I often ask the writers I’m working with to check in with me after they write. Nothing elaborate, just a note to let me know how the writing felt that day. If you are struggling, writing can be a lonely space, so knowing I’m on the other side of the computer screen can be reassuring: Someone out there cares and wants to know how you’re doing. Of course, the reassurance works both ways. If I know a writer is struggling, I tend to wonder and worry. Even if they write that the writing went poorly, I want to know. And I can often offer a suggestion or two to alleviate the struggle the following days.
I didn’t hear from one of my clients this entire week. Although I have explained that not hearing is hard on me, she believes that by not writing to me about her travails, she is sparing me. Yesterday I shot her a note asking how she was, and she replied that the writing hadn’t gone well all week, but that she had cleared the weekend to devote to making up for wasted time.
“Please, don’t do that,” I wrote back immediately. “Instead, set aside only a half-hour writing time tomorrow. And instead of struggling to form logical, coherent thoughts, simply free write. Then let me know how you feel.”
I’m pretty sure I understand what went wrong for this writer. For several weeks, she had been struggling less with her writing. She felt she was gaining momentum. Then one day the writing didn’t go so well. She felt pen-tied, unable to find the words to communicate her thoughts. Then, unable to find the words, she began to question the thoughts themselves. Were they even valid? Maybe she was just wasting her time. Or maybe she wasn’t smart enough to write about the topic she had chosen.
Questioning herself in this way, she became angry and decided that she’d sit in front of her computer for twice as long the next day. She had to make up for the time she’d wasted. She’d better shape up! Be more disciplined!
The next day was even worse. Etc.
Bad writing days are an inevitable part of the writing process, and are by no means a reflection on us as writers or on what we are writing about. In the same way that we don’t feel our best every day of the week, our sense of well being fluctuating with our sleep, the weather, our loved ones and their moods, as well as chance, we don’t always write our best. In fact, some days, we write our worst. But if we understand that this is not because we have done anything wrong, and if we show up for our writing the following day, for the amount of time we have promised to commit to our writing, chances are pretty high that our experience will be more positive. It might not be perfect; writing rarely is. But the experience won’t be as dark as the day before. And if you keep on showing up, one day will be a good writing day.
Not turning ourselves over our own knees when the writing goes poorly is one of the best ways we writers have to gather momentum, not only for the essay, the feature, the novel, the article we are currently working on, but for all the other writing we hope to do in the future.