Dealing With Your Emotions As You Write

“I thought that keeping who I am to myself was the same thing as being myself quietly. I discovered it is not.”

-Mark Nepo

It’s evening, about six months ago.

As I write, I feel a burning in my heart. I try to ignore it at first. I have to finish this chapter, anyway, and I fear that expressing this burning would only get in the way of my work.

But as I write, the burning increases and increases. My muscles start to fill up with an excited static, and I can’t sit still.

Something pissed me off earlier in the day and now my response to it is slowly rising from the pit of my stomach. I fear that I will look crazy if I start to express my anger. I fear it will make me look like a bad person, or a person who is not in control of himself.

But then I remember: anger is a perfectly natural emotion.

Recalling this truth, I quickly jump away from my laptop, grab a pillow nearby, and start hammering away at the surface. The energy pushes through me, and the force of my anger hits the pillow.

All the excited static starts to dissipate. The burning in my heart decreases, and decreases, until it is extinguished. I relax.

There is a knock at the door. I open it. A loved one at the other side looks at me with concern and asks:

“Are you okay? I heard someone punching something.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m fine. I’m just getting out all my anger by punching this pillow.”

The loved one looks at me strangely, nods, then walks away.

“She probably thinks I am crazy,” I think.

There are times when your emotions are perfect for that scene or chapter in your book, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes we just have to learn how to deal with our emotions in a healthy manner, so that they don’t build up and get in the way of our writing.

Now, I haven’t always known that expressing my emotions was okay.

For instance, for the longest time I believed that expressing my anger was a bad thing. A lot of us are taught to believe this. I think the reason we think anger is bad is because many of us only witness anger when it is expressed in an unhealthy manner, like in the form of physical or emotional abuse. We encounter anger in this way so much of the time that even when we encounter anger being expressed in a healthy manner it still frightens us.

It’s because of this fear of anger that people are often told that they should repress their anger.

I did this for a long time.

Bullies in middle school were fiery balls of anger and when they would push me, I wouldn’t push them back for fear I would become one of them.

I thought that by letting them push me I was being like Gandhi or like Martin Luther King, Jr.: I was being a loving, non-violent soul who would one day be admired for his virtuous approach to life.

But I was wrong. First of all, Gandhi and MLK were not passive leaders. They were assertive leaders. It’s true that they were not violent against their bullies, but even so, they still asserted themselves. Even though Gandhi and MLK allowed themselves to be pushed back, they did not back down. These great leaders were still willing to express their anger, just not in an unhealthy manner.

But I didn’t understand this as a child and so, my anger, having no way to escape, began to pack itself in my heart.

Fortunately, through counseling and after reading a ton of books on the subject, I have been able to embrace my anger as a dear old friend. Nowadays, whenever I feel angry, I will try to release this anger in some healthy way, so that it doesn’t get bottled up inside of me and later become a block to my creativity.

What I learned about anger is the same thing I am learning about sadness, worry, fear, and all the other so-called “negative” emotions.

Most importantly, I am learning that feelings need to be felt and that all of us, including me, have trouble dealing with this very simple, obvious truth.

EXERCISES TO HELP YOU WORK THROUGH YOUR EMOTIONS

MEDITATE

Thich Nhat Hanh recommends sitting in a quiet place and beginning this mediation:

As you sit, he says, pay attention to all the emotions you are currently feeling. See each emotion as a single leaf floating down a river, each one passing by in front of you. Label each “leaf” as it passes by. Say: “I see anger, I see fear, I see love, etc.”

Notice how you are always a carrier of so many different emotions, positive as well as negative. But notice how each of them floats away, and doesn’t stick to you.

Realize you are a vessel for your emotions, and not a storage tank.

EXPRESS

Punching a pillow, running, hiking and any kind of physical activity always helps me deal with feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety.

Whatever emotion it is, you should find an outlet for it and then set it free.

CONNECT

Sometimes our emotions are telling us that all we want is for someone to hold us and to listen to our story.

SEEK COUNSEL

If you struggle with your emotions on a daily basis, seek a professional or read books by experts on the subject of emotions and psychology. If money is a problem, search your community for free counseling centers or centers that work on a sliding scale according to your income.

