Everyone’s had a bad writing day.
And sometimes, the bad writing day turns into a bad writing week (or month).
Like me, I’m sure you’ve suffered through plenty of them.
The worst part?
They really mess with your mind.
Somehow, an off day holds more power than your best days combined.
And a bad writing day seeps into every corner of your world, affecting your mood, your outlook, your productivity.
After a bout of writer blahs, you find it hard to function.
You begin to dread the simplest tasks: doing you shopping, dropping your kids off at soccer practice, cooking a meal you’ve made a hundred times.
You don’t feel worthy of a day off.
It’s like some part of you craves punishment.
When this happens, you begin to lose your way.
You begin to lose touch with all the reasons you write in the first place.
When this happens—sometimes, the best thing you can do is walk away.
On bad writing days, this is why you should let yourself off the hook.
Bad Writing Days Are Inevitable
Think you’re gonna’ write 2000 words a day because you added that shiny orange “writing goals” post-it to your vision board?
Think you’re going to write astonishing prose every time you put your fingers on the keyboard?
Think again.Think you’re going to write astonishing prose every time you put your fingers on the keyboard? Think again. Click To Tweet
You can make meaningful progress with a high degree of quality much of the time. With regular practice and experience, it’s reasonable to build your way up to this level.
However, bad writing days are inevitable.
There’s always another one rounding the corner.
It’s nature’s way of restoring balance– your nature, not mother nature 😊
Bad writing days come and go, though; it’s important to realize they’re never permanent.
You attach meaning to them, and you begin to worry:
- What if I’ve lost my edge?
- What if I’ll never create anything valuable again?
- What if I’ve been kidding myself, thinking I had a knack for this?
When a bad writing day arrives, you have two choices: to churn out some crap or walk away.
Writing terribly will get you to your word count, and that helps you stay the course. Writing crap also allows you to sneak past the ego–your internal taskmaster.
Walking away provides an opportunity to clear the mind, to refresh the spirit. Often, after letting your work for sit for a while, you’ll return to the page invigorated, fresh, ready for progress.
Bad Writing Days Often Follow Periods of High Productivity
Think about it.
The thing that drives you most crazy is the feeling of disappointment, the feeling that you’ve failed.
And this feeling might be hard to recognize.
After days or weeks of gratifying progress, you raised the bar, believing you could keep this pace indefinitely.
If you’re honest, you were beginning to feel invincible.
I know this feeling well. After a stretch of positive progress, I’ll tell myself, “this is it—exactly what I’ve been waiting for. I’ve arrived—come up a level. This is what writing should feel like.”
And it may take a day, a week, or a month, but it happens.
You feel brain fog, fatigue, like you’re nodding off behind the wheel.
Be kind to yourself; cut yourself some slack.
Did you really think you were going to continue at that pace forever?
And don’t worry.
You’re gonna’ feel that way again, guaranteed.
And the cycle will repeat itself.
You Push Yourself Too Hard
Writers are a rare breed.
Like other artists, you have monster-sized dreams—ambitions others might find foolish and unreasonable.
And to achieve those dreams, to get them off the ground, you know you need to push yourself.
The problem is that you push yourself too hard. You push without scheduling down time, without anticipating any pushback.
Over time, that push becomes all you know.
Eventually, something does push back: your focus, your imagination, your mood, your physical body.
And progress stops.
The trick is finding balance, practicing moderation, anticipating a way to back off before depleting yourself.
Ernest Hemingway said it best:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel, you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you, so try to remember it.”
It’s good advice.
Hemingway understood the ups and downs of a daily writing practice.
You’re Secretly Afraid You’ll Run Out of Time, Energy, or Ideas for Writing
I remember this low-grade anxiety following me since my 20s. I felt enormous pressure to produce results, to make progress, to be the most creative guy on the block.
And that pressure never went away.
I’ll bet you feel it too.
And if you think about it, everything in your life reinforces the idea of limits. You only have so many hours in the day, so much energy, so much creativity, so much money in your pocket…
You live in a reality of scarcity, and that scarcity is part of the human condition.
One day you won’t be here anymore, and that scares you.
So, your work as a writer becomes even more meaningful (and stressful). You want to leave something behind, to leave your mark on the world.
You want your work to live on after you pass.
And because writing takes so much damned time and energy to produce a finished product, the pressure comes from multiple directions.
There’s nothing you or I can do about these issues, about these feelings of pressure.
Focus on today, on today’s writing practice.
And if you’re having a bad writing day, allow it; bless it.
You’re going to have to work around these feelings, around these issues, because you can’t really solve them.
They’re just thoughts, ideas, feelings, worries.
Allow them to be.
Bad Writing Days Are Natural
I know this is going to enrage all of the self-help/peak performance gurus out there, but hey, I’ve gotta’ keep it real…
Bad writing days are natural.
Think of them as pre-programmed shutdown procedures, mandatory offline time for scheduled maintenance.
When you overtax your mind/body computer, it requires powering down, a system reboot.
We rarely think about the raw fuel, the amount of energy it takes to write– or should I say to write well.
We tend to measure energy and exertion in purely physical terms.
Ever feel wiped out after a detailed writing session? While I often feel energized, I admit it can also feel like running a marathon.
Using your mind like this–accessing creativity, inventing, evaluating, switching gears back and forth–it takes a toll.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely discuss it with non-writers.
When you admit to feeling exhausted from an intense “writing session,” you’re bound to get annoyed, incredulous looks from friends and family members.
And while it’s not the same as digging a trench or climbing a mountain, writing can be thoroughly taxing on your energy, on your mind/body operating system.
