Social Media has created monsters of us all.
Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration.
But it has changed the way we express ourselves. For the better and for the worse.
When you’re happy, you want to share it with the world. So, you open up Facebook or Twitter, or even your blog, and you write about it. Maybe you post it with a selfie or set your mood to “elated,” and you bask in the support and adoration of your friends and followers.
On the flip side, when you’re upset, it’s so easy to type out all your frustrations and vent to hundreds of people at once with just the click of a button.
From a creative standpoint, our emotions can fuel us. Our anger can provoke a think piece on the woes of modern capitalism or a Modern Love column about how all men are stupid because they never initiate conversations unless they want a nude photo (I’m going through a very specific set of problems at this point in my life).
Our sadness can turn into beautiful poetry. Our happiness? An uplifting book.
There are so many ways to channel emotions into your writing so that it will connect you to your reader on a deeper level.
However, there’s a downside.
When you try to write certain things with the wrong emotion, you may end up saying the wrong thing or creating something you didn’t intend.
Just take the recent Google engineer memo fiasco. This man drafted an entire memo because he was angry at his employer for, I don’t know, being not sexist? And it got him fired. While it wasn’t necessarily the act of writing the memo that got him fired, the product itself reflected poorly on both his character and the company.
Anger isn’t the right emotion for writing a company-wide memo. Sadness isn’t the right emotion for drafting a blog about a wedding. And it would be a little awkward if you were happy while writing an obituary.
Different emotions lend themselves better to different kinds of writing. And luckily, you can evoke a certain emotion in order to write with more clarity. However, before we get to that, let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of writing while happy/sad/mad/etc.
I’m pretty sure it’s everyone’s goal in life to be happy. We choose jobs that will make us happy, partners who will make us happy, even our choice of late-night snack rides on the question, “Will this make me happy?”
For many, happiness is the perfect emotion for writing. You’re not distracted by negativity, and you’re level-headed enough to think through everything you put down on that page. There’s even science that backs up why positive emotions are good for creativity. Happiness leads to a broader perspective and the freedom to consider all options. When you’re open to new ideas, you become more creative. Simple, right?
When you’re in a good mood, you’ll naturally be better at brainstorming, as your broader perspective will make you less dismissive and more accepting of ideas that may seem “out there” at first. A movie franchise about male strippers? The film executive must have been real happy when developing that pitch.
Of course, happiness would be the most conducive emotion for writers who don’t need an emotional edge to their writing. Business writers, social media managers, and bloggers should create the best content when they’re happy and able to represent their brand in a positive light.
If you’re writing a self-help book, it’s probably best that you stay encouraging and optimistic while you work on your manuscript. Having an existential crisis in Chapter 3 is not going to help your readers fix their relationship.
Happiness comes at a price. While positive emotions may be good for overall creativity, they are not so good for acting on that creativity.
You see, there’s this thing called “motivational intensity,” which basically means how motivated you are to get something done. Positive emotions, like happiness or contentment, are less likely to have high levels of motivational intensity. So while you may be feeling creative, you might not actually muster the motivation to sit and write everything down.
Procrastination is often a sign of contentment. The worst part is, contentment is probably the most common emotion. In writing, it comes across as apathy, ambiguity, and a general lack of drive to change what you’re doing.
Think of it this way — if you go to a restaurant and order a plate of spaghetti and you enjoyed it fine, are you more likely to go home and write a Yelp review than if it was amazing? What if you found a cockroach in the meatball?
A lot of people write reviews for products or services when they’ve experienced either something spectacular or something abominable. You don’t see a lot of reviews that say, “The spaghetti was okay.”
If you are simply content, no matter how level-headed your ideas might be, writing something actually interesting might be harder than you think. An article on creating a YouTube channel might take five hours when it should take two, and your romance novel may not have the passionate language needed to stir readers.
Emily Dickinson was a wreck. No offense to her, because she’s a literary genius, but you can tell how sad she was in almost every piece of writing she had published.
Take the first verse of this poem by Dickinson:
I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size
It’s fantastic, beautiful, and so melodramatic.
I’ve found, in the past, that my saddest moments often produce the most beautiful language. Maybe that’s because I’m a drama queen, or maybe it’s because sadness evokes a more complex view of the world. Not everything is sunshine and rainbows.
Pain is universal, and if you can tap into that pain, you can connect to your reader on a fundamental level. Obviously, this sadness should be used to write creative pieces that you have a personal connection with. Writing about a wedding you attended while sad might make your readers think you didn’t have a good time, or that your heart aches for what could have been between you and the groom.
Unless that’s how you feel. Then write away!
So in the section above, I definitely make it sound like sadness is the best emotion for writing. However, there is such a thing as being too sad.
I recently came out of a pretty serious bout of depression, which had a lot to do with rejection. During that time, I didn’t write a single thing. I was useless.
Not everyone is like Hemingway or Plath (nor should they be). Not everyone can harness their depression and turn it into magnificent writing.
