Use Your Anger

black and white illustration of a furry dog baring its teeth with side open eyes and a high-alert stance, facing to viewer's left, on a white backgorund

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Note what irritates, angers, and enrages you concerning your creative work.

This can be useful intel for several reasons. Ask yourself what you’re angry about, and why you’re angry. Then ask yourself, what would need to change for you not to be angry? Your anger is probably sending you a message.

You and Other Writers

For instance, is it about other writers who work in or near your topic or subgenre? What is happening for you? Can you dig up some details?

  • Is this about envy?
  • Is your response normal, just part of your ultracompetitive nature?
  • Is this about some kid in third grade who looked a little bit like this other writer?
  • Is this writer’s success unfair because you’re certain your work is better than theirs?

Your own thoughtful responses can become a treasure map, guiding you toward your own destination, your own story, told in your own voice, with your own experience and research supporting the work.

Consider, for example, your gut response when you learn of other writers’ good fortune. Part of you may be happy for them, while another part may wish that their good fortune only be moderate – no more than you can handle comfortably. (Who says feelings are rational?)

  • If you find yourself struggling with envy as to other writers in your community, or in the world at large, you may benefit from some focused attention on these feelings.
  • If you have been competing with others in your field for as long as you can remember, you may benefit from a sober examination of your reasons for writing.
  • If you can spot an unconscious link between this situation and something from the wayback machine – totally unrelated to what’s happening now – it may be simpler to de-fuse the anger. An author’s superficial resemblance to that annoying child in primary school doesn’t justify your present-day animosity.
  • If your anger relies on the belief that publishing is a meritocracy, you have some hard truths to accept. None of us can expect to be plucked from obscurity based on how good our writing is. It doesn’t work like that. Persistence, confidence (or an ability to fake it when necessary), strategy, meaning, community, research, and commitment are more likely to lead to success.

None of us can expect to achieve perfection in our writing or in our efforts toward publication. We can keep at it, however. Being angry at someone else’s success serves no useful purpose. I say this knowing that some people use their rage as fuel for the creative fire. I still don’t recommend it as a long-term strategy, as I believe its side effects are cumulative and toxic.

Where Is the Anger?

Next time you notice you’re angry, pause to notice how your body feels. Is there burning at your solar plexus? Tension between your eyes? Where do you feel it?

While you’re pausing, experiment with not acting on the first angry impulse that ran through your awareness. Instead of lashing out on social media at a perceived slight or trolling provocateur, for instance, get some distance on the source of your anger. This may take some time, or it may happen right away.

Experiment, too, with actually feeling your feelings. Many of us habitually brush them away, or forcefully ignore them, to our eventual detriment. If it is safe to do, being with what’s happening, emotionally and somatically, is a powerful vote of confidence in yourself and your capacity to regulate your nervous system.


photo of a match that has just been lit, with smoke swirling to the side, and a small flame starting to burn at the tip of the match, all against a black background

That first flare
Image by Herbert from Pixabay

How Much Is Enough?

Not all anger is the same.

Harnessing that first flare of anger can be an energizing spur to creative thinking. “This kind of global processing tends to be associated with literally seeing the ‘bigger picture’.” Accordingly, another way to use your anger might be to apply this research finding to a project that’s been stuck in one place for too long. By zooming your awareness out to see a bigger picture, your anger may help your imagination open up to an idea that can clear the way forward.

To do this, you can try free writing, going for a run or a walk, chopping a pound of carrots, or other activity that de-escalates your emotions while opening your imagination.


More Isn’t Usually Better

photo of an explosive forest fire at night with bare branches in the foreground and a fireball in the distance

Too hot to handle
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A real conflagration, as opposed to the first flare, can be disastrous – to health and relationships as well as to creative pursuits. This is why, to keep writing, to keep forging ahead with your own work, it will help to come to terms with your anger.

Remember that full-on rage must be processed – physically and biochemically, in our bodies – to be discharged. As the brilliant Nagoski sisters explain in their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, “sadness, rage, and the feeling you are not ‘enough’ are forms of loneliness. When you experience these emotions, connect.” Finding, and nurturing, forms of community that feel positive and safe will enhance your entire creative life, and give you the outlets we all need for connection, empathy, and understanding when our emotions leave us feeling vulnerable and unsupported.

Why not flip the dynamic and decide to learn from it? Notice the next time you clench your jaw or mutter a swear word in response to another writer. What is it that got to you? Find out its meaning to you.

What is your anger telling you? Follow where it leads.

How have you made anger work for you in your creative endeavors? Let me know.

Thanks for reading!

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Note: Portions of this piece are adapted from the tool “Anger Map” from my book, FLOAT • Becoming Unstuck for Writers.