What Writers Can Learn From the Grinch

Jen Adams here. Yesterday, I shared how deadlines can be wonderful gifts for writers … and today, I’d like to show you how a bad attitude can be a good thing – even in the happiest season of all.

After all, some mornings when you look in the mirror, what you see is a big grump. And that’s doubly true if you’re feeling a bit of holiday stress.

But as writers, everything can be inspiration for our next story. Even a really, really bad mood.

Theodor Geisel … better known as Dr. Seuss … was certainly in a sour mood over the holidays in 1956.

His wife was very sick. He wasn’t pleased to be turning 53. He was feeling “stuck” with his creative work, too.

At this point in his life, you see, he wasn’t famous …

The many children’s books he would become known for hadn’t been written yet. He only had a pre-publication draft of The Cat in the Hat under his belt. And, crazy as it seems to us now, he was having a hard time finding a publisher who was interested in his strange, rhyming tale about a mischievous talking cat.

So, instead of a happy new year on the way, he imagined he was facing many more months of frustration trying to prove that his story deserved attention. It was far from an ideal situation.

And, looking in the mirror on the morning of December 26th, what he saw was none other than the big, grumpy, Grinch staring back at him.

Quite the recipe for a day of pouting, moping, and wallowing in self-pity!

But, as writers, we have the potential to make something out of even our most personally pathetic moments.

Geisel was definitely an inventive writer. His taglines and illustrations for Standard Oil (one of his biggest copywriting clients) were industry leaders. And, throughout WWII, the U.S. government had reached out to him repeatedly for help with their wartime messaging.

So, he decided to embrace his Grinchy countenance as inspiration. Picking up his pen, he poured his frustrations into a new book featuring this unhappy and unsatisfied side of himself.

It turned into quite a project. While the first part was easy to write, the ending proved tricky. He worked on it for more than three months to get it right.

By the time he finished, he was in a much better mood. And his personal transformation was mirrored in the pages – giving his soon-to-be famous Grinch a happy ending after all.

The year he thought would be so awful? Both The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas hit the presses … and both turned into major hits. None of which would have happened if Geisel had used his bad mood for anything other than inspiration.

What about you? Where in your life have you been able to take a less-than-perfect mood or personal situation and turn it around? Share your story in the comments so we can all be inspired to rise above life’s curveballs.

And tomorrow, I’ll share how having faith in your most unusual and “out there” ideas can lead to success …

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Published: December 23, 2014

10 Responses to “What Writers Can Learn From the Grinch”

  1. GOSH - I am enjoying this series, Jen! Your simple - yet superbly expressive - style of telling stories is an inspiration!

    I cannot believe that Dr. Seuss would have ever been grumpy ;) ehhe

    Thank youu Kitto

    Guest (Kitto)

  2. I was once a very productive businessman who did physical outdoor work. I might add that was a very active athlete who loved being young and physical. It all came crashing down on me when at the age of 46 I developed osteoarthritis. After much frustration trying to heal my body and soul. I have found methods which have improved my life greatly. I wrote the book Arthritis and Marijuana to share my methods with others so that they can find relief of their own.

    Guest (Edward R Cook)

  3. Hi Jen,

    As a fellow copywriter, you know I'v had my share of less than perfect moods and disappointments. Too many to share here. But that's not why I signed in. I wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying TWT and most particularly this issue. Great work!

    Will Newman

    Will Newman

  4. Hi Jen,

    First post I've read since having spinal surgery last Thursday. Discharged from the hospital last night angry because I thought it was too early. Now grateful I've been able to beef up my USP as a direct response copywriter for the alternative health industry. And thankful I can walk again. Just in time for Christmas!

    David Tomen

    David Tomen

  5. Jen, How do you use the grumpy days to your advantage as a writer...I was a passenger in an accident suffering major head injuries and losing my fiancé...My husband and father of my children passed away at 42 yo...I was run over by a car leaving me in a wheelchair for a year and on crutches for another year...10 surgeries later...I still work and go on with life and have two great kids...I am a survivor...So how do I use that in the copywriting world...I have definitely had my grumpy days...

    Sue Morin

  6. Thank you for the story behind the Grinch. As I read about Geisel’s emotion-driven writing, I thought about the times I have turned (and rushed) to writing in response to strong emotions – from feeling “black cloud” low to bursting with elation. My writing is probably most “forced” when I feel even-keeled. Thank goodness that life is the way it is; it keeps me writing! Thank you for your thought-provoking article.

    Guest (Sharyn Inzunza)

  7. great!Jen,this should be so typical,a form of motivation for writers,to draw inspiration from diverse experience,good days and grumpy ones...
    Its quite natural to loose interest and motivation in times when you are going through harsh experience in life,but to me i also feel those are the moments you feel genuine about what you are experiencing,and the right motivations to write about it,just like Dr.Seuss,i wrote two screenplays this year out of the most harsh and ugly experience i had this year,having a first hand experience of my situations,i hope my screenplay will serve as a guide some day for some one who find himself wearing my shoes...


  8. I had a car wreck and was forced to give up my career as a chef. I decided to go back to school for nursing but there was a two year wait for classes. I took classes that would help my degree with biology and business. Once I started the business classes I was hooked. Four and a half years later I had a Master's in Executive Management. Even though I was very GRUMPY about my life and path there was a better ending than I had planned.

    Guest (Sue)

  9. Jen- A new acquaintance and emerging friend was murdered not long ago. Talk about the Gringe slapping me @ the blind spot. Trying to find the reason I took it so badly has been an issue. Between the body aches, sleepless nights, hard -ness,& unreasonable tremors, there's a strange hold on me, especially in the anger area. As uncomfortable in my own skin as you can get, I got a phone call on Thanksgiving congratulating me as a new Great Grandmother. This unexpected gift gave me a genuine smile to be great-full for many years to come. God is so good.

    Guest (Julie D)

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