How the Ups and Downs of Writing Can Improve Your Craft

How the Ups and Downs of Writing Can Improve Your Craft

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”  

– Ernest Hemingway

As a writer, you know all about the highs and lows.

When the words spill off your fingertips as quickly as you can type them, when you’re full of confidence and certain of impending success – it’s probably safe to say you’re experiencing a high. These highs can last weeks, months or, sadly, minutes.

They’re often followed by days clouded in panic and uncertainty. Suddenly, the challenge is too overwhelming. You doubt the same scenes you wrote so proudly only yesterday. Your word flow slows or dries up altogether, and you begin to question what the point of it all is.

Writers experience both highs and lows

Author Jodi Hedlund describes her descent into a low in a guest post on literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog:

“In a matter of a few seconds, I plummeted off the high peak I’d been standing upon. And I crash-landed into a deep cavern. Darkness swept away the bright joy I’d felt only moments earlier… My experience is fairly typical, isn’t it? We’ve all had those really high moments where we’re feeling on top of the world. Then something happens that topples us into the pit.”

I empathize with Jodi; a positive review or an acceptance letter can catapult me into the euphoric state of a high. The future is positive! My writing makes perfect sense! I believe! Yet a rejection letter can just as quickly strip away that confidence, plunging me into a dark state of doubt and instability.

This is a natural part of any writer’s life… and here’s the secret: The lows are just as important as the highs. The two moods complement one another, and you can exploit each of them to improve your writing and further your career. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)Here’s how.

Your highs are…

  • Productive: they enable you to increase your word count and make progress on your project. This is a time to write freely and without judgment.

  • Social: Use this confident period to make connections. Submit articles for publication or propose a guest post to a well-known blog site. You’ll represent yourself best when you believe in your writing.

  • Fun: Enjoy the process of writing and your positive state of mind. Allow yourself to dream. Dreams encourage ambition.

Your lows…

  • Bring you down to earth: Don’t panic – the lows are your leveler, your dose of reality. Question what you’ve written: how can you improve it? Be your best critic.

  • Enable you to be realistic: Use these periods to identify your challenges. How can you overcome them? Set some goals and make a plan.

  • Make you determined: When you’re at rock bottom, there’s only one direction available to you – upward. Identify what’s making you feel down and do something about it.

Use your highs and lows to your advantage

If you understand the two moods, you have no reason to fear them. Instead, recognize their importance in furthering your career and improving your craft.

If you’re on a constant high, you may have an overinflated opinion of your work. On the other hand, if all you experience are the lows, where’s the pleasure? The secret is to have a healthy mix of both and to adjust your strategy accordingly.

How do you use your highs and lows in your writing?

Filed Under: Craft


  • This is a great, focussed article on how we can best use the highs and lows to help with our writing. I’d already taken on board your thoughts about using the low times to be your best critic and this expands those ideas to help us use those high and low cycles effectively.

  • Your point about being your best critic is a great one, Jodi. So often it’s easy to feel completely dejected by a rejection or criticism. Or even to reject the rejection and think, How dare they? My writing is PERFECT!

    But you’re 100% without rejection and criticism, it’s very hard to improve. Getting a “no” is sometimes the best response, because it forces you to be better.

    (At least, that’s what I always try to remind myself!)

  • Elaine says:

    Nice piece, Gemma! A healthy mix of the highs and lows…this applies to life on the whole. At present, I am under the “fun” heading. I do believe in my writing so maybe one of these days I’ll be under “social” 🙂

  • Jane Tims says:

    Oh, do I know those lows … I’d add avoidance behavior …. Doing anything but writing … Sometimes this is helpful, if it is also a creative activity. Jane

    • Gemma Hawdon says:

      Oh yes Jane – the avoidance trick! In a low, I’ve been known to do anything to avoid writing – even the ironing! But doing something else creative can certainly stimulate our mind into wanting to write again. Thanks for your comment.

  • Sheila says:

    We’re so used to avoiding the lows that we don’t often stop and think they can be used to our advantage. That’s a great way of looking at it.

    Sometimes I’ll use the lows to recharge by reading or walking. Usually, that’ll inspire me enough to feel that love for writing again.

    • I like your idea of using the lows to recharge, Sheila! I often do the same. Getting out for a run or a walk, or even just taking care of some household chores helps me use that time productively, and I feel more energized to write afterwards.

  • Jill says:

    You’ve got to love Jodi, she sure has a way with words, doesn’t she, Gemma?
    Since I write for the love of it and not necessary for publication, my approach is what you described under fun. I enjoy the process of creating stories and just enjoy the ride.

  • Gemma Hawdon says:

    I think that’s a really good point, Katherine. It’s important to celebrate all of our achievements, even the small ones. Enjoy your highs while they last! Thanks for your comment.

  • I read (or heard) somewhere that we, as human beings, tend to feel our lows much stronger – and for far longer – than our highs.

    So I make a point to celebrate when good things happen, make a mini-event of it, by treating myself. Its just a way to help draw out the feeling of positivity for that little bit longer.

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