How to Survive Your Worst Writing Day Ever

You wake up. You feel dizzy and discombobulated. Your throat is sore. You’re coughing uncontrollably. When you go to eat breakfast you have no appetite. You realize you must have gotten that bug that’s been going around. You start to freak out because you think it might be that new epidemic of H1N1-Ebola-Bird-Monkey-Butt Virus you heard about on the news the other day.

If that isn’t enough, it is freezing cold outside. Your laptop is on the fritz. Your “significant other” is mad at you, and for good reason this time (you made a huge mistake and you’re too prideful and too stubborn to admit it, so they’ve given you the cold shoulder.)

You got a big dent in your car, but you can’t blame anyone else because no one else hit you (you just backed out of a parking garage the wrong way.)

Someone just updated their Facebook status telling you that another foreign country has just fallen under political unrest and chaos is rampant.

You’re upset that Glee didn’t “bring it” last night for their post-Superbowl special.

Worst of all, you just got an e-mail from you best friend telling you that the DNA results are back: unfortunately, it turns out, you are NOT Oprah’s half-sister.

Then, as soon as you finish reading your best friends’ e-mail, your computer crashes.

It’s official. You are now experiencing YOUR WORST WRITING DAY EVER.

Whatever you do: DON’T. PANIC.

Please, allow the lights to guide you to the exits. Your desk chair pillow acts as a flotation device. Put the oxygen mask over yourself first before you put one on the child sitting next to you.

Okay, now that you’ve calmed down a bit. The first thing you need to know is this: we’ve all had our worst writing day ever.

You are not alone. These types of days can be frustrating, especially when we are trying to keep loyal to our regular writing routine.

But we’re going to get through this. All right? All right.

The first step I want you to take is:

Breathe

I know. Everyone always tells you to breathe, and you’re always like:

“I DO BREATHE! I BREATHE ALL THE TIME! IF I DIDN’T BREATHE, I WOULD DIE! OBVIOUSLY! I’M NOT A TALENTLESS IDIOT WHO’S ONLY FAMOUS BECAUSE HE HAS GREAT ABS! I DON’T LIVE ON THE JERSEY SHORE!”

Yes. You are right. You DO breathe all the time.

But I think what people mean when they ask you to “breathe” is that they want you to PAY ATTENTION to your breath, and, most importantly, they want you to try breathing the “correct” way.

I want you to try something out to see what I mean:

First, I want you to try inhaling using your chest muscles.

Then exhale.

Notice how that feels.

Now I want you to try breathing using your diaphragm muscles (the group of muscles located at the very bottom of your ribcage.) Act as if you are trying to fill up your stomach to the brim with air.

Then exhale and let all that air out.

Which kind of breathing got you the most air?

When you tried breathing using your diaphragm, right?

What you just did is what Dr. Joan Borysenko calls “diaphragm breathing” and it is actually the “CORRECT” way to breathe.

Breathing with your diaphragm muscles, and not with your chest muscles, will help you reduce stress and anxiety, and this will help you face the extreme challenges that often come with your worst writing day ever.

Take In Your Surroundings

After you breathe, I want you to start paying attention to your body and your surroundings.

What you are doing now is a practice called “mindfulness.”

Dr. John Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as a practice in which you go about life NOT resisting what happens to you but, instead, accepting what happens to you—the good AND the bad. Instead of running away from unfavorable or challenging situations, mindfulness asks you to meet these challenges head on, and give them your FULL ATTENTION.

When you are mindful, I have noticed that this does three things for you:

1. It saves your energy. We use up a lot of our energy trying to resist situations that are either unfavorable to us or are out of our control. When we resist a challenging situation, the process often leads us to become MORE tired and MORE stressed then if we just accepted the situation and gave it our full attention.

2. It is healing. Because you are no longer resisting the situation, you are no longer wasting your energy fighting the problem. This allows your mind and body to “rest,” and when your mind and body are at rest I think it is easier for physical or emotional healing to take place.

3. It puts things into perspective. Taking in your surroundings reminds you that the only “reality” that truly exists is the one you are currently experiencing.

The future hasn’t happened yet. The past is already past. The only thing you have to focus on is the present moment. Taking in your surroundings brings you peace and relieves some of the unnecessary stress you will be experiencing throughout your worst writing day ever.

Go With The Flow

After you have anchored yourself in the present, you’re going to have to allow yourself to adapt and flow with whatever situation has been thrown your way.

For example, if you’ve become sick, there’s no choice but to rest and get better. If your computer crashes, there’s no choice but to borrow someone else’s computer, or go to the library, or just wait to get the laptop repaired. If a foreign country is experiencing social unrest, there is no choice but to pray or wish that country the best and then go on with your day.

