How a Really Bad Mood Can Improve Your Writing

Grumpy old manBy Julie Ladd

Even if you’re a genuinely happy person, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in an utterly ferocious, raging black cloud of a mood.

You know — the kind that conjures images in your mind of you as a roaring sci-fi creature with blood dripping off your fangs as you tear apart everything and everyone you come across.

OK, maybe that’s just me.

But you likely have your own equally-vivid mental picture, right?

So you’re officially in a Very Bad Mood.  Now what?

Everyone has their own ways of dealing with a bad mood— exercising, eating, drinking, napping or hiding until it passes are a few.

But to succeed at making a living writing, avoiding work until the cloud clears isn’t a viable option.

This week, I found a better way to cope— train your temper on your writing, and attack it with every ounce of raw negativity you can muster.  Ask the questions your biggest critic/skeptic would:

“Who cares?”

Who’s your audience, anyway?  That’s who should care.

If you’re not writing for them, you are missing the mark.  Every single word should be aimed right at your readers— never forget, it’s not about you. It’s about them.

“So what?”

If it’s not readily apparent why what you’re writing about matters, your readers won’t bother to dig for the relevance.

If it matters, say why (or better yet, show why).

If it doesn’t matter, delete it and write instead about what does.

“What bullsh*t!”

If you don’t specify the evidence that backs your assertions, or are making broad generalizations, you’re taking the easy way out.

Go find the best supporting facts and reference them.  Don’t assume something is true or generally accepted– prove it!

Highlight all the lowlights – show no mercy

Mark every single phrase containing corporate-speak, bland boilerplate, overgeneralizations, off-topic wandering and extraneous filler.  Strike anything not directly on-point for your audience, including any phlegm.

When you’re done, you may find, as I did, that what’s left is tattered shreds of red-lined text that once seemed to be a good piece.

But don’t despair… from the ashes rises the phoenix.

Now, fix it.

You may not be able to do this while you’re still in the throes of your bad mood, but you may find you can—there is therapeutic value in venting all that negativity at something.

If not, set aside the mess you just made and come back to it later, when you’re in a better frame of mind.

Then, do that magical thing you do as a writer– delete, refocus, rework and rewrite, until there’s no opening for attack, even from someone in a mood as bad as yours was.

Your family will appreciate your taking it out on your work instead of them, and the improvement in the quality of your writing may surprise you.

Have you found a way to turn a bad mood to your advantage as a writer?  Share your strategies for coping in the comments below.

Julie Ladd (@copyshark), Owner and Copy Stylist-in-Chief of Copyshark.net, helps businesses grow by leveraging the power of language to convert prospects to customers, even through the occasional very bad mood.

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26 comments on “How a Really Bad Mood Can Improve Your Writing
  1. Julia says:

    “Writing while in a bad mood”, love this! There are so many articles around on how to write, but they don’t often talk about the writer’s mood, and how it affects their writing. Thanks for sharing this Julie.

    My bad mood is usually more fatigue than anything else (that is, that life has been so busy, that I’m exhausted to do any writing work.) I’ve found that focusing on some small tasks first helps. Ease myself into the work, as it were. Sometimes I’m then ready after 10-15 minutes, sometimes longer. If I’m on the longer end of the scale, I usually try a non-writing task too, like some exercise, doing the dishes, etc., just to give myself a kick start. By then I know if I’m ready or not to get down to it.

    Thankfully this hasn’t happened right before a deadline or anything (knock wood), so I’ve been okay. But if it does, I’ve now got some tips to handle it. Thanks Julie!

  2. Wow I wish I had read that yesterday, I was in a terrible mood and needed to write, I ended up putting it off until my mood lifted. I shall try writing next time I am in a bad mood. 🙂

    Cheers
    Andi

  3. Jerome says:

    I have never tried writing when I was royally pissed off. On the other hand, I like the idea that you shared in this article. I hope that I will be able to vent my anger into something good.
    Jerome recently posted…cheap maternity scrubsMy Profile

  4. Great advice Julie!

    I generally grow fangs when I’m struggling with technology, nothing sets me off quicker and I know my computer could care less as I diligently sit in front of it and have an ugly breakdown.

    It’s also hard to recover when your writing has been rejected. That usually puts me in a bad mood for a couple of days. A nice chocolate bar, a long walk, and a flip through The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield rejuvenate me. And then I get back to work!
    Heather Georgoudiou recently posted…Interview with the Englishman in New York, SEW’s Jonathan Allen/1My Profile

  5. Graciela McGee says:

    Nice post. I get rejected by the blog, have sharp words with a friend or have my love life go off kilter, I can’t get most things done. Thanks that you’ve shared.

