“My freelance writing business is in trouble,” Julia told me this week.
“It’s because I get depression, and when I’m depressed, I can’t write.”
This is a big problem, and I think all writers get something similar to Julia’s problem at some point.
Fortunately, there is a way out of this problem. It begins with understanding what the problem really is.
From writing problem to rule-making
Writers love to create rules about what we can accomplish under what circumstances.
For instance, we can’t write if we’re underslept, or it’s after lunchtime (my creative time is early in the day, please!).
Or it’s not sunny out today. Or the neighbor is mowing the lawn right near our window. Or, depending on your personal fixation, unless we have our three antique china pigs sitting on the edge of our desk in a perfect row.
This writer had a rule that she couldn’t write anything when she was depressed.
She tried to write when she was depressed, and it was difficult. Instead of pushing through it or figuring out some ways to cope with it, she began to worry that she could never write when depressed.
Soon, she had created a rule about it in her mind: I cannot write when depressed.
This rule did not create happiness. Quite the opposite — she lived in terror of getting a writing assignment with only a few weeks to complete. If depression hit, she would be unable to write!
So she wasn’t sending query letters anymore. She was frozen. And her dreams of building a viable freelance writing business were in danger of vaporizing.
Coming back to reality
The important thing to realize when we make rules about our writing is that they aren’t real. It’s just an idea that lives inside your head.
It’s not an immutable law of nature, like gravity.
Being depressed does not mean you’ve had a lobotomy, or your arms have been cut off. It is still physically possible for you to write in your less-than-ideal circumstances.
Yes, it might be harder, or take longer. You might need to rewrite more. Because it’s not perfect.
But you can do it.
When you create can’t-write rules around phobias or problems you have, you’re creating a psychodrama. A self-created world of made-up rules that exists only inside your mind. It is not reality.
If you want to be able to write anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances, you have to become conscious of this fact. That it’s just a story you’ve told yourself, about why you can’t write.
Then you’re ready to break your made-up writing rules so you can meet clients’ deadlines and earn a living at this.
Action trumps drama
If you’re wondering how I know it’s possible to write under any circumstances, it’s because I’ve had to do it. So many times.
I used to think I definitely could not produce publishable writing if I didn’t get a good night’s sleep, for instance. Also if people were yelling at me…it takes me a long time to emotionally recover from that. I couldn’t possibly be expected to write anything that day.
To name just two rules I had.
While I’m thrilled with how my freelance writing life is going, my personal life is not all sunshine. So I often find myself needing to write under less-than-optimal circumstances. Say, while children scream and fight downstairs and my husband handles that in a way other than what I’d do.
Luckily, I have my staff-writing days to pull from for the knowledge that in fact, I can write if I have to. When putting food on the table depends on you turning in four stories every week, you learn to write no matter what.
I have gone into work as a staff writer on one hour of sleep, confident that I Could Not Possibly Turn In My Story.
But somehow, faced with that deadline, I’d drink some tea, or maybe mini-nap with my head on my desk for 10 minutes. Or eat two candy bars.
And by the end of the day, my article would be written.
Do you need to write?
Here’s the magic: Once you challenge your made-up rule and prove it wrong, it dissolves. Its hold on you is lost.
You have to face the truth that your psychodrama was just in your head. It’s an excuse. Not a real thing. You can muscle your way through it and beat it, and get the writing done.
Yes, it’s harder to write when things aren’t perfect. But when are they ever perfect? Right.
So it’s an important skill for freelance writers to learn to bust their self-scripted limitations and write. It’s tough that first time that you slog through writing a story on an hour of sleep…but after that, you never doubt that you can pull it out again. You’re ready to take writing assignments with the confidence that you can deliver, no matter what life throws your way that week.
What’s often missing that allows the psychodrama to win out is the sense that you have to write. It’s important.
You may not have a deadline today, but developing the ability to write on a daily basis is critical to success in any writing field.
Life is short, and you have things you want to tell the world.
Feel that urgency, and man up and do the writing, if you want this to be your career. Even though life sucks today.
What’s your writer psychodrama? Leave a comment and tell us, and then tell us how you overcome it.