I’m not talking about the kind of day where you feel uninspired, lazy, or sluggish. I am not talking about the days when you’d rather go to the bar with your friends or binge watch House of Cards on Netflix.
If you feel that way, I’m sorry but I can’t help you. Get off your ass and write.
I’m talking about those days when your insides are nothing but a vacuous pit of despair, those days when you binge watch House of Cards and drink a bottle of wine, because the numbing affects of escapism feel a hell of a lot better than facing whatever god-awful feeling you can’t shake off.
The easy advice to give you would be to write through it. That’s what someone like me would say, right? “Just write through it, and you’ll feel better!” Sure, and then a unicorn will crap on my lawn! And bullets will turn into rose petals! And fairies will spread their magic dust and make the garbage in our oceans disappear!
To be honest I don’t trust that kind of woo-wooey advice and think it’s kind of lame. I’m the sensitive, moody artist type, so I’ve had more than enough of these days to fill punch cards and get the 10th one for free. People who say that either don’t know or have forgotten what it feels like to be a dark mood. People who say that don’t know or have forgotten the unquenchable desire to destroy oneself with trashy television, fried chicken, and Two Buck Chuck.
Some days you may have the wherewithal to write through it. You may be able to pull yourself up a little and make the Herculean effort to write rather than pour yourself a drink or three. And if you feel like you have that in you, then by all means have at it.
But those urges that I talked about are destructive acts and very contrary to the constructive act of writing. Does it feel like that vacuous pit of despair in your gut wants to suck you in its black hole and make you disappear? Then you probably feel too crappy to write.
I’m not suggesting that you drink yourself into a stupor, smoke yourself into a coma, or watch television until you’re trapped in a heap of moldy take-out containers. It is not cool to take this stuff that far.
But I know how hard it is to pull yourself out of this state, and if you absolutely cannot resist your self-destructive urges, here’s what you can do:
- Meditate. Okay so this sounds suspiciously like the lame, woo-wooey advice that has no business holding hands with a dark mood. But the practice is pretty simple. Spend 5 minutes sitting in a quiet room without distractions. Sit up straight with your shoulders back. You can keep your eyes open but keep your gaze soft. Focus on your breath.
- Allow your thoughts to rise and fall. Mind chatter is pretty normal, even for people who have been at this a long time. No need to fret over it. Watch your thoughts come to the surface, but don’t go on a joy ride with them. Notice them and then let them go. If you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts, return to the breath. Ask yourself whether you feel better and if there’s something else you could be doing rather than indulging in this urge.
- Practice compassion for yourself. Also a little woo-wooey, but you can also think of this as putting down your inner critic. You can notice your thoughts arise without having to fix anything. You don’t have to come up with a complex Freudian analysis. Gently acknowledge that you’re suffering. It’s okay to feel this way from time to time. All you have to do is take a mental photograph, and sometime later, maybe the next day during your morning pages, write that shit down and get it out of your head.
- Set a cuttoff time. A few months ago a client I enjoyed working with canceled our project, and it was a major let-down. I got the news on a Friday. I told myself that I would be as depressed and pathetic as I needed to be over the weekend but on Monday morning I would get back to work. Even after 48 hours of therapy cleaning and playing video games, I was still pretty depressed, but I pushed through. You can’t wallow in this stuff for too long or else it will crush you. Sometimes all you need is to spend Saturday in your pajamas. But you best set a time for when you clean yourself up and get working again.
It takes practice, but after a while you’ll get better at this. The urges don’t go away, but they become fewer and fewer. They aren’t triggered as easily, and eventually you’ll find better coping mechanisms.
When I was in my twenties, I had days where I let despair drown me. But since I started meditating, I’ve learned that like all things these feelings are impermanent. They come and go. So I say hello to this old friend as it rolls into town, but I don’t let it overstay it’s welcome.
*Disclaimer: I’m not a Buddhist priest or anything, nor can I call myself a spiritual leader. But I have followed a Buddhist practice for a few years, and these tips are based on my personal experience so you can try it for yourself. If you want to find bona fide instructions and teachers, you can try here and here.