Work With What You Have: On Bad Writing Days

On those nights that the insomnia hits, my mind buzzes with anxious thoughts, literally buzzes, and there’s so much energy that my head could power a studio apartment.

After reading a few pages of a book and mindful breathing, sometimes I go back to sleep, but sometimes I don’t. On the days that I don’t, the next morning is its own kind of hell. I feel as if someone is cutting open my skull with a razor blade.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned its that resistance is futile.

There is no fighting it. The razor blade feeling is going to be there no matter what, and no amount of fighting it is going to give me back those hours of sleep.

So on those days, my mantra is, This is the kind of day I’m having.

I accept what I have to work with. I accept that I’m exhausted. I accept that I’m not at my best. I accept that I feel as if my skull is splitting open. And I move forward anyway.

This doesn’t make me any less tired nor does it take away the skull splitting feeling. It definitely doesn’t give me back those hours of sleep. But when I accept that this is what I have to work with, the level of anxiety tones down, and I I can reasonably function as a human being.

I approach a shitty day with a positive attitude, because this mantra shows me how to work with what I have. I find that I have patience with myself and  the wherewithal to complete tasks. I have acceptance of the little things that don’t go well, because “this is the kind of day I’m having.”

When you have a bad day of writing, that is the kind of day you’re having. This is what you have to work with for today. You’re going to feel frustrated and uncomfortable. Your work is going to be a joyless slog through a Mad Max-like terrain of apocalyptic death. And this is what you have to work with for today.

Here is how you can have a positive attitude about your shitty day.

Writers are experts at doing more with less. When you’re a writer, you never have enough: never enough time, never the perfect space, and never the right inspiration. You learn to work with what you have. A bad writing day is no different.

But writers react strongly to bad days. They believe that having this kind of day means there’s something wrong with them. They see it as a symptom of a larger problem. When writers are already so vulnerable and their resources so few, they can’t imagine working with even less.

Do you really want to give yourself an excuse for feeling that way? Do you really want more of that? Don’t you have enough of those thoughts already? What if you could have a different mindset about it?

If you have a bad writing day (or period), that’s an opportunity to McGuyver the shit out of the resources you do have and see what you’re made of.

Some people get up at five in the morning to do their work. Or they stay up past midnight. In the podcast Big Magic, author Glennon Doyle Melton talks about how when she first started her blog, she wrote in her closet because that was the only way she could do her work. She didn’t piss and moan about what she didn’t have. She looked at what she did have, and she made it work.

When you let go of that resistance, you have an opportunity to become a stronger and more resourceful artist. Those days will add up, and you’ll get to see how capable you really are. Rather than allowing it to consume you, train yourself to move through it.

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