Busting the Blues: Tips for Writing Through the Bad Times

We all go through ups and downs in our lives that make it difficult to be creative–money, love, family, friends.  Here are some tricks that have helped me and others work through them.

Finish Something

Finishing something makes you feel good.  If you need a pick-me up, try a simple project that can be completed quickly.  I like to write 50-word stories. They are challenging,  fun and I can share them easily with my writer and non-writer friends.  They will improve your blurb and synopsis writing skills–win/win.

What you finish does not need to be related to your art, though.  It can be a small needle point, a puzzle, a drawing, a paint-by-numbers, a cake, a page in a coloring book; when I was a kid I had a small music box I liked to take apart and put back together. Here are the qualifiers for this project:

  • you know how to do it, but it is not a cakewalk and requires some thought.
  • you like it, but do not hold it dear
  • you can show it to others and say, “Look what I did!”
  • you can complete it without going to the store to purchase elaborate supplies

Let me explain further.  When I finish a 50-word story, I have a sense of accomplishment. The format lends itself to humor and surprise, so the finished product often makes people laugh; an added bonus to dispersing the blues. I am happy to finish it and have no emotional investment beyond that.  All I need to do it is a pen, a piece of paper, and my wits. I often write them while waiting for things like food or while walking the dogs.

Being short, they are easy to post and share on Facebook or Twitter. And if you beef them up, you can put them out on a little app called Spine.

Take a Karaoke Break

I discovered this one on accident. When my day job became stressful and I could not think straight, a friend of mine dragged me to a Karaoke bar.  I had never Karaoked before and did not plan to sing.  Well, after I performed my fifth song, I felt lighter and happier.  After that, I concentrated better, the ideas flowed again and I had the energy to use them.

You may think this one should be, Try Something New, and this is also a good way to break out, but I did a little research on this and Karaoke is good for you.  Studies show that moving rhythmically to music, especially with others, releases the right chemistry in the brain to make you feel good.  Singing while moving rhythmical to music releases even more of the good surf.

I recommend a Karaoke place where you can stand and sing and have room to move; one with a stage is even better.  To really reap the benefits, do some sing-a-long songs like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” or Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Pray.”  Invite a friend or total stranger to sing with you.

Walk Away

Taking a walk or run or doing some kind of physical activity can give you an extra boost.  If under deadline pressure, take the time to do this. It may seem counter-productive.  Try it.  I have a great story to illustrate this, but it will make the blog post to long.

Hit the Road

When I am working on something complicated and my brain only wants to focus on my troubles, I go on a road trip.  I write in several different location.  In New York, I walked down Broadway and stopped at various coffee shops.  Sometimes I stay for an hour, sometimes 15 minutes; depends on how long I stay engaged.

When the negative thoughts start sneaking under the door, I move on. Moving to new places gives a feeling of progress.  It may start as a false feeling of progress, but can turn into real progress; ‘fake it till make it’ is real.

If things start to flow in a certain location, stay there.

Make a Plan, Stan, and Set an Achievable Goal, Joel

I always feel calmer when I have a plan.  It can be a plan for finishing the project or a plan for making time to finish the project.  Keep the plan simple; do not get carried away with how you make the plan–no spreadsheets or elaborate post-it systems.

It can be a simple list of actions or a simple schedule. The plan must be realistic and contain small achievable goals.  When you are down, it is better to be easy on yourself.  Saying, “I WILL write for two hours every morning, gosh darn it!” when 30 minutes is more realistic; only sets-up failure which will make you feel worse.  Ask yourself, “What can I do?”  Then set your goals slightly lower.

To be honest, making a plan has always helped me, but setting arbitrary goals has not. I do well with a real deadline, but a self-imposed I-must-write-for-30-minutes-a-day goal, not so much.  It is a mental game I am not good at playing, but it may work for you. The only way to know is to try it. It can’t hurt.

Give Up

I hesitated including this one because it could be misunderstood and maybe unique to me, but it is one that helps me consistently.

Give up.  I mean really give.  Admit to yourself the project is beyond your abilities.  Throw an all-out, paper-tearing, object throwing fit on how you cannot do the project–scream, yell, throw the couch cushions.  As soon as I do this, ideas start to flow fast and furious and the way to tackle the project becomes clear.

Please be careful with this one.  Destroying text that is not backed-up, is never a good idea.  Don’t hurt yourself.

Dealing with the Feelings

Weather it is finances, love, career or family; the stress in your life is caused by how you feel.  If you deal with those feelings, it may lessen the stress.  Even if you are not a writer, write about the feelings. Acknowledge the feelings and their causes.  Remember, no one needs to see it.

If the stress is caused by a person, write them a letter and tell them about it.  DO NOT SEND THE LETTER.  It will not make you feel better–I guarantee it.  In fact, it is a good idea to do this type of writing with pen and paper and not on a computer. It is too easy to send that stuff on the internet.

Take the Medication

Many people who are drawn to creative fields suffer from some type of “mood disorder” as they call it these days.  Very often it is the one I suffer; high productive periods (manic) followed by low unproductive, bed-sloth periods (depressive).  Manic/depressive has fallen out of favor as a label because of the many forms this condition can take.

In my case, the cycle is caused by a sleep disorder that changes my brain chemistry.  If I follow my prescribed sleep schedule, I am fine. (This is true for many people with this disorder.) For the doubters out there, what I am talking about is not normal ups and downs.  The highs are euphoric accompanied by superhuman productivity; and they are just as disruptive to your creative process as the lows.  The lows are soul-numbing and in some cases physically painful.

If you experience this cycle, I urge you to seek help from a doctor or therapist. If you do have a “mood disorder” and are recommended medication, take the medication.  I have seen many people struggle with this because they are afraid the medication will take away their creativity.  It won’t.  What it does is eliminate the parts of the high and low that are chemical.  You will think more clearly because you are not fighting the false anxiety that often manifests itself as cycling thoughts; a tell-tale sign of the disorder.

Sure, those superhuman bursts of productivity where your brain seems to function at 2XLightspeed will be gone, but you will be able to work consistently to deadlines without putting yourself into a “state.”  Your creative powers will more readily be engaged and stay engaged longer.  You will probably discover, as I did, that you do not do your best work during those highs as you once thought.

I recommend finding a psychopharmacologist or psychiatrist to work with because they have the most experience with mood medications.  It has been my experience that regular doctors often prescribe doses that are too high increasing the side effects without the benefits.

How do you bust the blues?

2 responses to “Busting the Blues: Tips for Writing Through the Bad Times”

  1. Thank you! I always hesitate to give this kind of advice because what works for me may not work for others. But then on the other hand, if you don’t talk about it all, the stigma will remain.


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