Why You Should Write When Life Sucks

Why You Should Write When Life Sucks

When Ali Hale sends me a post, I know it’s going to be good. And this one – on what to do about writing when life sucks – hits the target. Feel free to let us know in the comment section what you’ve done with those “life sucks” moments and how you can use them to create emotional content that packs a punch.

This isn’t news to you: sometimes life sucks.

Maybe a bunch of things have gone wrong. Family issues. Financial hiccups. Teenage dramas. A business downturn.

Perhaps you’ve lost some of your usual energy and zest. Maybe you got too busy. Maybe you’ve had a big disappointment. Maybe you’re juggling a lot of balls at once, and you can’t let anything drop.

However it happened, you ended up here. Feeling like life sucks. Feeling tired, angry, stressed, afraid, and upset. And when you sit down to write (if you even get that far), you feel like you have nothing to say.

That’s the best time to write.

First get the head space to write. Writing takes energy and focus, and on good days, that might come easily. On bad days, you need to make it happen.

So carve out two hours from your day. Put your worries aside. If you’re afraid you’ll forget something important, just jot it down on a bit of paper. You can come back to it later. Close your email. Switch off the phone. Shut the door.

Now you have a place where you have the mental space to focus on writing. That’s not going to change how you feel, though. How do you get over your feelings so that you can write?

Truthfully? You don’t need to.

Use Your Feelings to Create Powerful, Emotional Writing

“Nothing can be made to be of interest to the reader that was not first of vital concern to the writer.” – John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

Have you ever read words that really grabbed you? That stuck in your mind for weeks? That brought tears to your eyes? They shook your emotions because the writer cared.

Emotion shines through your writing. If you’re filled with enthusiasm, it comes across in your work. If you’re passionate about your topic, your prose engages more than a polished piece on a subject the writer didn’t really care about.

But enthusiasm and passion aren’t the only emotions you can use in your work.

Use your anger to write an article railing against something that makes you furious. Pour fear and sadness into a short story to bring your characters alive and give them something to fight for.

For example, I’m working on the climax of my novel for an assignment with a looming deadline. My month has been stressful… and my writing has improved to no end. More fear, more suffering, more nastiness.

Use Your Emotions to Share and Connect With Readers

We all love to read uplifting stories with happy endings, but, let’s face it: happy stories don’t always reflect what we’ve lived through.

How about sharing that time you screwed up so that your readers don’t have to go through it too? If you want to change lives through your writing, you don’t want people to think, “Yeah, that’s nice, I’ll do that someday.”

You want them to get on with it, to do something about it. To think and feel and take action.

Let’s say you’re writing about WordPress security. Not the most exciting topic in the world – but it can be if you use your emotions to connect with your readers:

“My wife and I had that nightmare once. Our dream was taken from us by someone we never met, someone who could care less that the website they ruined for us helped put food in our kids’ mouths.” – John Hoff, How to Use Emotional Copywriting to Kick-Start Your Sales, published on Copyblogger

Take some of those times when life sucked – times when something went wrong, or when you said the wrong thing, or when you felt really small and stupid – and use them. Share them with readers. Let your emotions shine through. Connect with people.

Your feelings will make your work more vivid and powerful.

Use Your Writing as an Escape from Your Emotions

The hard times in life are good for your writing, yes. But writing is also good for helping you get through those hard times.

I write fiction because it makes me feel good. It’s hard work, and it pays nothing. (In fact, I’ve paid out money to study an MA in creative writing.) It takes much longer to produce a thousand good words of fiction than a thousand good words of blog post.

But I’d sooner quit chocolate than quit writing fiction.

Find a way to make your writing an escape. Work on a memoir that takes you right out of the bad moments of present day and into happy times of the past. Write a blog about a hobby that you’re keenly interested in, which gives you an outlet from the day job you hate.

You could even work on an epic fantasy novel that takes you out of this world into a glittering one of infinite possibilities where you get to play god.

Writing is absorbing. You can’t write with your mind on a dozen other things. Writing pulls your thoughts into line and forces your focus onto getting your piece right.

And often, when you’ve finished writing, you’ll find that life doesn’t seem so bad after all.

So, tell me. What’re you writing? And how can you take the times that suck – whether they’re happening right now or happened years ago – to make your work stronger?

Want more from Ali? Check out her home base at Aliventures, where you’ll find all sorts of posts that remind you life’s pretty good – even when you don’t feel it is.

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Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. susan allport says:

    Totally agree. Whenever I get myself into a situation or mindset like the ones menioned here, I’ll write something, anything. It’s usually quite short and unstructured, but is great to come back to at a later date, when you’re ready to write properly. It can often be the perfect starting point for something brilliant.

