I mean exactly this.

Writing needs focus, to some extent. Even if you may fall into a state were words flow naturally on the keyboard almost without effort, you still have to reach that condition.

Being a very unstable, stressed out, and prone to anger person, I often find myself too upset, distracted or demotivated to write. I'd like to focus on anger in particular, since the demotivated side has been treated a lot on other questions.

How do you manage (if you do) to write when your mind is fuming about what happened during the day? Or what, maybe, is still happening? How do you manage to detatch from the things unnerving you, to find the necessary "private space" to write?

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    Pour in your emotion into your work, especially if you are writing about something angering. It helps to feel the emotion when writing the emotion. – Sweet_Cherry Oct 19 at 0:09
  • @Sweet_Cherry, I know it does - but in the more general case, I rarely have to write emotional-filled pieces. Sometimes you just have to work on totally unrelated scenes. Thanks for the input though – Liquid Oct 19 at 7:22
  • @AdamLimbert you're welcome. – Liquid Oct 19 at 7:22
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    For me, unfortunately, its often the time that I write with the most clarity. There is no time better for being one with the human condition, and therefore expressing it, like when you're suffering. – 8protons Oct 19 at 16:42
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    @Liquid - "Being a very unstable, stressed out, and prone to anger person..." It may be useful to address that head-on, perhaps with help from friends or a therapist. Being constantly stressed-out (which is likely the underlying cause of being prone to anger) impacts all aspects of one's life, not just one's writing. Dealing with it may help not just your writing, but your health, relationships, ... Best wishes. – T.J. Crowder Oct 21 at 10:56

13 Answers 13

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Speaking as someone who has struggled with the same thing..

*If you are someone who can effectively channel upset feelings into your writing and you have something on the slate that would benefit from the emotion then perhaps shift around your writing schedule to work on that now, it may end up a bit rough around the edges but you can always come back to it and edit when you're feeling calmer.

*If you really need to work on a specific scenes that the upset/anger aren't helpful for then really you need to get that out of your system before you can write. I have a few techniques in my repitoire that I mix and match between depending on what I feel will work best:

  1. Set myself a time limit (usually 15-20mins is all it takes) and write/type out a rant about it, really cut loose, everything you wouldn't say out loud! Then delete/burn/destroy it when you're done. Don't read it, don't dwell on it, just get rid of it.

  2. Exercise (personally I run but whatever works for you) - often stress/tension/anger and similar will have an accompanying tension in your muscles and this can seriously impede your ability to think clearly. Directing this into physical activity can help release this tension.

  3. Councious breathing - this takes a bit of practice first so you can employ the techniques when you need them but if you can find a nice, slow and deep breathing pattern that works for you (the actual pattern is secondary in my experience) the key is to be consciously focused on the act of breathing and to keep it slow and controlled - the most basic being 4 seconds in and 6 seconds out (if you're particularly tall you may need to make those timings longer). Basically this works by convincing your parasympathetic nervous system that you are in a calm situation - essentially reversing the typical cause and effect that causes you to breath shallowly and quickly when stressed out. There's a lot of woo and general rubbish out there on the internet claiming this can cure just about anything but if you ignore all that and stick to the basics the science is sound - this is what they advise for relieving panic attacks and the like and what's a panic attack if not an extreme example of a stress response?

Honestly, if it's outright impossible to write due to overwhelming emotion, don't write. Wait until after the upset has passed. However, if you're upset, but yearning for creative expression, use that misery. I can't remember how many times I've harnessed depression and melancholy to evoke genuine pathos in my writing. Perhaps I'm approaching it from an overly artsy-fartsy perspective, but to me, emotions are the paintbrush of writing.

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    You weren't doing anything artsy-fartsy until you called emotions a paintbrush ;) -- aside from possibly-stretched analogies, though, +1 because this is what I do. Even if you end up throwing away every word you write upset, it's still cathartic as all get-out. You can write a tear-jerking emotional scene, or just beat up the one dick character for a little while. Fun either way. – Nic Hartley Oct 19 at 16:24

I DON'T DO IT MUCH, BUT I HAVE FOUND THAT HAND-WRITING IN ALL CAPS IS AN INEXPLICABLY-GOOD WAY TO LASSO A FROTH OF EMOTION WITH YOUR PEN.

IT MIGHT FEEL STUPID FOR THE FIRST LINE OR SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH OR PAGE. DO NOT LET THIS FEELING STOP YOU UNTIL YOU FEEL LIKE WRITING CALMLY.

