We all have those times when writing is an absolute dream. The ideas flow, the words actually make sense, we smash targets and get great feedback. These moments are lovely. But they can also be fleeting.
These inspired periods cannot be depended on if we want to write regularly. I don’t know about you, but most days I don’t launch straight into my story in a storm of wonderful ideas. I have to ease my way in, figure out my next moves, and, if I’m lucky, I’ll fall into a good head space about halfway through. Other days, I create a space for writing and I get the words down even though I’m not particularly inspired.
But then there are the other times. The times when every sentence feels like a mess, when every idea feels contrived and unoriginal, when people don’t get your vision and, no matter how much time and effort we put in, we just aren’t writing enough. Hopefully, this lowness doesn’t hit you too much, but when it hits me it’s almost debilitating. I keep writing because I’m too stubborn to stop, but there’s a lot of angst around it.
I recently tweeted about feeling low about my writing abilities:
I got some lovely responses (thank you if you said nice things, it genuinely helped) and I have been thinking a lot about lowness and how it can affect our writing. Below are some of my reflections. These are very much things I am also saying to myself – I always need a reminder.
FEELING LOW IS NOT A REFLECTION OF THE QUALITY OF YOUR WRITING
It’s all too easy to equate feeling bad about our writing ability with our writing being bad. This isn’t the case though. I don’t know about you, but when I read through my work I have no idea which sections were written when I was feeling confident about my writing or when I was feeling low. Despite the voice inside telling me that I’m not a very good writer, the work I produce is of a similar quality.
This lowness is just a feeling, not a fact. This feeling has no bearing on whether I am a good or bad writer. I might feel low about my abilities, but that doesn’t change them.
WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN
There is one time when lowness hits particularly hard and predictably. You finish a first draft, you race through a round of edits, you get some lush feedback – and you feel great. For a while. This is the high and, if you’re the same as me, this will often be followed by a low.
Recently, I finished editing something that I’d been working on for about three months. I felt like a king. I would say I actually felt proud of what I’d produced, which is quite a rare thing for me. I sent the new draft off to my agent and dove into writing a first draft of something I’d been wanting to write for a while, and for a week or so everything was hunky.
Then the lowness hit. The story I’d felt so confident about only days ago was suddenly probably a pile of crap and my agent would hate it. The draft I’d launched into was too slow, too boring, too meh. I wasn’t a good writer and I should stop trying. That’s what the lowness was telling me, anyway.
I really want to get better at anticipating this kind of low time. It’s natural to come down from a high – to have some doubts and be a bit unsure. I want to create more of a space for this feeling and be gentle with myself instead of ploughing on regardless. I’m not there yet but, with practice, I’m hoping I’ll find ways to stop this low knocking me back so much.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO STOP, BUT YOU COULD TAKE A BREAK
I’m a stubborn fool. It comes from having a ridiculous drive (I WANT TO BE AN AUTHOR AND I WANT IT NOW SO I’M GOING TO WORK WORK WORK WORK UNTIL I GET WHAT I WANT). This can be great, but it can also be quite punishing. What I need when I’m feeling low is a much more compassionate mind-set, not an internal voice screaming I must do more because that’s how I will get what I want.
I want to be an author but I don’t want to be miserable, so sometimes that means I won’t do quite as much writing as the drill sergeant in my head demands. I might not write as quickly as I’d like, but I’d rather be gentle and feel better about myself than finish projects slightly sooner.
This is something I’d still learning to be comfortable with, but breaks are really good. I have a day a week when I don’t write at all. At first I struggled with this, but gradually I’ve come to enjoy it. I read loads on that day and do other fun things that get me out of my head. I often find that the couple of days after this enforced break I am brimming with ideas and energy. Taking a break reminds me that my whole life and worth doesn’t revolve around writing. This is great when I’m feeling low, because I know writing is not the only thing I have going for me.
REACH OUT WHERE YOU CAN
You might not feel comfortable shouting about your low times on social media (most of the time I’m the same but I do try to be honest about the triumphs and struggles of writing) but find some people you can reach out to when you’re feeling this way. People who will buoy you back up and say nice things until you start to believe them a little bit.
It’s ideal if these people are writers, because they’ll get what you’re talking about. They will have felt exactly the same way at some point. I personally find this incredibly reassuring. I’m an anxious bean, and get slightly concerned when I’m feeling low that I’ll feel this way FOREVER. So it’s helpful to be told by someone else that we all have times like this, but that they don’t last.
Find your people who don’t mind you having a moan and will help you pick yourself up again and keep going. This low feeling makes us feel isolated and alone, but one way to banish it slightly is to reach out to others and sob about the difficulties of writing together.
I hope these reflections are helpful. These low moments suck but we have to remember that they don’t last and that they are totally normal. The important thing is to keep writing (even just a little) and wait for the lowness to pass. It will. It always does.