    Thanks

    @sue_allport

  2. Very true. I write better when I’m feeling down.

  3. I enjoy your posts. This one hit home for me because I began my blog as a coping outlet. Like so many Care Givers for parents, we are thrown into it without knowing or realizing what is ahead. Other bloggers who are Care Givers are also my online support group.

    My mom is demented and most days suck out loud. Writing has allowed me to document my journey with my mom who is insane, who talks to dead people and waves like the queen when we are driving down any road. Everyday I need to answer questions about her dead visitors.. “Where’d he go?” “She is over there… who is she?”

    Care giving is difficult and necessary; writing allows me to share my experiences with others who find themselves in the same trap. There are days it feels like a prison sentence… then I write, release and find my inner peace even when my mom tells me about Elephants in the trees.

    • Sue, thanks for sharing that. I know quite a few writers (including other carers) who’ve found their writing an invaluable way to cope with very tough situations. And I’m sure that reading about your experiences is a release for your readers too — knowing what others are going through (and surviving) can be a great source of strength.

  4. Ali, I swear you look over my shoulder. I remember reading John Hoff’s sentence and immediately (well actually I had to also read of Johnny B. Truant’s security disaster too) and hired a security guy.

    True bad story: Yesterday I spent a couple hours with AWeber trying to figure out how to automatically send out notices of new posts. My topic that day was “Turning it over to the professionals.” Well, instead of sending out 1 notice, they automatically sent out 17 notices. Bad(x17). Since I only have 15 subscribers and they are mostly friends, I figured not too many people would notice. Then this AM, I get questions on Twitter and Facebook asking why I sent out 17 identical messages. Geesh, it wasn’t a secret mistake after all. Dang and how ironic: trusting the professionals!

    Now, newlyweds shouldn’t have any problems, so finish the damn book.:) And you’re right, it’s better to turn negative emotions into funny stories.

    • I’m not stalking you, I promise! ;-)

      And yep, I’m working on the novel; enjoying getting back to it (especially without assignment pressure — argh.)

      Hope your AWeber experience improves! I’ve had one or two “Oh no” moments after doing mailouts … it’s just part of the learning curve, I guess.

  5. I absolutely agree. If you’re going to have an emotional meltdown or any other kind of emotional storm, you may as well at least get some good, authentic writing done from it, right?

    And, high emotions are one of the few things that move me to write poetry. They’re too “big” or too powerful or something to channel into prose.

  6. Couldn’t agree more, Ali.

    And I wish that James’ life was more sucky so she’s write more fiction. ;)

  7. There is no better way to come off real and a normal person then to write when life is the hardest. Simple to write when everything is peaches n cream, the real test is to share what your feeling/thinking when shit isn’t perfect.

    Anger is a great motivator if harnessed correctly. mad at life? Write a powerful heartfelt post, you readers will be blown away.

    I like to write after some road rage haha Amazing how creative I can be then.

    • I’ve definitely found that my more heartfelt posts get a stronger response — even when they’re not so polished or well-written as posts that I wrote more coolly!

  8. Paulo Coelho said ‘Tears are words that need to be written.’ It is one of my favorite quotes. Tim Brownson once told me that people rarely talk about feeling bad (and yet everyone does feel bad from time to time) so if you do, you will immediately start to build relationships.

    • Every essay writer should keep that quote. Coelho is my fav too.

    • Lovely quote! I think *writing* about feeling bad can be more powerful than *talking* … we tend to have structure and progress in what we write, whereas conversations (unless you’re talking to someone trained, like the lovely Tim) can end up going round in circles.

  9. Yeah if you can muster up the will, it’s definitely a good time to write. It may be your best stuff, or it can be your worst. But it’ll be something and you’re definitely emotionally attached–if you’re talking about what’s on your mind.

    I’m a musician and years ago I used to be in a band. Whenever one of us would get a little depressed we’d say, “Go write! Now’s the time.” To bad it was always about a girl! LOL

    • So that’s why so many songs are about unrequited love… ;-)

      Getting together the energy to write is definitely tough, when things suck. I find that making myself sit down and start usually leads to *something*… however unconvinced I am about the whole idea.

  10. Good advice. Writing has helped me keep my sanity during some really rough times. I started my first blog four years ago when my beloved dog was diagnosed with cancer. It was a small thing behind the closed doors of a membership forum community, but no matter. It was a great outlet and also produced some good pieces, and maybe I’ll see about putting the whole thing into a longer, unified story one of these days. It also got me writing again after some time away–it served a lot of purposes. I think those better pieces were written on some of my darkest days.