Don’t Knock Yourself Down. Instead, Lift Yourself Up

The worst thing you can do in this type of situation is to criticize or blame yourself. That will only make things worse. If all of the issues you are facing are either out of your control, or have already happened, then no matter how you look it, YOU CAN’T CHANGE THEM.

So why are you going to blame yourself for something that is either out of your control or can’t be changed? Why are you going to add a sense of worthlessness to your feelings of despair and anxiety?

No, blaming yourself in this type of situation isn’t very productive.

Be gentle with yourself, instead. Be kind. Be compassionate. Be understanding.

Don’t make things worse by hating yourself. Instead, make things better by loving yourself.

Cut Down The Overwhelming Situation Into Bite-Sized Pieces You Can Chew

If you made a mistake, or screwed up, learn from it and make a note to be careful next time. If you are worried about something that is out of your control, focus instead on what you can control: what you think, what you do, and what you say.

Choose to think positively, then. Choose to take a small, doable action today that will make you feel better or improve the situation. Choose to say that although today is challenging, you are trying your best and that everything will be much better tomorrow.

If, however, the situation you are facing is within your control, but you realize that it will take A LONG time before the situation can be adequately resolved or improved, then you need to do yourself a favor by dealing with the situation ONE DAY AT A TIME.

Try not to take the long view on an issue that is so overwhelming that it might cause you to panic. Because if you do that you won’t be able to take the small step today that will eventually lead you to solve that overwhelming problem tomorrow.

Remember: This Too Shall Pass

Finally, if everything on this list should fail, remember that your worst writing day ever is just one day.

It will pass and eventually things will get back to normal. You’ll be healthy again. You’ll make up with your boyfriend. Your laptop will be fixed. Your friend will tweet that Ellen DeGeneres’s mother just revealed that she gave up a child for adoption in 1963 and you’ll realize that you have one more shot at discovering that you might be a part of a celebrity dynasty.

Everyone will be happy.

much love,

Ollin

Have you ever experienced your “Worst Writing Day Ever”? What did you do to survive it?

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34 comments on “How to Survive Your Worst Writing Day Ever

  1. I really love how you approach issues in that humorous, but really not-so-funny-because-it’s-totally-true kind of way.❤

    My worst writing day ever, with all of my family drama, unemployment, disorganization, and rapid string of viruses of every shape and color since November…. has come around about once a week since April. =]

    I don't cope. I take a nap, drink more coffee, and play World of Warcraft until I forget that I had any intention to write that day at all.

    Not the best way to handle things, huh? Time to revamp my coping habits. =P

  2. Ollin,

    Your posts are like a long, relaxing, deep breath (done correctly, of course). I always feel so much better and zenlike after reading them. This one is wonderful!

    Worst writing day–okay, so this is kind of like worst and best in one. A long time ago I was convinced I was really fooling myself if I thought I could actually write. I tried to get over it, but everything I wrote was really, really bad. I started crying and just thought I sucked and this dream was futile because I had SERIOUS writer’s block.

    Finally, I thought, oh heck no! I’m not going out like this! And picked up a dictionary determined to write about whatever word my eyes fell on first. Would you believe I opened up to the I’s and the first word I saw was inspiration? NOT KIDDING. So, I took it as a sign and have been writing ever since.

    • Ollin says:

      Aww, thank you Jenny. I’m flattered you should think so.

      Great story! Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you kept writing and haven’t stopped!

  3. illoura says:

    I too can appreciate your humor (your style is not so over the top that I want to gag myself with a spoon feeling)- but mostly I appreciate how you use it to wrap up universal truths. It really brings a sense of communal suffering – which, like a spoonful of sugar (vs the empty gagging spoon) helps it all go down better.
    As lonely as the writing experience is, well, the moments of enlightenment you share are valuable in a cohesive way that I wish I could explain better- but am currently suffering with that virus that feels like ebola in my head… you know, kinda like mush in there. (I’m pretty sure I’ll slap myself for sounding silly in this comment tomorrow, when it clears up).
    Worst writing day ever… well they come and go. Like you said, having the ability to realize “this too shall pass” is one of the best ways to approach anything that feels like a curse. Sometimes the mind just needs to replenish, or rest.
    But also, I’ve found that focusing on something outside yourself for a while can help reinstate a proper perspective. For me, it’s simply looking out the window with ‘mindfulness’ you speak of. I will see clouds moving over the far mountain, the pine tree waving it’s feathery boughs in the wind, the eagle preening on it’s branches, or sunlight changing the color of the sky… these things are healing in that they remind me how small I am in a big world – that whatever problem, issue, obstacle, is small in comparison. Then I remember there’s a ‘grand scheme’ to things- a tapestry woven of our lives, and that I’m an essential part of all that – of the grand scheme!
    That’s gaining back my perspective, that gets lost when things all become ‘about me’… which I have to say is an easy thing to lose when we blog/chat/tweet/etc. about ourselves and our lives and experiences all the time. I think it’s possible lose ourselves in a skewed perspective when it’s all about us.
    I’m not sure this is relevant, but to me it is– a website devoted to letting everyone share the view from their window! It’s kind of inspiring, to see what kind of views OTHERS take for granted, or think is special, but if you don’t have a view like mine to turn to – this “window on the world” can take you out of your tiny little writing room!! (AND as an added bonus, possibly get you revved up with some creative flow)!
    To check it out: http://www.outsidemywindow.org

    Thanks Ollin!

