Many creative people feel a certain back and forth with their creative output. Some days we’re happy with the process and the results of our work. Other times we can’t stand either the work or the result.
I thought I’d share a little of my own experience where this back and forth is concerned and offer some thoughts about why I think it happens and what I do to get through those times when I’m not happy with my writing and creative output.
I’ll be talking specifically about writing, but this happens to all creative people, whether you write, paint, create music, or design.
My Occasional Writing Woes
When I’m in the love phase with my writing it feels as though everything goes as smooth as possible. It feels like I just sit down and the words flow as if they’re writing themselves. I make the points I want to make or explain what I want to explain. Everything flows and writes itself.
That doesn’t always happen. Much of the time I have the opposite experience where the writing is a struggle and I don’t like anything I produce or most parts of the process. I might not like the idea I’m writing about or it feels like agony trying to place words, sentences, and paragraphs on the page.
During these times I don’t feel I’ve made a coherent point or explained myself well. I have to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and still not like what I’ve written. I’ve sometimes agonized about hitting the publish button and then waiting for the inevitable being found out as a sham or hack.
Still when the post is done I do publish and move on. For better or worse the writing is done and it’s time to move on and write something else. The funny thing is in either case the quality of writing is probably about the same. I’d be willing to bet most people reading wouldn’t be able to tell how I felt about the piece they’re reading.
I’ve published posts I thought were great and enjoyed every aspect of creating them, only to watch as no one seems to notice them. The writing draws no comments, not, social sharing, no references of links.
I’ve also published posts I couldn’t stand working on and thought would out me as a fraud, only to watch them get tweeted and liked and commented upon.
It can be a bit maddening because I wonder if I really know what I’m doing and what you want to read. Why is it that the things I think high quality are sometimes ignored and why things I don’t think particularly good practically go viral.
Don’t Let Fear Get in the Way
I think the main thing that makes us hesitant to write or publish is fear. We doubt what we’re writing and the doubt becomes fear. Maybe what you’re writing is too personal and reveals something you prefer to keep private. Maybe you’re afraid your thoughts and opinions aren’t valid or won’t be accepted. Maybe you worry they won’t be correct or useful to anyone.
You have to get over your fear. Rarely, if ever, is there anything to be afraid of. If your writing is that bad no one is likely to read it anyway. If they aren’t reading beyond a few words they aren’t going to reach the point of judging the things you’re saying.
Most personal stuff shouldn’t be so scary to reveal. Most people won’t think it’s a big deal at all. Less people will care than you think and those that do likely care because they identify with what you said.
Your best writing sometimes reveals itself as fear. It makes you feel uncomfortable. The stuff you’re afraid to say is the stuff that will likely resonate the strongest and with the most people
Writing something like “everyone should work hard to succeed,” isn’t scary. it’s safe. Who’s going to disagree? It’s also boring. Who needs to read something they already know and have heard many times before. Safe may not cause fear, but it doesn’t lead to interest.
That’s not to suggest you should reveal everything. Some things you do want to keep to yourself. The point is don’t automatically give in to the fear. It might be signaling that you have something really good that will resonate if you’re willing to risk sharing it.
Fight Your Way Through
Not liking your work at times is a natural part of the process. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything I want to do all the time. We all need to take breaks. We need to refresh and revitalize ourselves. Anything gets tiresome when done too much. It’s possible you need to walk away from writing for a short time and do something different.
Much of the time the dislike is just something you have to go through. We’re all human beings and like every other human beings we have good and bad days, weeks, months, and years. Maybe you don’t like your writing this week, because you’re simply having a bad week.
It might be that something in your life isn’t quite right and it’s throwing you off. Your dislike of your writing isn’t to do with the writing. It’s due to the usual stuff that happens in life. Perhaps what you really want to write is what’s going on with your life. Write that in a journal and keep it for yourself. Then get back to the writing that pays the bills.
Sometimes as hard as it is you just have to fight your way through these times and trust what you write will turn out ok regardless of how you feel about it. I couldn’t always do that, but over the years I’ve gained enough confidence to trust that what I write will be above a certain level of quality that I’m ok publishing.
You can’t wait for a day when you suddenly feel inspiration. That only comes during the writing, not while waiting.
Collect More Ideas
For me, it’s often a poor choice in topic that leads me to dislike my writing. When I lack interest in the subject it’s hard to motivate myself to write about it or research it beforehand.
I publish two posts a week here. To get through two posts a week I spend a day working on notes and another on a draft. I spend a day here or there working through an editorial calendar where I decide what to write about. If I want to stay on schedule I sometimes have to force my way through a post, because there’s not enough time in the week to switch to another idea.
When I have to force myself through the process it all feels like work, like an obligation. There’s little sense of joy or play and everything about the writing is a struggle. Still you have to fight through those times.
I don’t believe in writer’s block. I’m sure there are legitimate cases of it, but for most people it’s an excuse. You don’t lose your ability to write overnight. Usually when someone says writer’s block, it’s offered as an excuse for why they aren’t writing. It’s an excuse not to have to deal with life’s issues that are on your mind.
