Turning Whine Into Gold: Managing Your Emotions

By Kathryn Craft

medium_6857440567On 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?

Art of FallingA Goodreads giveaway for Kathryn’s debut novel, The Art of Falling, is live! Add it to your to-be-read list!

KathrynCraftKathryn 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.

photo credit: Oxfordshire Churches via photopin cc

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50 Responses to Turning Whine Into Gold: Managing Your Emotions

  1. This was validation for my decision to fight through the muddle, and to use my own writing paradigm. It’s what makes me happiest.

    Explanation? When I wrote my first two novels, I wrote in what is popularly dubbed Unconscious Incompetence. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. My voice was strong. I know that. It was details in the craft and honing that voice that resulted in rejections after requests for fulls. The big Ker-Plunk!

    I got into this writing gig years ago because I love to write. But, the rules established by others to write fast, get the first draft down, edit later left me with a plethora of weed-whacking that robbed the glee from pages written after those. It works for many. It doesn’t work for me.

    I rediscovered my joy of writing a bit over two weeks ago when I finished a weed-whacking mission on pages written to a deadline, and restructured my writing paradigm and my thinking. If I could write fast when in a state of Unconscious Incompetence, why not take the time to get to that enviable state of Unconscious Competence? Will it take work? You bet! Will it slow my write-forward progress? For now. Did the decision free me to enjoy writing again?

    BINGO!

    I know this WIP will have a 6 figure advance. Placement of the decimal point remains a mystery.

    • Gloria I love that last paragraph! I hear you—it took me many years to restructure and find meaning in the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo eight years ago. Slowing down can actually save time in the end, for writers like you and me.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I adore that last paragraph too, Gloria. And your writing needs to be read by the world. Seriously. You spread joy, girlfriend.🙂

      • Jeepers, Jenny Jo! Thanks.

        I shall put my career in blog-jacking on hold for a month or so. Maybe.

        Rolling an eye your way. Whoop! It got stuck on a pine needle in the Rockies. Had it arrived, it would have said…

        Ahem! There is another writer I know who spreads joy, and needs to be read by the world. Just sayin’…

        • Jenny Hansen says:

          I’m back at it after being de-railed in San Fran. Can you exempt More Cowbell from your BJ hiatus? We miss you when you’re gone. Also, Ellen wants your address to send the infamous cowbell your way. #JustSayin

        • EEEEE! The cowbell!?!?!?! (<==== Those are legally permitted because I said so.)

          Look for an email coming soon to an inbox near you.

          NOTE TO SELF: Time to get really serious about finding someone to help, and to take pictures on the More Cowbell adventure trail. Qualifications: Must have no sense of decorum. Must be willing to witness outrageous behavior.

          Fear not! I’d suffer More Cowbell Blog-jacking Separation Anxiety. That was the hidden message in the “maybe.”

    • Sharla Rae says:

      Oh, I love that term Unconscious Incompetence. After recently reading my first two published books ( which got good reviews back then) I cringed at what they let me get a way with! I’ve learned so much. But now I need to get back to the same joy I had when writing those books because that joy shined through to the readers. I need to get past what I’ve learned and write with that joy again or no matter how much better my style is, readers won’t like it. This blog has reminded me of the joy. Thanks for writing it!

      • You’re welcome, Sharla. It can be hard to recapture that joy when we get hardened by changes in the publishing industry and other bumps in the road. But cynicism itself is an emotion that we can examine and let go, once we realize it is simply fear talking—and saying “You know too much—you’ll never feel that joy again.” But maybe if we send fear away, we can. Let us know how you come along!

  2. Laura Drake says:

    I love this, Kathryn. I think people tend to look at TV, and our Princess, reality show, trash-star society, and think they have no control of their emotions – and that it’s okay.

    I think that’s only true if you never want to achieve a goal, or become all you can.

    Great reminder.

    • As an editor I see this problem in manuscripts, as well—writers letting their characters’ emotions hang out all over the place. What can often result is melodrama, not true drama. If two character’s stories intersect in a truly dramatic way, we readers will feel the angst without the tears, exclamation points, all caps, and other forms of hyperbole.

  3. Catie Rhodes says:

    How very insightful, and it comes at just the right time. I love the advice about acknowledging what the emotion means and then letting it go. I have a hard time doing that, maybe because I’ve never thought of it in those terms.

    • Catie I’ve heard it described this way: Think of your emotion like a leaf. While fed by our lifeblood it is fresh and dewy, but once we’ve separated from it for further study, it dries. When we’ve learned what we can from it we can set the leaf down on the ever-burbling stream and watch it drift away.

  4. As a songwriter, I learned long ago that if I feel something too strong for words, I go find a chord pattern that feels that way, and the words come out.

    Music is a whole brain activity. It bridges the gap between the limbic system where our emotions live but which has no words, and the prefrontal cortex, where the words live.

    Music, in a physiological way, makes it possible for me to write words about my emotions. Once I have the words, it’s easier to extract them from a song for use in prose, whether the song is worth keeping or was just the vehicle.

    • That’s a powerful process Joel, thanks for sharing it. I felt the same way about dance. Movement is my primal language, and as a dance critic I learned to translate movement to words. I’d write in the dark, eyes never leaving the stage, scribbling whatever words came to mind (often unintelligibly) across the page. Then after the performance I’d approach the words and the memory anew, combining them to build something meaningful at my end.

    • That’s is so interesting. My husband who is an attorney, also writes: poetry (is trying is hand at plays), and composes music. He’s made such an effort in supporting my efforts, that when I read your note, It makes me see him in a different light. Thank you.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Oh, I wish I could manufacture more time, Joel. I SO want to write lyrics. It’s like distilling a story to the bare bones essentials. To do it well, I think it would take as long to write as a novel.

