On a good day, your writing—or perhaps even your writing career—makes you happy, satisfied, fulfilled, joyful, transcendent, validated. This, right here—this is why you write. You need it like air, like sunshine, and it keeps you returning again and again to the page.
But there are those other days. You know the ones I’m talking about. The “D” days. Where you feel discouraged, disappointed, disillusioned, depressed, deflated, defeated. Ready to give up and get a minimum wage job because at least someone will hand you a paycheck and say thank you.
This is the emotional terrain of the author. Even when you get “there”—however you define that—this will never change.
Accept this, and read on.
The good news: you are not your emotions. Your emotions give you important information you need to live and thrive, but you need not surrender to their rule.
If you quit writing for a month and you desperately miss it—perhaps to the point of snapping at loved ones and experiencing an unsettling lack of purpose—your melancholy is a reminder of how much you value writing. Fresh disappointment at yet another rejection reminds you of your vulnerability—the open, fluid state from which authors must write. Yearning that all but rips you in two will drive you ever forward toward your goal, no matter the stakes. If you feel deflated when re-reading what you thought was an amazing day’s work, your internal critic is whispering, “Keep working on this. You can do better.”
Honor these negative emotions for the insight they bestow—then dismiss them. They have done their job. The bruise to your soul may require tending, though, so gather a personalized bevy of solutions for when you need them—a hot bubble bath, chocolate, kickboxing to “I Will Survive,” a long stroll in the country with your unconditionally loving dog.
Refresh, reboot, and read on.
Your reader is also an emotional being. As you write from a palette made rich from your own emotional reactions to creative risk, career uncertainty, refreshed vulnerability, and the ever-present menace of failure, your reader finds ways to bond to your protagonist.
You see, it wasn’t just prurient interest that had a diverse audience flocking to see Annie Proulx’s two gay cowboys undress on the big screen in Brokeback Mountain. Wrote Roger Ebert,
“Strange but true: the more specific a film is, the more universal, because the more it understands individual characters, the more it applies to everyone. I can imagine someone weeping at this film, identifying with it because he always wanted to stay in the Marines, or be an artist or a cabinetmaker.”
Imagine if Proulx had never known loss, or regret; if she had never loved, and been wounded; if she had never yearned, and failed. She could not have written that story.
Our emotions—all of them—are an incredible gift. They allow us to relate to one another. We need them. So the next time you are feeling an emotional high or low—and before you dismiss your emotions and instigate palliative measures—jot some notes about exactly what you feel, and what it reminds you of. You’ll use those notes later.
Because you are an artist. And this deep loam, made of dirt and decay and manure and turned by your loving hand, will nurture the seeds of your creativity.
In gratitude for this glorious medium, write on.
Let’s talk palliative care. What are some of the (non-destructive) ways you’ve learned to transcend negative emotions?
A Goodreads giveaway for Kathryn’s debut novel, The Art of Falling, is live! Add it to your to-be-read list!
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, will be released through Sourcebooks in January 2014. To read more about her book, check out her author site, KathrynCraft.com. Pre-order links are live at bn.com and amazon.com! Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves anything that brings writers together—conferences, workshops, retreats, and blogs like Writers in the Storm. She also blogs at The Blood-Red Pencil and at her personal blogs, The Fine Art of Visiting and Healing Through Writing. Connect with Kathryn on Facebook and Twitter.