  6. Jane says:

    LOL, Julie, this is such a wonderful idea! In fact, I use writing to spend the time when I’m not in a good mood. It helps cheer me up. Sometimes I just dump my thoughts. Sometimes I use writing to divert my mind. But it certainly does help. And as you say here, the writing I do while I’m not in good mood can always be used – I come back to it later (usually after a week) and mend it 🙂
    Jane recently posted…Readers From RSS 2 Blog: A ReviewMy Profile

  7. Ali says:

    Before reading this post, I used to think only a fiction writer can make use of his different moods and being a bloger I’d always wait to get calm before I start writing… or as you said “until it passes are a few”
    Ali recently posted…The Top 10 Websites That Pay You To Write An ArticleMy Profile

  8. Melissa says:

    Excellent article!

  9. J. Delancy says:

    Curiouser and curiouser. Until I get rejected by a blog, have sharp words with a friend, or have my love life go off kilter, I can’t get most things done. Once something bad happens, I write, plan and execute with the best of them.

    Someone needs to write a post on how to get things done when you’re in a good mood (Alternatively, suggest an online therapist for me!)

    J.K.D

    • Julie Ladd says:

      Sometimes the negative stuff can be an excellent motivator– there’s nothing like somebody telling you you can’t do something to make you determined to prove you can and they’re full of it!

      And yes, sometimes it’s the dark moods that inspire creativity and productivity– it’s harder for me to write marketing copy at those times, but nearly impossible to connect with my fiction or poetry muses if I’m too happy.

      Funny how that works, isn’t it? Thanks for the comment!
      Julie Ladd recently posted…Marketing 101: Who Are You Talking to, Anyway?My Profile

  10. Julie,

    Thanks for writing this and giving us mental permission to write what we feel even when we’re in a crappy mood. This post and the comments are a breath of fresh air.

    I’ve recently started writing for the newspaper, and the first several stories were the feel good kind which are always a big hit and sell lots of papers. However, my last assignment was about child abuse. I thought, “Great, how can I write this story to not depress every single reader.” I called my editor and he said, “Separate yourself from the story.” That didn’t work.

    Then, after a horrendously stressful weekend, I was ready to tear some heads off. My story was due the next day so I just forced myself to sit down and write in the midst of my mood. My editor said, “You struck just the right note with the child abuse story, thank you. I’m planning to put it on the front next week.” And there you go.

    Use the power of a good mood when you have it, but also learn to harness the strength of a bad mood when you need it.

  11. Chris says:

    Wow. Great advice, Julie. I’ll be the first to admit that I I’ve let bad moods ruin a few hours of work in the past, and then gone straight into a second round, because of the time I wasted in the first bad mood. Ah, cycles. Anyway, thanks for the helpful tips.
    Chris recently posted…Cervantes Park: Guest Post at the Barcelona MetropolitanMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s actually timely for me as it turns out…I need to file for Forbes this morning and was just treated to a half hour of my 10-year-old screaming SHUT UP! at us as we tried to wake him for school. Charming, eh? Now I’ve got to shake it off…

  12. Steve Maurer says:

    Thanks, Julie.

    Great post and, fortunately, right on time! This has helped me today, although the mood wasn’t angry, but sad at the passing of a family member. Your advice will probably help anyone with any less than sunny mood.

    Thanks again,
    Steve
    Steve Maurer recently posted…What Your Writer Needs to KnowMy Profile

    • Julie Ladd says:

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Steve. You’re right that sadness is another difficult emotion to write through. If I don’t have anything I’m currently working on that sadness would help inspire, I usually channel it into a personal piece to share with family and friends or on my personal blog. But sometimes those big questions you think about in times of sadness can bring depth or another angle to something you’re already working on.

      If nothing else, I find comfort in knowing that the person who’s no longer here would want me to keep at it even though I’m missing them, and I dedicate my efforts to their memory. Small comfort, I know, but somehow it makes me feel a little better.
      Julie Ladd recently posted…Marketing is Just a (Hopefully Artful) ConversationMy Profile

  13. Amy Gutman says:

    “Have you found a way to turn a bad mood to your advantage as a writer?”

    Yes! As a matter of fact, I have. As it happens, I’ve been thinking (& writing) a lot about this lately, including the post linked below (“40 ways to appreciate a kidney stone), which became one of the most popular posts ever on my Plan B Nation blog. Before that, I wrote about turning a frustrating interlude into a funny story. (That one’s called, fittingly enough “Everything’s a (funny) story.”)

    The more I employ this approach, the more I find that writing is the best therapy ever. Or rather, better than therapy for dealing with life’s ups and downs.

    Thanks for the post, Julie!
    Amy Gutman recently posted…40 ways to appreciate a kidney stoneMy Profile

  14. Glori says:

    I love the last two parts. I struggle with editing my work a lot. Admittedly, I have nonexistent patience when editing my own work. Thanks Julie!
    Glori recently posted…5 Practical Tips to Make Sure You Have Awesome Outsourced ContentMy Profile

    • Julie Ladd says:

      Editing, especially when it’s your own work, is always a challenge, isn’t it? But that’s really where the magic happens– it’s what makes the difference between something good and something great, so the fight to get through it is worth it. Thanks for your kind words, Glori!
      Julie Ladd recently posted…Marketing 101: Who Are You Talking to, Anyway?My Profile

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