People sometimes say to me that they have to be in the right mood to write. I get it. Some days it just doesn’t feel right to sit down at the computer and write. The ideas don’t flow, the inspiration isn’t there, everything just feels wrong.
I’ve been a professional copywriter for the last three decades and I’ve learned that, whether it feels right or not, every day contains the possibility for writing something great (unless, of course, you’re unwell, I’m not advocating forcing yourself to work when you’re ill).
For me, today was a bad day. Two months ago I got my heart badly broken by the man I love. Some days – like today – I feel barely able to function; I miss him so much it’s like having a constant toothache. My life is a mess, I feel lonely and afraid. I’ve no idea what the future holds and the present is a moment-by-moment challenge
I don’t know what triggered it, but right from the word go today I was upset. I started crying at around 9.30 and by 11.30 I was still going. My friend Katie, who I work alongside, hugged me and held my hand, patiently participating in the same circular conversations we’ve had a hundred times before. I just wanted to go to back bed, to pull the duvet up over my head and not get up until the Spring or until this pain has passed.
But, like any job, copywriting comes with its deadlines and its commitments. I was supposed to be writing an article today for an online magazine on the topic of… wait for it… happiness.
In my state of abject misery, the last thing I felt able to connect to was happiness. How could I write anything meaningful through swollen eyes and with a brain full of cotton wool? And what the hell do I know about happiness anyway? But the person I was writing the article for is also a friend. I didn’t want to let her down, I didn’t want to let the magazine down and, like every self-employed person, I know that if I don’t work I don’t eat.
So, I put the tissues away and started to write.
It wasn’t easy. When I am feeling good, often I can hear the words dictated in my head before I write them down. Today wasn’t like that. I had to go searching for the words. I wrote and rewrote, struggling to find the flow that comes so easily on good days. I had to keep pulling my thoughts back from my messed-up personal life to the subject of happiness. But, I kept going. Slowly, I was able to find more focus, the words I was reading made more sense, I started to be able to string sentences together and to make a coherent argument. A few hours later – admittedly longer than it should have taken me – I had an article that I was happy with (excuse the pun).
Working as a professional writer has taught me that there is no such thing as a day when you can’t write. There are days when it is far harder to write and there are days when creative ideas elude you, but it is always possible to generate written content… and sometimes the very days that seem the hardest produce the best writing. I’m not sure what that is all about.
My advice to anyone who is struggling to write is: do it anyway. If you don’t feel in the mood, do it anyway. If the ideas aren’t flowing, do it anyway. The best days are the days when it all flows beautifully but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write on the other days. If you have aspirations to be a professional writer, you need to be able to overcome the blocks that can get in your way. And the best way to do this is to treat writing like a job. Get up and get to work, whether you feel like it or not. You might just surprise yourself.
I learned some stuff about happiness today. Maybe I can apply it to my life. Maybe someone else will benefit from what I wrote. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day for me.
If you struggle to write some days or feel like you are blocked, here are my top tips:
• Make yourself sit down and write.
• Say to yourself “I will just write what I can write today, it doesn’t matter if it’s not Shakespeare.” This will take some of the pressure off and you may just surprise yourself.
• Writing notes on a piece of paper or mindmapping can sometimes help a troubled mind to focus in a way that writing onto the computer can’t.
• Resist the temptation to keep altering the same sentence again and again. Write a section and then edit it.
• Come back to what you have written on another day when your mind is fresh. You will be able to see more clearly which bits are good and which need binning.