Friday, November 30, 2012

Working through the blues

Now I know it's not easy or cool to admit, but sometimes even cowgirls get the blues. And sometimes even writers get them. Maybe it's something minor, like that down feeling you get when you've had a cold for a long time. Maybe you've had some lousy times at work. Or maybe you just struggle when winter hits. We all have those down times*, and that low energy feeling can make it really hard to put in the time for our writing. What can you do about it?

First, let yourself off the hook a little. If you sprained your ankle, you wouldn't expect to win a sprinting competition, would you? Well, when your brain is out of balance or feeling low energy, it's the mental equivalent of a strained muscle or sprained joint. It needs rest. Take care of your mind! Get some extra rest and try to relax.

You also want to take a little extra care of your physical health. A lot of the time we feel down because we're not feeling well and haven't really noticed any symptoms of sickness. If your body's running out of juice, it can't provide a lot of energy for creative endeavors. Try to get some exercise into your day, even if you feel tired and cranky. And avoid sugar, booze and excess caffeine. I've tried drinking extra coffee to get my engine revving when I feel down, and it rarely helps for long. In a pinch, I've found that extra Vitamin C (from juices or EmergenC or just ascorbic acid added to honey and hot water) can give me a bit of extra energy, but that can wreak havoc on your gut. (Just saying.)

After lecturing you about health and rest, it seems the next step is counter-intuitive: work. When my husband was diagnosed with tennis elbow, his doctor gave him an armband to help the muscles rest. But the doctor also gave him some exercises that would strengthen the muscles so they could do a better job supporting the joint. When you're down, you need extra sleep and relaxation. You don't need to sit on your butt watching tv. Give yourself time to work on your writing projects, but give yourself permission to produce less. You want to keep flexing your writing muscles without overtaxing yourself.

The best thing about giving yourself that permission to write less is that you'll probably surprise yourself with how much you can produce! This week, I've been feeling a bit gloomy (I always feel gloomy after I take a trip to visit my parents--I just wish I could live closer to them!) and I haven't written very much. But I have written a little every day, and yesterday, I wrote a lot more than I expected. It felt great! And today I don't feel nearly so gloomy, because I have my writing to cheer me up.

One last thing: if you can find an extra scrap of energy, take a moment to do something nice for someone. Write a positive review of a book you liked. Send a friend a note. Catch up with your Christmas shopping. While you do it, imagine how the recipient will feel when they get that nice experience (and if you think a review can't touch an author's heart, read this one at Doubleshot Reviews and check out the nice note from the author!). Making human connections can be a great reminder that you're not alone and that you've got lots of great gifts to offer the world. And isn't that what life is really about?

Good luck writing through your down time. I can't wait to find out what you produce!

*Note: my advice is for short term downturns in mood. If your dark feelings last longer than two weeks, you may have a more serious condition and might consider getting help. All I've got is hugs and puppy pictures, which I am more than happy to share.


R. H. Kanakia said...

This is such good advice, especially the part about taking care of yourself and giving yourself permission to produce less. I think that the hardest thing is to just sit down and start. On a bad day, I'll often tell myself, "Just fifty words; just a hundred words." Sometimes it ends at that, but sometimes I catch fire anyway and produce something.

Garrett Calcaterra said...

Great post, Wendy. I find that my lack of writing motivation often stems from the fact that I've been busy either grading student papers or working on freelance work, both of which require me to sit around on my butt for long periods. When I'm finally done with all that, it's hard to get excited about sitting in front of the computer to write my own stuff, so what I've found really helps is to get outside and go shoot some hoops or take my dogs for a quick hike. A little fresh air and exercise does wonders at reinvigorating me. Plus, while you're outside doing stuff, your brain can be percolating all the little ideas you want to include in your current WIP. I always come back energized and excited to get back to writing.