DRAW

If nothing else works, try drawing your emotion.

After you are finished, look at the image you drew with you heart and not your mind. (Your heart will tell you what the picture means. Your mind, however, will only start to criticize what it sees.)

Once you have taken a look at the image with your heart, you are now going to look at a way to change this image: allow your heart to come up with a solution that will turn this negative image into a positive one. Then take a similar action in your life to help you deal with your emotion.

Here’s what I discovered when I tried this technique:

I was feeling anxious one day, so I drew an image of a man hanging off a cliff, holding on to a string. The string was the only thing holding the poor man up and away from his demise. The man’s eyes were tightly closed. He was terrified.

But then I looked at the image more closely. To my surprise, I found that I had also drawn wings on the man.

You see, the man was holding onto a string he thought was saving him, but in reality, the string was holding him back from discovering that he had wings. The man’s clinging hid the truth from him: he was not in great peril, in fact, he was at the cusp of flight.

When I looked around, I immediately found evidence that I WAS holding on to this “string” from my past.

So, I closed my sketchbook and took action.

I let go of “the string.”

After I did, a weight of great emotion came over me, and then it was released.

I looked up (I was outside at the moment) and saw the night sky filled with stars.

It was then that I noticed that Orion’s belt twinkled. I mean I always KNEW that stars twinkled, but this was the first time that I had actually FELT it.

It was breathtaking.

much love,

Ollin

Has there been a time when your emotions got in the way of your writing? What did you do to help you work through those emotions?

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48 comments on “Dealing With Your Emotions As You Write

  1. T.S. Bazelli says:

    For me, writing is the best way to get those other emotions out. If I’m angry, typing up what I’m feeling is the best thing I can do. By the time I’m done, it’s usually gone.

    • Ollin says:

      Yup, sometimes those emotions really go with what we are writing.

      But sometimes, I have found, they just get IN THE WAY of our writing. Unless of course we stop the work we are on at the moment and write a poem exclusively to get out our anger or something like that. I talked about that in my post titled “Motivation!” {it’s on the sidebar under “reader’s favorites”} I guess I just didn’t want to repeat myself.

      But thanks for the reminder T.S.!

  2. Whenever I feel a strong emotion I try and write down a few words in my journal to use later when I am writing about a character who may be feeling something similar.
    Great post!
    -Emily

  3. unabridgedgirl says:

    Drawing helps me, that’s for sure. Even if I never show my doodles to anyone. Or exercise. Man, I can exercise my anger out. Or clean it out. I’ve never tired the punching the pillow thing, though.

    And you’re right about anger. I mean, I think people connect anger with unhealth emotion, like you said. I know when I hear the word, I think about certain people and events in my life that I’d never like to repeat. But it’s interesting to think about “righteous anger”, too.

    Nice post, Mr. Writer.

  4. akarmin says:

    Researchers conducted a journaling experiment with two groups. One group kept a journal of their daily hassles for a period of time while another recorded the times they were grateful. The outcome may be obvious, but is still insightful. People who concentrated on their daily hassles were generally more miserable and those who focused on sources of gratitude were more pleased and satisfied.

    It comes down to wanting to get your way and making life easy. This would mean you want empty highways, no lines, a promotion and a national holiday on your birthday party? Fine. But don’t just don’t self destruct when this doesn’t happen. Rather, you can choose to feel grateful for your reliable car, your good health, your job stability or the fact that you’re in a position to celebrate a birthday at all. On the drive home from work, it’s a matter of turning the radio off and thinking about how wonderful your job is or, if your job sucks, how wonderful your family is or, if your family’s in shambles, how good your health is.

    By journaling on your sources of gratitude you will increase your awareness of what is wonderful in your life. This will allow you to be more appreciative and thankful for what you got, rather then what you missed out on.

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you for the very informative comment akarmin, I didn’t know about that study. I have tried to keep up a gratitude journal and update it every now and then. But now you’ve made me think that maybe I should write what I am grateful for every day.

      Thanks!

    • Wow. I loved the way you have put it all, akarmin. And thanks for informing us about the research.