IF I AM RIGHT OR YOU ARE LUCKY, THIS WILL ERECT A SHRINE TO THE VALIDITY OF YOUR INTERNAL LIFE. IF I AM RIGHT OR YOU ARE LUCKY, YOU WILL FEEL LIKE A HORSE THAT HAS STOLEN THE REINS.

THIS POWER MAY SURPRISE YOU. IT MAY EXCITE YOU. IT MAY LIBERATE YOU. IT MAY FEEL ELECTRIC.

DO NOT LET THIS LIGHT BURN WHEN YOU DO NOT NEED IT.

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    -1 Just for all-caps, don't know if they were intended ironically or not, either way it's just painful to look at. – motosubatsu Oct 19 at 12:43
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    No, I specifically mean't your post there's just no need to have typed the whole thing in caps. It's really hard to read! – motosubatsu Oct 19 at 13:57
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    If I hadn't written the answer in all caps, it would have been a very different answer. – abathur Oct 19 at 13:59
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    I did upvote. I mean, it's a great answer in its own way – Liquid Oct 21 at 11:19
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    I love this answer! Sorry, I should have said I LOVE THIS ANSWER! – Neil Fein Oct 29 at 13:18

Writing is where I run to, from everything that upsets me. I read the last scene I've been writing, from the beginning, and by the end - I'm in that moment, I've found my focus, I can proceed from there.

Sometimes I channel frustration, anger, pain, disappointment into my writing: the story demands them all. But it is actually easier for me to write those emotions when I'm separated from them - when I can poke them and observe them, not when they threaten to overwhelm me. When they are not mine, even while being mine. I guess, in this way, writing helps me deal with stuff, though that is not a primary goal.

And if all else fails, I go and read a bit of a good book I've already read. Something to help me calm down, something to inspire me, but not something that would hook me. The Master and Margarita is a particularly good choice: it's about a writer, it serves as a great motivator to write.

One possibility is to write about the things that upset you.

My writing career revolved around an interest in Nature, particularly animals. However, when I was an employee of the Seattle School District, I was so stunned by the corruption, bureaucracy and tyranny I saw all around me that it was hard to concentrate on my projects.

Then one day, I opened my eyes to politics. I began investigating and writing about the school district, partly to enhance my understanding of the things that were happening to me (and the children). I also began whistle-blowing as a means of venting my anger and empowering myself.

Of course, my "solution" won't have much value if the things that are upsetting you are varied - from a bad day at work to bad weather to a traffic jam. Then again, you could write an essay on the stresses of modern society.

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    +1. Writing about the event(s) causing the emotion can be cathartic and even allow finding a solution to prevent the event from happening again. It is also possible that the situation and resolution could find itself into a story. – CramerTV Oct 19 at 22:58

There are only a few ways you can approach this.

  1. Just write.

    Commit to writing a small number of words, maybe fifty. Once you get started you may get absorbed in what you're doing and end up writing more than intended. Or, like others were saying, channel your feelings to your writing.

  2. Wait it out.

    Go for a walk. Watch a funny YouTube video. Meditate. Anything that resets your focus. Sometimes just sitting in a different place when you write can help a bit. Go to a cafe maybe.

When it comes down to it, those are really the only two choices. Pick one and see if it works for you. If not, try the other way.

I hope this was helpful :-) Good luck!

  • Along the same lines, breath is very tightly coupled to emotional states. Deep slow breathing is calming and rapid forceful breathing through the nose can be releasing. There's a whole branch of yoga devoted to it - Pranayama. – Joe Oct 24 at 1:39

angrily

Seriously. When you are upset, write like an upset person. If you don't have a story where the piece fits in, shelve it for further use. Emotions are incredibly powerful in writing, and the strongest writing often comes from authentic emotions.

When you are upset, write about something upsetting. When you are angry, write a piece about an angry person- When you are sad, write that sad ending. When you are happy, write that love story.

Emotions are a tool. Like Nietzsche wrote over a century ago: Do not suppress emotions, use them.

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    This is what works for me as well. If I am very upset, I write about what upsets me. Don't expect that it will be good fiction, just write so that you can get it out of your head. If you are angry at a particular person or group, write a letter to them. Scream at them, tell them off. Educate them. Write a story about how they come to a bad end. Whatever satisfies you. You may found that once it is out there on the page, it gives you permission to let it go, and then you can move on to something else. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Oct 23 at 18:11

Depending on the length of the thing you're writing, there are plenty of tasks that are not composing sentences. Perhaps you need to map out exactly how your characters are getting into and out of some critical situation that you have envisioned only at a high level. Perhaps you need to double check how long the train from Rome to Florence takes, or what unexpected weather conditions are likely to be a problem in the area where your story is set. Perhaps it's a good idea to sketch out someone's backstory that you'll be revealing in glimpses over the next few chapters.

