At some point we’ve all been told that to write effectively we need to get our emotions down on the page. This advice likely came from a well-meaning teacher, or perhaps a friend who is passionate about writing but perhaps not passionate enough to actually write. It’s a romantic notion that evokes the anguished artist, and it has almost nothing to do with the reality of a writing life.
If your goal is to journal or to blog, a real-time record of your emotions is great. As an exercise it’s even better. Learning how to get angry, sad, happy, lovelorn, and anxious out of your belly and onto the page is a must for any writer. However, if your goal is to become a working writer, you need to compartmentalize your emotional and writing lives.
Why? Well, let’s say you land a gig interviewing Blippy the Clown for Happy Fun Times magazine. The interview goes fine, but the day before you draft your article’s introduction your dog dies, an ingrown hair gets infected, and your favorite yogurt is recalled. You’re feeling a bit down, so you get it on the page: “Blippy’s red nose and big shoes are nothing more than props distracting us from the tragedy and ennui of our miserable lives….” Your Happy Fun Times editor probably isn’t going to be too pleased with your final draft.
Or perhaps you’re working in fiction. Fiction means characters. Characters need their own emotions, not yours. Right there in chapter three Charlotte gets a promotion. She needs happy. Over in chapter 7 Glenn breaks off a torrid affair with Festus, the ornery groundskeeper. He needs sad, or maybe relief. How you’re feeling as a writer only matters to the extent that maybe today is a good day to work on Glenn’s story arc rather than Charlotte’s.
Beyond that, the reason that you need to be able to manage your emotions in order to function as a working writer is simple: You need to work. We’ve all had to face our day jobs with something else weighing upon us, and writing is no different. When you move from writing hobbyist to working writer, the luxury of waiting for the mood to strike you vanishes.
So let go of the anguished artist cliche. Show up every day and do the work that needs to be done, regardless of how you feel. Blippy will thank you for it.
Categories: on writing