      -BrownEyed

  5. I have certainly allowed my characters to be the mouthpiece of my anger or sadness, though I’ve since become aware through the art of revision that those characters don’t necessarily need to feel those things because I did—in which case, if it’s inappropriate to the story, I’ll edit it out, but the writing of it at the time is certainly therapeutic. I find just free-writing outside of a more formal piece is helpful, too—this is when I’ll usually turn to my writing prompts versus working on my manuscript.

    I love the idea you give of drawing the emotion, and that was such an insightful example you shared. I’ll try bringing my emotions into that visual realm some time.

    • Ollin says:

      I know exactly what you mean monkey. Sometimes I give my characters emotions that they probably don’t have to feel, but that I felt, and yes it’s therapeutic in the moment, but I’ll just edit it out later.

      Great thoughts, thanks for sharing!

  6. plumcandid1 says:

    I appreciate this post. I’m pretty new at blogging still and have had so much emotion bottled up inside that I have found it difficult to find the words to express what it is that I am going through and feeling. I am certainly going to try some of the things you suggested to help me get on my way. Thank you Ollin. -Amy

    • Ollin says:

      Remember Amy: your mind CAN’T solve all your problems.

      Sometimes you just have to let yourself feel your emotions, and it’s just that simple.

      I edited it out, but in a draft of this post I talked about sadness too, and how we need to allow the tears to flow, that is how our body deals with the sadness. Our crying is not the sadness, our crying is the way we deal with the sadness.

      Find an outlet, let it all out. It isn’t easy, and it will hurt for sure, but it will hurt more if you repress it.

      Good luck to you.

  7. Nikole Hahn says:

    First, I sulk. I don’t mean a short sulk or a cheap sulk; no, I really, really sulk, slamming dish towels on the counter, putting dishes away noisily, all the while those angry thoughts are speeding through my mind in clear and concise thoughts.

    Then, I apologise to God for my ingratitude. Though, I know He doesn’t mind and knows anger is healthy, He also knows we can’t let it live in us. I begin to pick up the pieces of my day and my husband begins to try to tease a smile from me.

    Lastly, I bear through it until it trickles like a faucet being slowed turned off until no more anger drips from it and I fall back onto my favorite chair with a cup of orange black tea and honey thankful the tirade is over.

  8. 83October says:

    I love the idea of drawing your feelings. I’m learning how powerful that is as I’m currently taking a class in art therapy. In the process of drawing that feeling its not so much the end product that’s important, but how you felt during the process and what it means to you.
    My poetry is rarely fueled by being emotional. I find that when i’m too caught up in a emotion i get all blocked. So, rather than writing the poem or even an essay i try to journal non-stop. Sometimes i take long walks and just breathe. Other times I jump, run, and scream.
    Great post, as always, Ollin.

    • Ollin says:

      You know in an earlier draft of this post I talked about screaming {it was already too long so I had to edit it down}. But screaming is such a natural thing that we humans do.

      I used to think screaming was a bad thing and was afraid if I screamed people would think I was bad, or the anger would take over me or I’d go out of control. But this was just fear. Truth is we all feel like screaming sometimes, and if done in a healthy way it’s a good thing.

      I recommend screaming in a pillow or screaming on the freeway with the windows all up–nobody hears you. Some suggest going in a place in the middle of nowhere and scream there, or scream into the shoulder of a loved one.

      How do you scream?🙂

      • 83October says:

        I scream in my room. I lock the door and scream. Ideally i like going in the middle of nowhere to scream. Its better than ending up in a screaming argument with other people which doesn’t lead to anything but more miscommunication.

      • Thank you for this revealing post, Ollin. As usual you have successfully opened up a sensitive topic. I wish I could have read your edited posts on sadness and screaming. They are just human emotions as well. Thank you, all you readers, for your comments and addressing this topic. We are at our best when we show our vulnerabilities. I also keep a journal of my emotions, but there are times when I loose my temper, especially when I feel attacked and I scream at my loved ones. It is one of my faults that I am working on. I try to take a break at those times and leave the room and go for a walk to calm down. Then, later, I can calmly talk about what was upsetting me.

        • Ollin says:

          Yeah, I really when into screaming and sadness, but as a writer you have to know when to edit things down, even if it means cutting out some important bits. But that’s what comments are for! I get to expand on the issue in the discussion.

