Change your reaction to a poor writing day

Keep your cool.

Five sentences just about did me in today.

They make up the first paragraph of the first story in my short story collection. The story's title is drawn from this paragraph. The collection's title is drawn from this story. They're incredibly important, and I don't want to hand the manuscript over to my editor without these five sentences packing a punch.

Do you sense me hyperventilating over here?

My intuition is you've had some crummy writing days, too, sessions that produce nothing of value. I don't want to be the type of writer thwarted by a bit of writer's block. (And I'd argue that much of so-called writer's block is simply good ol' procrastination.) To that end, I've made a list of ways to reroute a poor writing day.

Here's how I've reacted to these five sentences today:

  • I watched To Rome With Love.
  • I returned long overdue text messages.
  • I updated my Pinterest boards.
  • I ran an errand for a client.
  • I called my mom.
  • I made tea.
  • I changed my desktop background.
  • I banged my fists on the desk until my dog left the room with, I sensed, disdain.

I'm not proud of the last action, but my intuition is you've been there, too. I don't want to be the type of writer so thwarted by a bit of writer's block. (And I'd argue that this is less writer's block, more procrastination.)

To that end, I've made a list of ways to reroute a poor writing day, well aware that I'm still avoiding those five sentences in the meantime.

Redefine "writer's block."

What if writer's block weren't a block at all? Instead of preventing ideas, what if writer's block meant you have too many ideas? That certainly feels less dire than believing your writing days are all over. (Your flair for the dramatics? Yet another indication that you're in the right/write field.)

Only deal with that one section.

If you're viewing your five sentences as a huge moment, with the rest of the story depending on its foundation, the intimidation alone is enough to foil your progress. Open a new Word doc, paste in those five sentences, and keep rewriting them. Don't delete what you've written; just keep rewriting the five sentences in paragraph chunks. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Again: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Once more: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. 

What's similar about the first sentence each time? How do the second sentences differ from one another? Do you have a solid paragraph in there somewhere, if you pick and choose from your efforts?


Do you ever tire of being told to breathe when you're wound up? To me, it can feel like someone's telling you to calm down and not feel what you're feeling. Your feelings are valid! Yet I'm vouching for the importance of breath, our life force.

If you're prone to panic attacks -- I've had a couple myself -- you may have tried nadi shodhan pranayama, or alternate nostril breathing. It's calming to focus on something, anything, other than the brain's repetitive messages of "You can't, why can't you, this isn't working."

Adiene Mishler from Yoga with Adriene gives a tutorial here:

Move on.

So those five sentences have you feeling anger, despair, sadness and myriad other no-good feel-bads? OK, accept it -- This is how you're feeling right now. Move to the next section of writing that needs you, a section that's more accepting of your precarious vulnerable state, and focus on it instead for now. You know you'll return to those five sentences; you have to, after all. But maybe not today.

What do you try instead of throwing your computer out the window? I'd love to hear your techniques for turning around a frustrating day.

P.S. About 30 minutes after finishing this post and returning to my five sentences, I fixed them for good. Sometimes, I've learned, it also helps to simply talk through what's bringing down your writing. If you feel that way, too, and need someone to commiserate with, I'm here for you, friend.

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