This blog post originally appeared in 2012. New posts on The C2C return on September 11th, 2017.
Most people don’t recognize how debilitating emotions can be to the writing process.
But, whether we’d like to admit it or not, writers are human beings. Emotions are just part of our biological makeup and they do, on occasion, get us seriously stuck.
We ALL get sad, frustrated, angry, or depressed sometimes. It’s perfectly natural.
But having feelings doesn’t make us weak or incapable writers—it just makes us human writers.
6 Ways to Hack Into Your Emotions and Become Infinitely More Creative
If strong emotions are getting in the way of your writing, then I recommend the following seven methods for hacking into those emotions in order to become infinitely more creative:
1. Write Out The Emotion
Open a new document on your computer and write out what you’re feeling in this new document. Please, let it all out: the anger, the frustration, the worry—all of it. The more detailed and “melodramatic” the better.
Once you’ve had your rant, toss this document into the digital trashcan. (If you want even more of a catharsis, print this document out and then tear it up, crumble it up, throw it across the room, or even burn it if you want.)
For brief emotional “hiccups” this easy exercise should get you back to writing right away.
2. Use The Emotion
Sometimes the strong emotions you’re feeling aren’t getting in the way of your writing—they’re just what the doctor ordered.
For example: if you’re feeling particularly angry at the moment, search for a scene in your novel in which one of your characters gets angry. Then use YOUR anger to help arrive at the “truth” of your character’s anger.
Now, even if your character never gets angry in your book, you can still write a scene in which he does get angry. You may never end up using this scene, but it will help you get to know your character more intimately, helping you create a more 3-dimensional portrayal of a human being.
3. Draw Out The Emotion
If #1 or #2 doesn’t do the trick, then I recommend that you sketch out the emotion.
Once you’ve drawn out your emotion (as specifically as possible), try changing the sketch to reflect the ideal situation in which your emotion would be resolved.
What would have to happen to make you feel better right now?
For example: if the emotion that is holding you back is the feeling of being trapped, and you drew yourself in a prison, you might draw yourself finding the key to that prison—and then setting yourself free.
When you’ve redrawn your sketch to represent the ideal situation, I want you to label the symbols in your drawing.
For instance: in the example I’ve already given you, you would ask yourself: “What is my prison?” “What my key?” Then, you might label the prison as “loneliness.” Finally, you might label your key as “a new group of friends.”
I love this method because it takes your negative emotion and turns it into something positive: a compass that points you toward a clear solution and resolution for your emotion.
4. Dance Out The Emotion
“Is he serious? An impromptu interpretative dance to help me get my writing done? COME ON! That’s so silly and stupid!”
Honestly, I can’t think of anything more releasing and freeing than dancing out your emotion.
I’m serious. I’ve done it myself, and it works wonders.
Just lock yourself in your room, put on your favorite upbeat music, and then dance out all those nasty emotions. Really, no one has to know.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go rent yourself a copy of Billy Elliot.
There’s a great scene in that move where the main character dances out his anger towards his father. It’s one of the most moving scenes in movie history, but it’s also a great tutorial in how to deal with your emotions in a healthy manner.
(Note: If dancing is just not your thing, then try other types of physical activity: sports, exercise—anything that’s both fun and physically demanding can work just as well as dancing.)
5. Deal With The Emotion
If the emotion is just too overwhelming to attempt #1-4, then you may need to stop what you’re doing—because the writing will not get done no matter how hard you try.
What you may need to do is finally deal with your strong emotion.
How do you do that?
(You can do the following alone, but it’s helpful to have a supportive friend, family member, or counselor next to you to give you support—especially if the emotions are particularly intense.)
Place yourself in a safe and supportive environment.
Once you’re in this safe place, sit down, relax and watch your emotions. Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist monk, recommends that you watch your emotions as if they are leaves floating down a river. As each “leaf” passes by you, label each one: this is sadness, this is anger, this is frustration. Then watch and feel as each “leaf” (each emotion) floats right through you.
Try not to cling to the emotions during this process. Just let the emotions go right through you. Also, realize that the emotion is not you. You are just a vessel for the emotion and not a “storage tank” for the emotion.
You will feel uncomfortable, and the process may be painful and scary. You may have even have to scream into your pillow, cry in someone’s shoulder, or writhe in emotional pain. This is all natural.
But, as you go through this, remember that all of this will pass. Keep reminding yourself of this.
Being in emotional pain is not a permanent state. It is a temporary one.
Remember: the more you resist the emotion, the longer this process will last. The less you resist the emotion, the shorter this process will last, and the faster you can get back to writing.
6. Confront The Emotion
If you’ve tried everything on this list but your emotions are still getting in the way of your writing, you may need to seriously confront your emotions. The best way to do this is by seeking professional help.
Try looking for therapists or community counseling centers in your area. Or ask friends or family whom they recommend. Many therapists work on a sliding scale and can offer you a cost that you can manage depending on your income. (Counseling interns can offer you an even lower price, but the downside is that they are less experienced.)
Make sure to find a therapist who you’re comfortable with, and don’t feel bad for leaving a therapist who doesn’t feel “right” for you.
The ability for a great therapist to seriously unlock your creative potential is a very underrated tool for writers.
If your emotions are really getting in the way of your career, you owe it to yourself to seriously confront them as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.
Good Luck, Emotion Hackers!
It doesn’t serve us well if we dismiss the topic of emotions as silly, cheesy, or cliché—or criticize people who address this topic as “overly sentimental.”
No, I think it’s much better that we address our emotions so that we can finally get on with our writing, and get on with our lives, as soon as possible.