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Write Happy

Anyone who has ever done phone sales can tell you one of the most important rules is also one of the weirdest: smile.

Your voice sounds different on the phone when you’re smiling. It’s true. I don’t know why it’s true. I don’t know how it’s true. I just know that it is true. People can hear when you’re smiling, particularly if you’re genuinely happy.

The same is true for me when I’m writing. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing ad copy or fiction, my words end up sounding different when I’m feeling depressed or pressured.

Back in the mid 2000’s (I think 2006?) a University of New South Wales Psychology Professor named Joe Forgas did a study proving that unhappy writers were more effective. According to his findings, unhappy people are more detail-oriented. I suppose that could be true, but for me, the challenge of paying attention to details is easier to overcome than the far more subtle challenge of tone.

What about the famous unhappy writers, the Dickinsons and Poes of the world? They’re amazing, but I still don’t want to be like them.

Staying happy isn’t just about tone, though, it’s also about sanity. Writing a novel is a marathon that requires sacrifice and focus. To succeed, you have to spend a lot of time alone with a keyboard. Don’t have those long hours also be spent in misery.

That’s why I say “Write Happy!”

Here are some tips that help me:

  • The cookie stack. Stack a pile of your favorite cookies next to your keyboard, and establish milestones that allow you to eat a cookie. Written five good pages? Eat a cookie. Fixed that chapter that has been driving you crazy? Cookie for you!
  • Read out loud. This is a good idea for a lot of other reasons, too. I’m listing it here because there’s nothing like hearing the sound of your own writing when it’s going well. It’s an instant pick-me-up. Also, spending eight hours a day in total silence isn’t healthy. You may be talking to yourself, but at least you’re talking to someone!
  • Get up. Every once in a while, get up and stretch. Do some pushups or jumping jacks or something. The human body wasn’t built to sit on a chair all day. You need to get your blood pumping and activate your physical self.
  • Toys! I remember a member of my critique group saying that she could picture me using toy airplanes to work out the details of one of my dragon fights. She meant it as a joke, but she was absolutely correct. I do use toy airplanes. I also use my old foil from my fencing days, toy dinosaurs, little metal figurines, toy castles, building blocks, and even a  plastic meditating Rafiki. He’s who I turn to when everything seems to be going wrong.
  • Be silly: So what if you’re all alone? That doesn’t mean you have to be boring. Silly hats are a simple non-interrupting way to take away the oppressiveness of a long writing session.
  • Enjoy your writing! Hopefully, I didn’t have to add this one. If you’re not enjoying the actual act of writing, you need to do some serious soul-searching. Yes, there are times when you want to throw your keyboard out the window, but if you’re not having fun writing, you need to find a way to change that.

What do you think? How do you help yourself write happy?

Writing Hat
One of my favorite writing hats!

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Posted July 24, 2015 in Writing