 income goal, and I wish I could share a glowing report about how that's going. I will be posting some of the details of how I'm keeping track of my income and expenses this year, but probably after a few months, once I've fully sorted all the data. But the thing about emotions is that they don't track so well on spreadsheets. They sneak up on you and can derail you from a perfectly logical, straightforward path. Maybe it was hormones, maybe it was frustration, maybe I just needed a break yesterday for some unknown reason.
I'm posting this not because I think it makes me look together or professional, but precisely because it doesn't. I believe that baring my flaws is just as important as announcing my successes, because both are complementary parts of me. Sometimes I err on only focusing on one side (usually it's the flaws), and that's as imbalanced a portrait as only celebrating the successes.
br> Yes, I make a living through a mix of writing, editing and teaching, but I'm not perfect. I falter, sometimes more often, sometimes less. What I'm aiming to do this year is not so much falter less, as pick myself back up more quickly. The positive side of having various sources of income is that I actually welcome the work I do that isn't about my writing. Like many people, I can often be a better critic and editor of other people's work than my own, which is why I'm excited that I have a LitReactor class starting two weeks from tomorrow, and am open to new consulting clients. Helping other people polish and publish their work fuels me in different ways than spewing out my own words. It makes me feel helpful, useful, like I'm putting the things I've learned via trial and error over the last 16 or so years to good use. Not that I don't believe in my own writing, which I do (when I'm not having a day like yesterday), but the various tasks balance each other out. I don't think I could embrace being a full-time freelance writer if I didn't also have editing and teaching work.
At other times, some of the ways I've handled a bad writing day are: pick an article I read online and respond to it, write a listicle (they are harder than they look!), write a review of someone else's book, praise or repost someone's work I admire, clean my room (a never-ending task in my case). The best thing I can say about bad writing days is that for me, they make me all the more grateful for the good ones. And by "good," I don't necessarily mean that I filed a story or wrote something I was thrilled with, but where I was engaged by the work, where I approached it with my whole self, rather than doing so halfheartedly while secretly cheating on whatever I'm ostensibly writing by planning out the next thing I want to write in my head even as I type.
That is the state I strive for: to be fully in the moment, whether that's listening to an interviewee's words again as I type them up, digging deep into my emotional well for a personal essay, or penning a fictional sex scene. So while I'm usually not one for advice, the best thing I can say about a bad writing day is that at some point it will be over. A bad writing day is no big deal as long as you find a way to bounce back. That may not happen immediately, but I try not to let myself linger in that "nothing I write is worth it" mental state for too long, because the longer I do, the harder it is to shake that conviction. So if you too struggle with writing, I hope it's a short struggle, and that maybe through that struggle, you find something new to write about once you're on the other side of it.