So, You’re Having A Bad Writing Day
You’re having a shitty writing day.
I get a crap writing day at least once a week. Maybe twice. Once in a while, I get a whole bad run of writing days, like I’ve got some kind of creative food poisoning and every day is just the urgent regurgitation of narrative fluids without aim or purpose. It’ll be five heinous days in the word mines, where I’m sweating and raging and kicking dirt.
To repeat: it happens.
Problem is, these days, these fucking days, boy howdy — they can derail your train, can’t they? Knock you right off the track.
But it’s okay.
I’m here to help you get through them.
But first you have to get in the van.
*waits some more*
Okay, you know what, looking at the van now, I maybe see what I did wrong. Maybe we don’t get in the van. Maybe we just stand outside the van. It’s cool. We can talk here, where you can easily run screaming for help.
The first thing you need to know is that:
Bad writing days — or, if you’re an artist, bad art-making days — are normal.
They are part of it. They are woven into the fabric of what we do.
In fact, writing is supposed to be hard. Easy things are boring things. Easy is like, putting on lip balm, or making a pot of $0.19 grocery store ramen. Those are not bad things, but they are not particularly consequential things, either. Nobody changed the world by putting on lip balm. (Cue 52 comments where people tell me that Winston Churchill and Roosevelt bonded over lip balm.) Writing a story or making art is not putting on lip balm. It’s not raking leaves, even if the mechanics feel that way sometimes.
Stories are bigger, stranger, sprawlier things.
Consider: the act of telling a story is you CONJURING AN ENTIRE UNIVERSE INSIDE YOUR MIND and then using words as knives to CARVE THAT UNIVERSE INTO REALITY SO THAT OTHERS CAN VISIT YOUR IMAGINATION. “Today I am going to make a world out of my brain that you can go to in your spare time,” you say aloud, hopefully realizing that this is far more significant and far more bizarre than tying your shoes or blowing your nose. Creating whole worlds is pyroclastic. It is volcanic. It’s heat and fire, it’s molten rock, it’s lightning inside black smoke amid the nose and clamor of thundering earth and boiling air. It is an astonishing, generative act.
And it’s sometimes hard.
Sometimes what we do is stage magic. Sometimes the magic is sacrificial.
Stage magic requires hours of practice where you get it wrong.
Sacrificial magic requires blood on the altar.
In both cases, the magic — be it trick or spell — is hard as hell.
As it should be. As it must be.
We sometimes get the false sense as creatives that, if this thing we do does not come naturally, then it is not worth doing — or worse, that we are somehow not meant to do it at all. I watch this with my son sometimes, where he wants to try something new and because he is not immediately successful he rules himself “terrible” at it and wants to stop. Thing is, he is terrible at it. Of course he’s terrible at it. What, he’s going to sit down on his first try at painting and summon a Mondrian Mona Lisa? No. He’s going to paint something that looks like a clown ate a unicorn and then threw it all up again. (Spoiler warning: sometimes I go to write a first draft and yeah, no, it looks like a clown ate a unicorn and then threw it all up again. This is how it goes. It’s part of the process, man.) This isn’t automatic. It’s not automagic. It takes time and effort and grit and sweat and confusion and probably hallucinogenic drugs and definitely an ingrained sense of free-wheeling foolishness.
It being hard is not a sign of it being not worth doing.
The difficulty is the point. The difficulty proves its worth.
The difficulty is not a sign that you don’t belong here.
Impostor Syndrome is real. Flip the script on it. Don’t let it have power over you. Admit you’re an impostor. Then admit that we’re all impostors — none of us belong here because art and story are forbidden, interstitial places. This thing we do is Buccaneer’s Den, it’s Mos Eisley, it’s a secret moon colony. Not a one of us “belongs” here. We all booked illegal passage through blackest night and sharky waters to get here. We’re not one ship, we’re countless life-boats strung together — a glorious flotilla of freaks.
This is who we are. It’s what we do. And what we do is sometimes hard. It’s hard for me. It’s hard for you. It’s hard for Stephen King. It’s hard for J.K. Rowling. King probably thinks that Rowling does it effortlessly, and Rowling probably thinks King sails through every draft, and the truth is, it’s hard for them, for you, for me, for every penmonkey that ever done monkeyed with a pen.
When a story reads effortlessly, it was not written effortlessly. In fact, the more effortlessly it reads, the more effort probably went into making it read effortlessly.
It took work.
Lots and lots of unholy, occasionally unhappy, hard-ass work.
Because, repeat after me: IT’S HARD.
Now, to clarify: it’s not hard in the way other work is hard. It’s not back-breaking work. Nobody’s shooting at us. We’re not training chimpanzees or wrangling eight-year-olds or wrestling bears. It’s easy, in that way. But it’s also hard in its own way, and let it be that way. If we diminish what we do, if we make it seem that the act of MAKING COOL STUFF is somehow cheap and glib and fucking throwaway, it undercuts our power. It sells short the necessary nature of art and story in the world. It makes what you do feel lesser when what you do is epic. Story moves the world. Art changes people. Entertainment gives us respite. Narrative gives us enlightenment.
It all moves the needle.
When you’re having a bad writing day, a hard writing day, remember that.
And remember too that when you sit down a week from now, or a month, or a year, the days the writing was hard and the days the writing was easy will be indistinguishable from one another. In fact, sometimes the easy days produce worse work than the difficult days. You never know. So don’t let it stop you. Put the bucket over your head and run at the wall anyway. And remember that all of this is just a draft, that it can all be fixed and changed, that what doesn’t work can be made to work. It can always be made to work with enough practice, with enough blood.
You’re having a hard day of writing, write anyway.
Do it because it’s hard.
Forgive yourself because it’s hard.
Don’t let one bad day be the gravestone for the rest of the days.
Then stop. Push a little, but don’t push so hard you drop your brain out of your ass. Go and take a walk, play with the dog, eat a churro, crank one out. Then get back to it tomorrow. Maybe it’ll be hard tomorrow. Maybe it’ll be harder tomorrow. I don’t know. Nobody knows. But the difficulty is the point. You’re ripping things out of you and putting them onto the page. Nobody said it was going to be easy. Nobody said it should be easy.
Let it be what it must be.