    • Ollin says:

      Very beautiful comment. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts and your perspective. I agree with you. I totally agree with you. I’m reminded of when I went to visit an observatory close by a couple of months ago. I looked through a telescope and saw the moon. It made me feel so small and insignificant, and that was a wonderful feeling. It freed me of the weight and pressure we all carry sometimes. We really are not a big deal, so we should just relax. Cool it. Right?

  4. jesswords10 says:

    What do you mean I’m not Oprah’s half sister???!!!! I’m breathing, I’m looking around me, aw hell, I need a bag of chips!

    I kid. Great post. And actually I may use your mantras here to focus when I get my next day to really drive my writing and make it feel manageable. I am totally the person that looks forward to it all week and then when the time comes I panic, “it’s not good enough” “this is stupid” “I can’t show this to anyone.” Your rules make it much simpler. Thank you.

    • Ollin says:

      You’re welcome Jess. I know what you mean. It’s best to focus on what you can do today. Otherwise novel writing can be a bit overwhelming.

  5. Romina says:

    Hi there all of us probably have experienced not-so-good mood sometimes and I agree with what you wrote that instead of fretting and complaining about it , we just have to allow the bad experience to happen…until such time that we are able to release it…It feels so good to know that situations and feeling cannot control us, else we would not be able to accomplish our tasks for the day…although this has been said over and over, I guess we just have to really take heed of what you said…meditation takes away negative feelings…releasing the feeling comes next..I love your post so much…Good day to and have a blessed day. Love and Light…

  6. You’re so right, Ollin. Glee DIDN’T bring it.😉

    Great post!

    • Ollin says:

      I know right? I was so disappointed. I was sitting with a bunch of football fans who have never seen it before and each minute they were cringing and snickering and I was like: “No, it’s a really great show. I promise! I don’t know what’s happening!”

  7. T.S. Bazelli says:

    “This too shall pass” Yes! It always does. Life gets in the way, sometimes the writing goes nowhere. It’s never smooth sailing, but the low points are always temporary🙂

  8. souldipper says:

    *Oh oh, did Ollin just Google Map my house?* Had two phone situations – one after the other.

    Breathe.

    Thanks for reminding me that I am frustratingly human and only have control over me.

  9. jannatwrites says:

    Good advice for beating the bad writing day blahs! Yep, just like any type of bad days, bad writing days are the perfect opportunity to make things better. I might be strange…okay, take that back – I know I’m strange…but I actually feel more motivated after a bad writing day because it’s easy to do better than the day before. Low expecatations lead to high success, I suppose.

    • Ollin says:

      Good point. Yes, it’s amazing how grateful you can be when you compare a bad day to an okay day. An okay day ends up being a good day after all!

  10. And, I might add, grab your journal–not to write on your novel or memoir, but just to write and get rid of all the dreck floating around in your head. I find it incredibly satisfying to vent on paper. I always feel better afterwards. Thanks for a great post.

  11. Larry says:

    I am SO glad I’ve discovered you and your website. Your writing is stellar, your passion obvious and infectious, your message sincere and powerfully delivered. And you are consistent in delivering these over every post you write, here and elsewhere. Well done.

  12. Thank you for this lovely, warm, and highly practical post. Your advice can be applied to worst days in general too. Writing and life truly are one.

  13. unabridgedgirl says:

    Oprah’s half-sister? What? LoL

    Some great advice here, Ollin. I especially like the “bite sized pieces you can chew” bit. Another wonderful post!

  14. Karen says:

    I thought I was having the worst writing day ever just because i’m a bit sick and not feeling too productive and my laptop is misbehaving – but having read your discription of the worst writing day ever, I realize I’m just having a bit of an off0day. That alone is comforting, and so is your advice – thanks.

  15. Karen says:

    Off0day? What’s an off0day? I guess I meant off-day. Can’t even write an error free comment! Definitely not a good writing day.

  16. Andrea Lewis says:

    Ollin, this post could not come at a better time for me. I’m experiencing writer’s block. The breathing helps most of the time. But sometimes I need to journal it out or like today I went outdoor skating.

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