So, view this natural shutdown as a positive—a way to clean up the junk on the hard drive, a way to restore your system to factory settings.
Sometimes, it takes a restart for optimum performance.
You Might Need to Rest
Take the day off?
I can hear you.
You’ve gotta’ be kidding me…
Stay with me.
If you’re willing to change your perspective, you’ll admit bad writing days present multiple opportunities: to rest, to recharge, to recalibrate.
Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, sometimes our “system” presents new options or opportunities.
Maybe there’s a book you want to read, a movie you want to see, a day trip you’ve been putting off.
Maybe you need to top off the creative gas tank?
Consciousness works in mysterious ways.
And sometimes, it knows exactly what it’s doing.
Maybe there’s something more important to enjoy, rather than writing.
Maybe your unconscious knows exactly what you need: time to regroup, time to catch up on sleep, time to fill your creative well.
Maybe it sees opportunities before you do?
So, when the writing’s a slog, and it feels worse than taking time off, honor the feeling.
You may need to withdraw, to take time for yourself.
Remember, your book, your blog, your current work in progress is your gift to the world. You’re creating; you’re giving without any guarantee of compensation.
Sometimes, you need to put yourself first—before your family, before your friends, before your obligations, before your work.
Consider the possibility that your writing is telling you to focus inward, to take better care of yourself.
Too often, we confuse self-care with selfishness.
Eventually, consciousness finds a way to get our attention.
Your work in progress may be telling you to rest.
You Need to Forge a Stronger Relationship with Your Writer Self
Any worthy project will bring out your best and your worst.
When you immerse yourself in a long, difficult process, such as writing a novel or screenplay, you’ll discover aspects of yourself you didn’t know existed. You’re exploring new terrain, so new issues will come up.When you immerse yourself in a long, difficult process, such as writing a novel or screenplay, you’ll discover aspects of yourself you didn’t know existed. You’re exploring new terrain, so new issues will come up. Click To Tweet
You’ll discover new strengths, and a host of perceived weaknesses.
The writing part, the daily practice, feels like the only part you can control.
So, when you run into writer’s block or an uninspired patch of writing, it feels like losing control.
This presents another new opportunity: to create a stronger, healthier relationship with yourself.
This includes managing your moods, accepting limitations, forgiving yourself for falling short of a goal.
I often think this is the sole purpose of writing: self-discovery.
So, the next time you’re facing a blank page, watching idle minutes turn to hours, be kind to yourself.
Practice becoming your own best friend.
Acknowledge your struggles without blaming yourself.
Look back, and appreciate how far you’ve come.
Writing demands much of us; try to savor the journey.
Each time you overcome a difficult patch, you emerge with greater self-awareness, with more evidence that you have what it takes.
Remember That You Haven’t Done Anything Wrong
As writers, we’re hard on ourselves–and I don’t mean by simply pushing ourselves.
We create countless ways to beat ourselves up.
A part of us thinks it enhances performance.
We picture the rejection letters, the months and years spent typing alone, hoping we’d someday reap the rewards.
Most writers work for free, and that stings, too.
So, the next time you start berating yourself for some perceived failure, remember that you haven’t done anything wrong.
You made the choice to write, and that’s a brave choice.
Sure, you could have taken the safe route, working at your uncle’s accounting firm.
You could have chosen a gray cubicle at a corporate job, with paid vacation time and healthcare benefits.
You chose writing.
Or, writing chose you 😉
In either case, you’re pursuing something wonderful, something life-changing every day.
So, let yourself off the hook; you’ve done nothing wrong!
You Haven’t Failed–It’s Just Part of the Writing Process
How many times have you equated a bad writing day to failure?
Most writers have.
It’s pretty silly, though, when you consider the truth.
If you want to learn, to grow, to reach new levels of mastery, this requires trial and error.
A bad writing day is part of that process.
Consider the opposite:
If you’re not having bad writing days, you may not be growing.
Think about your writing patterns:
- You’ll have smooth days, when you know just what to say and how to say it.
- You’ll have challenging days, when small passages require intense effort and concentration.
- Still, you’ll encounter terrible days, when you can’t seem to get anything on the page.
Would you call any of these days a failure?
Often, that nothing day means your subconscious is working on a problem—an important problem.
And you’re likely headed for a breakthrough.
Over the course of a day or two, the channel will reopen, and you’ll see a clear path to progress.
It’s all part of the process.
Writing is rarely neat and tidy—rarely linear.
Don’t expect things to move in a predictable, scientific manner.
This brings us to the final, and perhaps, most important truth about bad writing days:
You’re Not a Machine (or a Robot)
You demand it of yourself, though…
Think about it.
You outline your project, break it down into manageable chapters, and commit to a daily word count.
Good for you; this is both smart and necessary.
Proper planning is essential—especially when you’re tackling an enormous project (one you’ll pull out of thin air, no less).
You expect a simple equation: input = output.
With creative endeavors, this rarely happens.
I discovered, after years of remodeling projects (another passion of mine), that most creative endeavors take three times the time, effort, and money to achieve.
When you open up a wall, a floor, or a ceiling cavity, you never know what you’re going to find, what problems you’ll need to address.
Writing offers the same surprises.
That inspired twist in chapter three—that riveting, essential scene you loved writing, may wreak havok with several other chapters. Sometimes, it feels like painting yourself into a corner.
So, plan for success, and keep showing up to the page.
Eventually, you’ll figure things out—far better than any robot or machine.
You’ll get results.
You’ll achieve amazing things, but rarely in the ways you envisioned.
So, honor those bad writing days.
Know that they’re part of the process—a wild, unpredictable process that makes writing so much fun.
How do you handle a bad writing day?
Join the conversation below.