    Now, if something is going on that really sucks, writing is like meditation or a small vacation. Just like you say–you can’t write and have a bunch of other things on your mind!

    Thanks for the reminder–sometimes I forget :)

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Leah — I think a lot of us start writing (or get back into writing) as an outlet. Sounds like it could definitely be an interesting project to put those pieces together, too; I think writing which is produced when you really “feel” it, and edited when you’re cool and rational, can be some of the best around. :-)

  11. It’s kind of scary to write from that place, especially when your audience see you as the sunbeam sent to light up their day. But I agree with Alison (and Tim B) because I’ve had far more emails saying thank you for the refreshing honesty as a result of being in that place and expressing it than I have ‘thank you for being sunny’.

    • I totally agree … I wrote a few weeks back about feeling overwhelmed, and what I was trying to do to get through it (without succeeding entirely). That got a powerful response, and didn’t get any negative reaction. I’m usually pretty positive and upbeat, and I wasn’t too sure how my readers would take it!

  12. Writing doesnt work for me on life-sux-days. These days are when I need my passion in life My passion is surfing, but any passion will do………….as long as you are passionate about it!! So if writing is your passion in life – there you go. But if its golf, running, stamp collecting or whatever, use your passion to lift you out of the daily McDonald wrappers. One I have risen above this THEN I look to write

  13. Insightful & brilliant!

  14. Excellent article and advice. I often struggle over whether sharing my more personal details and struggles with my readers is the right thing, or not. I usually think, Why would they be interested in this? But, as it turns out – the more of my own angst and inner battles I reveal the more they relate to it.

    Thank you for all the wonderful advice.

    • Thanks, Angela! And yes, I’ve found the same … I worry readers will either be uninterested or put off. And wallowing in misery isn’t necessarily helpful for anyone, but a dose of honesty — about the bad and the good — can really touch your readers.

  15. James, thank you for having this post, and Ali, thank you for writing it. Frankly, I have had a crappy year. Not looking for sympathy on it, but it has affected me. After two years of writing my blog, in the last few weeks I became apathetic towards writing on it and a couple of writing projects I’ve been working on. I don’t have writer’s block, but writer’s blah. So a few days ago, it pulled myself out of these doldrums for a little while and wrote about it on the blog. It’s interesting to feel this way because I have been acting exactly as I would coach or teach others not to act. I always thing that grace and enthusiasm under pressure is the way go get through these things. It’s easy to do the right thing when things are going well, and I fell under the spell of my feelings and let the keyboard gather dust.

    Thanks a lot for the post.

    • Thanks for commenting, Mike! I know what you mean about that “blah” feeling … for me, it’s often a signal to take a step back and see why I’ve lost enthusiasm. (Too busy? Got bored with a project which I used to enjoy? Need to shake things up a bit?)

      Glad you’re back into the writing. :-)

  16. This is a really good piece that I can definitely relate to. I’ve written about similar themes on my blog, including an article called “Writing as Meditation” and “Everyone Needs A Creative Endeavor.” Writing is a great way to organize our thoughts and put things into perspective.

  17. I like the idea of using emotions, the emotions you’re feeling at that exact moment, in your writing. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I did this when I posted a blog post about dealing with blog criticism (I had posted it after receiving a rather harsh comment that didn’t make much sense). Of course, I didn’t share who the author of the comment was or give specifics about the comment (since I was focusing more on dealing with criticism than the criticism I received), but my conflicting emotions showed and my readers could connect with how I was feeling. It really helped to share my thoughts and emotions in writing.

    Not only did people reach out and comfort me during the times I felt let down and upset, it made me feel better in the end. I was also taking a huge risk to just share my conflicting emotions and how I felt at the time. Sharing emotions doesn’t come easy for me, so there was a long hesitation before I hit “publish.” I’m glad I did though. I think it’s important to not only share your successes in your blog, but your failures and mistakes as well. That way, you build trust in your readers and readers can get to know you on a more personal level.

    • Thanks, Christina — glad that sharing that piece went well for you. Dealing with criticism is such a hard thing for so many writers; I’m not surprised the piece struck a strong chord.

      That sense of support and caring in the blogopshere is great, too; it’s a way for readers to connect and a way for writers to get some occasionally much-needed love!

  18. WOW some interesting perspectives and to be honest most are just not ‘me’………I really like to work up a sweat, throw something, hit something, yell at the top of my voice……….get some ME time. I am so glad we are all very different.

    • I don’t only turn to writing when I’m upset… if I’m really in the grip of something dark, exercise gets me out of it, and it sounds like it’s the same for you. But once I’m a bit calmer, writing things through really helps — it helps me cope on a slightly broader level, rather than just in the moment, if that makes sense?