If you can do these somewhat mechanical and less creative tasks while you're upset, you will have what you need to hand later, when you're not upset, and are ready to compose sentences. This will make all that go faster.

You may even find that settling in to do the research, the mapping, the listing, the double-checking actually improves your mood so much that you're ready to compose sentences and paragraphs. But even if it doesn't, you're getting work done. Important work.

Whenever I am too upset to write what I want to write, I use music as a distraction. Over the years I learned that sounds can help me get into the right setting to write. There are quite some playlists around the internet which are composed by genres or moods.

For example, upbeat music helps me when I need to write some sort of happier scene. I allow myself to get lost in the music and use that as a guideline for my writing. Whenever I am in need of writing action scenes, I tend to turn to rap.

Like this I am able to put my thoughts aside and focus on what I want to focus regarding my writing.

There are two ways I handle this sort of thing. The first way is writing about what is making me angry. Even if I expect no one to read it, I will write about the thing that is making me too crazy to move on. It can be fiction, non fiction, or whatever as long as you are getting the thing that's bothering off your chest.

The other way I handle it is to focus on writing. I know it doesn't necessarily make sense that if you can't focus then how can you focus on writing, but that's the thing. You need to practice. If anger management and high-tension emotions is an ongoing problem, you will eventually have to learn how to focus while it is bothering you.

Personally, I do not have problems with anger that much, but I do have severe anxiety and panic attacks (Two of the biggest anti-focus afflictions in the world), and learning to write when I'm out of my mind is something I had to train myself to do. In doing so, I learned to control my anxiety and panic attacks through my writing because the focus tends to shift from them to the writing. Similarly, you should learn to focus on writing while you are upset and learn to use writing as a method of calming yourself. That way when you get to the point where you must write when you are angry or you want to write when you are angry, then the writing will have a positive effect on you.

I can't say for sure if this will work, and it does take time, but in the end if it does work, then it's all worth it.

If you really want to write when you are upset, you may need to switch the things you're trying to write. Poetry, letters to the editor, violent fiction --those might be more successful writing projects for you in your angry mood. In addition, they may also help you deal with your anger. (I used to write a lot of poetry when my life was in more turmoil --I don't write any during the good times.) If the angry writing successfully calms you down, you can move on to the writing you really want to do.

If you can't or won't switch the type of writing you're doing, your remaining option is to find a way to calm down before your writing. Vigorous exercise is what most reliably improves my mood --maybe something else will work better for you.

With all that said, the single biggest boost to my writing productivity came when I switched the time of day I write. Maybe trying to write after the stresses of the day is counterproductive for you. Try waking up early, and writing when you're still fresh.

  • I came here to suggest indignant letters to the editor. Vigorous exercise, such as jogging to the newspaper office to deliver it personally, is a good idea too. – Keith McClary Oct 21 at 5:11

I find that if I get myself to a private space and open a document, sometimes (and only sometimes) I can focus enough on the writing to forget to think about what I'm upset about. So it's really (for me) not about writing while I'm upset, but that writing becomes a distraction from being upset.

As a writer, you are aware of the power of words. if a thing is expressed in words it can become much more real, it is set down, immutable.

So perhaps think about how you wrote this question, what you set down:

Being a ... stressed out, and prone to anger person

Expressing this as your reality of what you are, rather than as a temporary emotion you are experiencing might be making it much harder to break out of the anger and upset.

If you always characterise yourself as stressed out and prone to anger, then you limit your own potential to be another way. If stress and anger are metaphorically on your business card and your office door, how you identify yourself to the world then you are more likely to default to those reactions.

So my suggestion is to come at you question from another angle, rather than ask other 'how can I write when I'm angry?', ask yourself 'How can I be less angry so that I can write more?'.

Anger is robbing you of writing time, perhaps remind yourself of that when you find yourself getting angry and stressed. When something triggers those feelings, ask yourself if the later loss of writing time is a price worth paying for that reaction. Use the desire for writing time as a tool to help you control the anger, to interrupt the processed that lead to you being stressed.

Other answers have given tips on relaxation techniques etc which I think are really valuable, but where possible I would suggest you shift the application of technique back to the point when you begin to be stressed and angry, rather than try and tackle things when the anger and stress have built up a good head of steam.

I can't recommend any specific anger management techniques, but if anger and stress are so significant in your life that you feel they define you and they interfere with your ability to engage in other activities, it might be worth looking for external support or counselling, if you have not already taken that route.

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