The most common symptom of depression is lack of motivation. Sound familiar? Depression, like contentment, has low motivational intensity. You may have poetic things to say like Dickinson, but if you can’t get out of bed to actually write them down, no one will get to hear them.
If you find yourself in a funk like this, don’t pressure yourself to write right away. You need to take time to figure things out and get better before you take on big projects or force yourself to do anything. And if things aren’t improving, seek professional help.
As I mentioned above, anger isn’t the greatest emotion for creating things that have to do with your business or public persona.
Unless you’re Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh, leave the political rants to the professionals… and Breitbart. Don’t put your anger on display for everyone to see, because odds are the anger will pass and the logical side of you will regret what you said.
Writing while angry is usually only well received by equally angry people. If your audience doesn’t feel what you feel, they may perceive you as petty or overdramatic.
I learned this lesson in high school when I posted an angry status about my school messing up my college applications. You’d think in a sea of 2,000 voices my paragraph-long, curse- filled rant would have been lost. But no. The next day I was called into the principal’s office for a talking to.
Imagine if I had done something like that about a company I was working at? I’d be unemployed.
So many celebrities and public figures have made enemies from a simple tweet. The number one way to avoid that happening is to never write while angry (or for some, the advice would be to never write at all… you know who I’m talking about).
As there is a difference between sadness and depression, there is a difference between being angry and being impassioned.
While anger is chaotic and illogical, passion is focused and manageable. You can turn the high motivational intensity into something productive and thoughtful instead of something rash and inappropriate.
Being angry at your partner for leaving the toilet seat up isn’t going to help you write about the feud between writers and editors. But if the writer/editor feud is something that has been bothering you, focus that frustration and write about it.
An impassioned writer can infuse the intensity of their emotions into their writing to create something that’s effective and that represents them in a positive light.
Being impassioned should be motivating, and should help you scratch that creative itch you’ve been feeling. The best writing to do while impassioned is… well… anything that you feel passionate about. If you just had the best smoothie thanks to the power of the NutriBullet, then use that passionate response to write a review. If you experienced a touching moment at a rally, write a short story about it.
Don’t waste your passion. Put it to good use.
If you’re a freelancer like me, you can’t just write when the mood is right. You need to make money, and so you need to write what is expected of you by a certain deadline.
That means you have to learn how to get yourself in the right mindset.
But how do you do that?
Well, it helps that from day to day we never just experience one emotion. Even within one minute we could be feeling multiple things at once. Think about Sunday night. At 9 p.m., you’re sad that the weekend is over, but you’re happy that Game of Thrones is on. You’re also angry because your boss asked if you could come in early on Monday to get a head start on work.
All of those things you could be feeling at once! Honestly, how do humans get any work done?
Oh right, we compartmentalize.
It takes practice, but if you can harness a certain emotion for a short period of time, you can use that to tap into your creativity and writing spirit.
Different techniques work for different people.
Once, in order to write for a wedding blog, I watched an episode of Say Yes to the Dress. After watching women find their dream dresses and marry their dream guys, I knew exactly what to say that would attract brides-to-be to my article.
To get into the zone for business writing, I watch a bunch of Ted Talks that get me fired up about entrepreneurship. If you ever need to be inspired, Ted Talks are the way to go.
Some writers also suggest reading from your favorite author or a writer you wish to emulate.
If I were gearing up to write something sad, I’d put on some sad songs or read the last few chapters of Marley and Me.
Just remember the differences.
If I wanted to write something sad, I wouldn’t go watching Titanic, because that movie turns me into a sobbing wreck for a good 2 hours.
That’s not a productive writing mood.
I write the best when I’m impassioned. My friend writes the best when he’s happy. Different emotions fuel people differently. Also, as I mentioned, there are emotions that go best with different kinds of writing.
If you can pinpoint the emotion that fuels you, either through writing exercises or self-reflection, you can better understand how that emotion can be harnessed into motivation.
Find the happy medium between your emotions and your motivation, and you’ll find your creativity.
And compartmentalize. Definitely compartmentalize.
Just like my last attempted relationship, some things can’t be forced.
If you’re feeling sad, don’t force yourself to be happy just to write some stupid article.
Furthermore, don’t go picking fights with people because you think it will help you write better. It probably won’t.
Scientifically speaking, creativity is always better with positive emotions. And if you need to sound angry or sad, fake it until you make it.
Take care of yourself (and your relationships) first and worry about the writing later. Writing can always be fixed. Your friendships? Not as likely.
Everyone writes for different reasons. Whether it’s cathartic, for a job, or just plain fun, writing feeds off of our emotions and plays into the emotions of the reader.
Once you harness those emotions for good, there’s no stopping the creative genius within.
Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and is currently working on her MFA in Screenwriting at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for a literary journal, and an editor for an academic journal. In her free time, Erika enjoys writing short stories and screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.