  19. Recently, I had a tough time with work and personally too. I wrote one blog post and mulling if I can post it. This post is so timely. I want to make use of all my difficult things to be productive – by way of writing them and using them to good writing.
    thanks James and Ali … for the wonderful post. It’s so very useful to me… given my turmoil now.

    • Thanks, Solomon; hope you do post that piece. I know how scary it can be to hit “publish” on something like that (and you’ll see from some of the comments above that others feel the same) … but I’m sure you’ll reach readers who really needed to hear what you have to say right now.

  20. When life is wonderful, that is great. But, when life has sucker punched me in the gut, leaving me to wonder if the dark hole of madness can not even be cured by tube socks or my child’s laughter, it is time to write. And always, the more fear I have in trembling to reach that publish button always results in more people reaching out to me, through love, understanding, a story, tears, and instantly, I feel God’s tap on my shoulder.
    It’s not about writing the masterpiece.
    It’s not about writing that sucks.
    It’s not about people loving or hating the words on the page. They are just words.
    It’s about showing up, doing my job, and when something bigger than me decides to join in, magic happens.
    It is the glory of being who we are.
    Thanks for the post. Thanks for showing up.

    • Thanks for a beautiful comment, Katie! And yes, showing up is half the battle won, really. I think that our growth as writers tends to come when we’re scared — when we take a chance with something new or something that really gets under our skin.

  21. Rarely have I read a post that is so true and hits home as much as this one – for me anyways! Writing is my passion and for whatever good or bad reason I have, I write. As a junior high and high school student way back when – life sometimes sucked – and the best way I could express myself was on paper. I started with poetry, then what seemed at the time to be a silly journal and now…I’ve made writing my work and my pleasure.

    I can honestly tell you that for me there is no better release of emotions or escape than by writing.

    I have nothing to add here except for: thank you for writing this. This great piece of advice is one that I would give to anyone having a crappy day, week or year.

    You took the words right out of my mouth. Reading this piece made me feel as if I had written it myself.

    Cheers

    • Thanks, Ingrid! I used to write in school too — when I was 15, I spent pretty much every lunchtime in the library writing, and it was a much-needed escape.

      Great to hear that writing has grown to be both work and fun for you; it’s the same for me, and it’s great. :-D

  22. I just wanted to let you know that everything you wrote about touched me personally. You’re writing is the best argument for what you just wrote about. How cool is that.

  23. Thanks for the great post, Ali. Writing has always been the way I process my life, good and bad. I often marvel at people who don’t write and wonder how they make it through! I’d be lost without access to pen and paper.

  24. In my experience most of my writing comes during my down times. In my yearning to seek for answers I instead write about it. As I write though I’m surprised to find the answer I am looking for. Perhaps my mind is too focused on the things that bugs my mind that I forgot introspection. And such introspection comes to me when I write.

    Such an enlightening piece Ali. :-)

  25. Hi Ali,

    So true, so true, so true. Write with emotion and you have a great article.

    And congrats on your marriage! I’m so happy for you! It’s been too long since we chatted. Hope all is well!

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

  26. Spot on Ali. Writing is a cathartic process so when you’re emotional and full up of things is the best time to release the flow onto the page. It will almost certainly help you connect to your readership as you will be speaking with true empathy and sharing some of yourself with them. So when life sucks there is beauty in the muck.

  27. Absolutely — our writing is often at its strongest when we’re forced to confront the darkest pits of our own emotion. We write well when we have to admit to ourselves the real sources of grief or anger. I wrote a post similar to this one at Writerly Life called “How to Write Under Stressful Conditions”: http://www.writerlylife.com/2010/06/how-to-write-under-stressful-conditions/

  28. I wish I had this post to read months ago when I was struggling with my own life issues. It’s great to see that I’m not the only one that life gets down every now and again.

    Writing to escape can be a breath of fresh air… clears the mind, clears the emotion, helps the healing.

    Thanks again for the encouragement.

    Will

  29. Starting to write was one of this year’s resolutions. If you can call tweeting or 20-30 words blog posting then you could say I did it. Maybe next year.

  30. Great blog post, and I couldn’t agree more. Escapist fiction-writing is one of the reasons I love Nanowrimo every year… It’s a 30 vacation from my troubles. :)

Trackbacks

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    [...] it out on here will help me clear my head a bit. this shift comes directly from an article ( http://menwithpens.ca/writing-when-life-sucks ) i read [...]

  3. [...] third link is an uplifting blog from Men with Pens about why you should write when life sucks. It’s layed on a bit thick but the message is a good one: that writing when the chips are [...]

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