          As far as sometimes losing our temper, that’s natural. I’m actually working on a post about mistakes and how we need to accept that we are imperfect and move on.

          Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  9. What can I say? Brilliant post. And many, many of us are just in the need of exactly this. I thank you on behalf of every such being.

    It’s funny but I haven’t really felt anger in days now. Is that bad? No. Is that good? No. It is only what I make out of it to be. Just as your stringed man made it our to be a perilous situation, so too each one of us can make it out to be a perilous or a happy one. I trust the Universe and I experience what I feel like experiencing. This is not to say my ego self is dead. It’s still there, somewhere, and comes out every once in a while. But I feel better, as if I am approaching a quest and merging with something unimaginable.

    -BrownEyed

    • Ollin says:

      Sounds awesome BrownEyed. I’m happy for you.

      You know, it’s always an ebb and flow. I feel great and then I feel crumby. You just have to be okay with feeling crumby sometimes, you will never each a point of consistent never ending happiness. Hehe.

  10. The man hanging from the cliff story was extraordinary!

    Sometimes I bike onto a lonely highway and just scream!!!!! Nobody hears and your anger loses steam🙂

    Once, I was so angry. I just got on my bike and traveled 500kms non-stop (I was thinking for 15 hours). That became one of my best adventures. Another time, I just ran to my computer and wrote a poem, it came out very well . http://keshavnarla.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/control-it-or-be-controlled/

    Anger releases a lot of energy and if we can channel that, good things can happen.

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks for sharing Keshav. I’ll check out that poem, and your write, a release of our emotions does create a positive result afterwards.

  11. M. Howalt says:

    Great post, Ollin!🙂

    Funnily, I just had a discussion with a fellow writer about what we write when we are upset or sad, and it seems to me that there are two ways to go: Writing something that reflects it, something in the same mood, or writing something that is the exact opposite. I actually like to write comedy stuff if I’m a little down and just need cheering up or to get my mind off things.

    That said, yes emotions have gotten in the way of my writing, too. If the sadness/anger/fear/etc. is strong enough I can’t just focus on writing something happy instead. And I don’t think I should, because those feelings need to be dealt with. So I’ve had to sort them out or deal with them before writing anything. On other occasions, I’ve started out writing something that helped sorting them out before writing what I actually meant to write.

    Most writers, I think, are emotional people in some sense. It can seem a weakness, but I really do believe it is a strength. – Wouldn’t it be hard to write about strong emotions if we didn’t know them?

    • Ollin says:

      I’ve heard this before, that artists or writers are just “more emotional.” I tend to disagree with this. Here’s my “controversial” stance: I think we are ALL emotional. I actually think that writers are just more courageous and feel more comfortable “going there” than most people.

      I’m not just making this up. Art has shown that it can be very healing emotionally. Which means what we do is a sort of healing for us. This is far better than not addressing our emotions which others tend to do.

      I think the reason we think most writers are “emotional” is that many famous writers have had emotional issues. But the truth is, we only know that because they are famous. Their celebrity puts more focus on that, but the truth is if we were to focus on any ordinary person, you would find that this is challenging for them, too.

      What we are looking at is not “writer condition” but a human condition that writer’s have to deal with.

      • M. Howalt says:

        Well, you know what? I agree with your disagreement.
        Or rather, I think I partly misphrased what I meant. So let me try again.

        I do mean that writers are often by nature emotional – but not necessarily more than other people. More like “really unemotional people with no empathy rarely turn out to be writers”. And that, if we sometimes use writing for an emotional outlet we would have to have the emotions in the first place (otherwise there would be no need for an outlet).
        But I think I should have used others words too. “Sensitive” is not the right one. “In touch with emotions” is better, but it’s not quite it. Perhaps we are more likely to “go there”, as you put it, perhaps we are more comfortable with it, or perhaps we don’t feel we have a choice but to do it.
        A proof of your theory: If it were just writers who were emotional, who would bother to read what they write? Certainly great writers often provoke reflections or emotions in their readers, sometimes offer advice, and there is some kind of resonance between the writer, the work and the reader.

