Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Do you write up or down?

Today I was reading a post on an agency blog (Dystel & Goderich) that so got me going I found myself writing a long comment. My comment kept growing until finally I thought, this really is not a comment, it's a blog post.

The gist of the D&G post was a question (and it refers to ANOTHER post here, so we have a real blog chain going now)...

Is it easier to write when you're happy or sad?

I have been wrestling this issue for months.

I made it to almost 40 "wanting" to be a writer but writing only sporadically. My first real fiction effort (not counting those two doorstops from my 20s) was written during the darkest period of my life. It was therapy for me, as well as inspiration. I wrote it in 6 weeks. (Then spent 2 years unwriting and rewriting it, but that's another story.)

After hyper-analyzing the inside of my own head (because that's what writers do!), I realized that during dark (or even just dull) times writing is an escape for me. It's my own little world I get to control. I make those characters as unhappy as me, and then, because I write romantic stories, I make them blissful.

Reminds me of this great Ray Bradbury quote someone tweeted recently:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

Now that is dark. But there have been times in my life I have felt this keenly. For a lighter take on it, remember when you were a kid and stuck your fingers in your ears and closed your eyes and chanted "La, la, la, I can't hear you"? That is how writing helps me cope when my cope meter is on empty.

So I am grateful I had my stories and all those imaginary people to help me through those times. But there's a downside. I struggle to focus on writing during happy times because not only do I not need the escape, I don't want to miss out on any of my real life.

With the new contract, writing is no longer therapy or escape, but a business. I am working hard on that transition, and I think the key will be sticking to a regular writing schedule. Meeting regularly with my new writing business partner, Mac Freedom, who helps keep me honest. Shutting out those voices of doubt that creep into every writer's head once they've been at it long enough to realize what a BIG SCARY MYSTERY it is where all this stuff comes from...But I digress.

What's your story? Do you write up or down? (Non-writers can play too! I suspect this applies to ANY creative endeavor.)


  1. That's a wonderful observation and I absolutely love that quote about being drunk on writing so reality doesn't destroy you. That's a keeper.

    I think I'm sort of a middle-of-the-roader.

    I can write when I'm down--as long as it's not too down, or frantic, or panicky, or living in a state of dread or complete meltdown.

    And I can write when I'm up, as long as it's not a giddy, ecstatic, head-spinning sort of way up.

    I think the reality is that if I plan to evolve into a successful commercial writer, I'm going to have to learn to work through through ANY mental state and, to quote Nike, just do it. (Is there an app for that? :)

    Great article!

  2. Thanks, Laurie!

    I think you've identified some important nuances. Like you, I cannot produce (or focus, or do much of anything) when I am in hand-wringing mode. Fear limits us in so many ways, doesn't it?

    And a steady, everyday kind of homey happy is easer than those blissful states that come with new relationships and really good news.

  3. An interesting question and one I've wondered about for most of my writing career. I believe it has less to do with up and down, however, than with the level of emotional engagement (or entanglement, as the case may be). You have to be able to carve out not only the time to create, but also the emotional space. Many demands on your emotions, be they for love, attention, care, problem-solving, peacemaking, whatever, can drain your creativity.

    It's always been my belief that men make more successful (not better, just more successful) writers because they can create the emotional space within which to write.It's no surprise to me that Stephen King is the million seller and Tabitha is not. She takes care of the family so he can hole up in his study and produce 5000 words a day. And it's not just about who cooks dinner. It's about the connections. You can ignore your own problems. You can't ignore the problems and emotional demands of others. It's that emotional space I can't find some times.

  4. That is an excellent point about compartmentalization, Donna. I envy (and sometimes bemoan) the fact my XY can tuck me, work, and all aspects of his life into separate little boxes so they are easier to manage. I do think it makes him more efficient and productive, and the benefit to me is when I have his attention, I feel like I REALLY have his attention.

    Sadly my feeble brain just does not work that way. :)

  5. Yep, yep, yep! I find it hard to write when I'm perfectly happy. Hard to write when I'm stressed or others around me are stressed. Best time when the weather is bad and I'm on my own with no distractions.

  6. Agreed, rain definitely enhances focus! We both live in the right place for that.


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