      • Wanna know a secret? Money and time are mutually exclusive. Adjust your life to need less money, and you will have more time. Honest.

        Lyrics are as hard as a novel, they’re just so much shorter. Here’s my difficulty scale:

        Poetry is hardest, by far.
        Song lyrics.
        Fiction (short stories are harder than novels; a truly good joke is harder than a short story)
        Non-fiction is easiest

      • Laura me too! I went to the Bruce Springsteen exhibit at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia last spring and saw that he wrote 50 pages of handwritten lyrics that he ultimately distilled down to “Born to Run.” Respect meter flew off the charts.

        • Here’s what makes him The Boss (besides his performances, which are off the charts as well)

          When he’s creating an album, he commits to writing 100 songs. Then he picks the best 12. Most of them never make the cut.

          It’s like a chef who’s willing to lose some of the produce in order to trim out what’s not absolutely perfect. Less tomato, more taste.

        • Laura Drake says:

          WOW! That is so cool. Someday I’m going to try…I swear, it’s on my bucket list.

  5. Whew, does this hit home. Thank you for the kick in the pants. Truly.

  6. Really? You mean I can’t just throw a bunch of hissy fits when I feel discouraged?! Yes, it’s good to focus all of that angst into the emotional life of your characters.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Sure you can, Catherine. Hissy fit away. Then plop back down and re-write your scene.

      There’s really nothing like a good hissy fit…🙂

      • Yes Catherine I agree with Jenny. Our hissy fits serve a purpose, just like a spring rain pulls the pollen from the air. But we can give our emotions too much power and get lost in them. I think it’s easier to stay on track if we note the emotion’s underlying message (like, “I want to write a heart-warming tale and since I’m not there yet, must keep working until I do so” rather than “I suck I suck I suck”), then coddle yourself a bit so you’re refreshed to getting back to work.😉

  7. What a lovely, uplifting post, Kathryn. I’ve been away for most of the summer and back again to read WITS and your post. I’m feeling all those “d’s” right now because I’m in the middle of sending out query letters and getting the responses. AACK! So depressing. Rejection letters are such irritating downers. But I WILL write on. Thanks for the great take on what our attitude “should” be.
    Patti

    • Thanks Patti, welcome home. I hate the word “should” though, with all its nasty connotations that we are less than, or not right to feel the way we do. You have the right to feel frustrated—anyone would, and we all have. So take the added step of forgiving yourself for it, and see your frustration for what it is: a reminder of how very dearly desired your goal is. Embrace that love, and let the frustration drift out of your way, so you can get back to work on achieving that goal.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Welcome back, Patti – we missed you!

  8. TWOFER comment day!!!! <==== Didn't want Laura hanging out alone on dramatic emphasis.

    I have an file in which I record my feelings and thoughts when something squishes my Twinkies. It began as an exercise to discover fresh and real visceral reactions for characters in various emotional situations.

    It yielded a side benefit. Thinking about where I physically ached, and recording the noodle-noggin thoughts meandering through my brain helped me work my way through the situation.

    I may not write fast (yet), but I've learned to speed grieve those Twinkie Squishers.

  9. Thank you for these reminders, Kathryn. I’ve had an abundance of “D-days” the past two months. Time to reboot.

  10. Very late to the game but wanted to add my “fabulously timed post” to the comments.🙂

    • Hey Orly, this post is exactly about the fact that writing is an ongoing game, and that we must renew ourselves to it again and again. Come back to it whenever you need reminding!

  11. A lovely post … I particularly liked the idea of recording your emotional responses for later use. It is so easy to forget the small details that can bring a fictional situation to life. But it’s also interesting because, by stopping to make notes, you’re examining your emotional reactions as something that happens to you (as the Buddhists would argue), rather than confusing them with who you are.

    • Beautifully put, Mary. I was thinking too that the recorder idea could serve a dual purpose. We are so lucky to be immersed in such emotionally rich endeavors, aren’t we?

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  13. I turn to nature when I’ve been kicked in the teeth, and books. Reading a new book that has been “done well” can be just the jolt of inspiration I need to get back on the horse and aim for similar moving, writing. So true that emotion is yet another tool in the writer’s toolbox.

    • Melissa, I too find solace in nature. It doesn’t matter what is happening in our tormented inner world—the sun keeps rising, the moon keeps cycling, the waves still crash upon the shore. And I’m with you on the inspiration—reading “up” has never failed to motivate me to write.

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  15. donnagalanti says:

    Well thought out post, Kathryn! In a way, I had the opposite issue. I only wrote when depressed. As an early writer I thought I could only write when in angst – that depression and blues fueled my best writing. Discovering that I can indeed write when in a happy, content place opened the doors to tap those emotional memories (dark and light) to do my best writing – and finally write the book I’d always wanted to. Once you have that break through, it opens doors to a new world of writing and one you can do any time, any day – and if you want to be a writer this is something you need to do – WRITE, no matter your emotions.

    I love how you remind us that our emotions are a gift – and managing them can only help us move onward and upward in our writing. And if we can do that and overcome the “D’s” to keep writing and improving our writing, we will find success. And stepping away for a period of time to not write is sometimes the best way to find our way back.🙂

  16. Donna, interesting feedback, thank you. I guess Hemingway and a bunch of others who need to drink or be depressed to unlock the muse would agree—but they prove that that’s not necessarily sustainable over the long haul. I’m sure we’ve all heard the story of THE CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, published through the efforts of John Kennedy’s mother after his suicide (he won a posthumous Pulitzer for it). The worst thing we can do is ignore our emotions! Even our depression, if not clinical, is trying to tell us something. Life is difficult, and the writing life even more difficult—but we need not live in constant misery.

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