Be Professional, Invite the Muse, Strive to Improve
I think the times when you don’t like your writing are actually good practice. You aren’t going to enjoy writing every article or post. Being able to write to your level of quality when the last thing in the world you want to do is write, is a sign of a professional writer.
Sorry to break it to you, but not every minute of life is joy and play. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t particularly want to do. Suck it up. If you can’t write when you don’t want to, maybe it mean you’ve chosen poorly when it comes to your career.
Inspiration doesn’t just show up and make everything wonderful. It shows up after you’ve set the conditions to invite the muse. You have to work hard to make the muse interested in visiting and you have to be prepared to work on the days the muse has better things to do. If you’re a writer you’ll get through it and the good feelings about your work will return.
Have confidence in yourself. You might think what you write during the difficult times is garbage, but odds are it’s better than you think. It’s more your mood telling you the work is awful and not the part of you that knows writing.
If you consistently work to improve the quality of your writing then even your bad writing will likely of better quality than what many others are publishing. Have you read some of the writing on the web? Most of it is pretty bad. It’s not a high bar to surpass.
Work I don’t like may not be my best work, but I understand it’s better than I feel it is. By definition only one piece of writing can be your best. If the next article isn’t, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes it’s more important to be finished than to continuing to tweak and refine forever.
Use any feelings of doubt you have to motivate you to become better. Accept that some things you publish won’t be your best and figure out why and how to make the next piece better. If that means choosing a better idea or spending more time researching to better understand the topic, then that’s what you should do. Learn from the writing you don’t like.
Analyze why you don’t like it. Was it everything or just one aspect of the writing. Were you feeling good when brainstorming and taking notes, but feeling the opposite when editing? Identify which part of the process isn’t working and fix it.
Watch for patterns. When you dislike your writing is it usually the same thing you don’t like? Does it consistently happen after something similar happens in your personal life?
Tips — A Few Things I Do
I think it’s good to work with a process. Sometimes when you don’t like your writing, it’s really about being unhappy with one aspect of it. For me it’s usually the topic choice so I maintain a lot of ideas that I can reach for. I’m always collecting potential ideas for articles. It helps me find something I’m interested in writing about when I have to choose a topic. It lets me switch to a new idea quickly if I don’t like the one I first chose.
Some days I don’t want to write sentences and paragraphs, but I’m fine researching or even editing something I previously wrote. Having a process allows me to choose different parts of the process to work on based on how I’m feeling. If you have multiple articles going, each at different points in the process you can usually make progress even when you don’t want to write.
I’ve also found certain times of day more conducive to different parts of the process. Identifying when I do certain things best lets me schedule work that suits how I typically feel at different times of day.
Getting ahead of schedule is something else I do to help me through the tough writing times. I’m recording this on Friday, May 16th and will be publishing it on Thursday, June 2nd. I have three weeks to replace this recording and post if I don’t like how it turns out. I can take a couple weeks off without anyone noticing.
I may publish twice a week, but I can write four articles one week and none the next to maintain that schedule.
How you prepare can affect how you feel about writing. Most of the time to prepare to write I have to avoid it at all costs. I’ll do anything other than writing, usually engaging in some kind of play activity or reading. It gives my subconscious time to prepare.
Other times I trick myself into writing. I’ll reply to emails, forum posts, blog comments, and all sorts of things that are writing, though not the writing I’m trying to avoid. I don’t have to be perfect in a blog comment so I write. Before I realize it the words I’m typing are part of a post for that week.
Occasionally you do need to drop what you’re writing. Maybe the problem is that the current article isn’t good and you know it’s not good. Stop working on it and find something else to write about. I have far too many posts that no one will ever read sitting on my hard drive.
Sometimes I need to hold on to those half written posts until I see how to connect them to another idea in another half written post. I just had to wait till I understood what each post was really about.
Always be improving your writing. Practice writing everywhere and anywhere you get the chance. Don’t just reply to an email. Proof it, reorganize your thoughts. Make it a great piece of writing. Don’t just tweet. Refine your tweet. Work on it. Make it better before releasing it to the world.
Read good writing. Sometimes all it takes for me to feel better and more hopeful about my work is to read something else written well. It inspires me to do better and get back to typing out words on a screen.
In the end the most important thing is to keep writing. It’s ok to take a day or week away from it. We all need breaks and vacations. Just don’t make the break too long or think you should wait for the muse to show up, sit down at your keyboard, and do your writing for you.
Ultimately you get through the tough times by continuing to write. You don’t have to publish, but you should continue to write. It might be on a different piece and it might not be writing related to work, but keep writing.
Creativity isn’t all fun and games. It will be sometimes. Other times it’ll feel like work and drudgery. Part of being a professional anything is being able to work when you don’t want to. It’s part of being a responsible adult.
Once again while I’ve been talking about writing in this post, I think everything I’m saying applies to any creative endeavor. It’s normal to fall in and out of love with whatever create pursuit you engage in. Whether you write, paint, or design, the key to staying creative is to continue to work at your creative output even when you don’t love doing it.
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