        I think that covered it better or cleared it up a little (I hope it did). Thanks for disagreeing with me because I can see how you would get that impression from the short paragraph I typed up,🙂

  12. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Angela L Grandstaff, Ollin Morales. Ollin Morales said: Today's post {for real this time}: "Dealing With Emotions As You Write": http://tinyurl.com/49mnjg3 […]

  13. Cities of the Mind says:

    This is great advice, Ollin. It’s always a war to feel without being controlled by feeling, to let our emotions move us without controlling us.

  14. valbrussell says:

    This was wonderful to read Ollin, especially now as I’m dealing with some feelings of anger and as always, your upbeat attitude has made me feel less crappy about things. Thank you good friend! 🙂

  15. souldipper says:

    Experiencing a strong emotion certainly interferes with my writing. I have to name the emotion, pull it out, work out what the fear is that is behind that negative emotion. When I look at the fear, it diminishes the whole effect of the event. The fear, when exposed, tells me so much about myself and that I don’t have to let it have power over me. I can then decide what action I will take – when the timing is appropriate – and I’m able to write

    Any negative emotion is fear based so it’s up to me to embrace the fear and let it dissipate. I had to learn that it was me giving the fear the power!

    Great post. Many thanks.

    • Ollin says:

      Great point about fear!

      I never thought too much about embracing fear, but now I’m going to try your technique and see if it works for me. Thanks for sharing!

  16. jannatwrites says:

    My emotions do get in the way of my writing sometimes (it’s hard to write and eat ice cream at the same time.) When I get angry, I usually cry first; write second. Unfortunately crying is my first response to just about every emotion, which can be embarrassing at times.

    P.S. Like Keshav, I think the drawing technique and your description of what you drew is intriguing (I could say that I was hanging on every word…but I won’t🙂 )

    • Ollin says:

      Haha. Thanks!

      You know Mark Nepo would say that all emotions have one root, in a sense they are all the same, laughter is crying is fear is love is hate, etc. He says that they all come from the same root and so if you don’t feel fear you can’t feel love, etc. An interesting take, but made me think it was natural for you to react to everything with tears. Good luck to you!

  17. Stuart says:

    Hi Ollin, hope you’re good? Followed you over here from Write2Done, as I liked what you wrote.

    Great read here, I liked the point about Gandhi and MLK being ‘assertive’ rather than ‘passive’. It was very easy for the media to label them as passive, just because they weren’t ‘aggressive’.

    BTW, is that you in the background image walking across the rocks? If so, you’re a lucky guy😉

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks for following me Stuart!

      Yes that is me in the background. Fun image, huh? I hope it serves as a metaphor for me walking through the “rocks” of life and the writing process lol.

      It’s me in Hawaii, I visited last year in the spring. It was amazing and I do feel lucky to have gone there, thanks!

  18. My biggest way of not only getting my inspiration but also clearing those emotions is driving. Not many people understand it but I truly love driving and it’s my biggest source of zen, inspiration, relaxation, and helps me to utilise those emotions. Great work Ollin

    • Ollin says:

      Interesting. Oh, I can’t do peaceful driving. That causes me a lot of stress. You must not live in LA, lol.🙂

      Thank you Amit!

  19. Devon Begg says:

    Great story about the man with wings. I can’t help imagining a stick person since that’s what most of my drawings look like. haha.

    I deal with my emotions by writing morning pages. It helps to get the petty stuff off my chest. I figure if I’m still upset about something after writing my pages, it’s for a good reason. Sometimes if someone pisses me off I will write demented stories about horrible things happening to them. It makes me laugh and I figure it can count as a warm-up exercise.

    • Ollin says:

      Yes I do morning pages too, totally shifted the way I see things now. I can see how easily my emotions ebb and flow, and I try not to get attached to any one of them. For those reading, keeping a daily journal certainly helps to sort through all those heavy emotions.

  20. Marci Payne says:

    I like the idea that we are a “vessel not a storage tank” for emotions. They come and go. It’s best when we let them pass instead of storing them away for further use.

    My emotions help me writing when they are inspiring or motivating. Otherwise, I need to be on my game and at my peak, fully focused to write. Worry is a distraction.

    • Ollin says:

      I have learned not to hold on to emotions, or to bury them. That seems to only make things worst. Best to acknowledge that they just flow threw me, and that I am more than my emotions.

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