Author’s Note: Writing and Mood

My editor Trisha Lynn asked me not too long ago about how mood affects my writing. It was an interesting question, because it’s not really something I think about—and yet I still hold the idea that society has smooshed into my head, which is that “real” writers don’t let mood affect their writing. I’m not yet at the point where I consider myself a “real” writer, despite having five books and several short stories published. (I suspect that someday I’ll be ninety, a millionaire, and I still won’t consider myself a “real” writer. That sounds like me!)

It occurred to me that I could tell everyone how mood affects my writing—and I will—but that won’t tell anyone about how mood affects how other writers work. In fact, it’s one area that I haven’t really spoken to people about. So, naturally, I decided now was the time.

Let’s talk about my favorite topic, first: me!

Writing and Mood
The myth is that mood shouldn’t affect an author’s writing, but I think that’s a load of crap. I do think that as we practice, we’re able to write better and better no matter our mood, but sometimes mood does have a say in your writing. There are two ways this can happen: mood can affect your writing tone and/or your writing quantity.

In writing quantity, sometimes how you’re feeling on a particular day at a particular time dictates that you just can’t write. This happens to me about once a month, and usually when I’m completely stressed and overwhelmed with everything. I work six days a week, and it’s really too much for me; once a month, my brain says, “That’s it! You’re taking today off!” and so it happens. But for the most part, I can write no matter what my mood. I might dilly-dally and whine and stomp around the house if I’m in a bad mood, or skip a sex scene if I’m not in a particularly lustful mood, but I can still get it done. (Or, like today, when I just don’t feel like doing any writing, I might paint my toenails and check my email and blog a whole ton before I sit down and write… but I still get it done!)

How mood affects my tone is a little different. Short-term mood swings don’t particularly change anything for me. If I’m writing a romance scene and I’m not in a romantic mood, or if I’m writing an action scene and I’m feeling sleepy and lazy, I can still re-read what I’ve written and it puts me close to the correct mood for the book. Occasionally, I still won’t be in quite the right mood—the tone of the book might change, or I might decide that it’s going to veer off in a new direction—but to be honest those times are pretty rare. If it’s a tone change I can usually fix it in the edits. It used to be that I could only write if what I was working on matched my mood, but years and years (and years) of practice have changed that. There were a lot of deleted, poorly written paragraphs in between, let me tell you.

Long-term mood swings are something else. If I have a rough couple of months (and I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so even in California winters can be long for me), I’ll notice that my writing changes. Everything gets darker in tone and concept. In fact, you can even track this in my fanfic; the older I get and the more issues I work through, the happier and more optimistic my characters and my plots get.

But for short-term mood swings, even when I don’t want to write and my mood is in the pits, there are ways to shake myself out of it. Going for a walk outside, getting myself a special treat (mmmm, fancy coffee!), taking the computer to a cafe, even just re-reading what I’ve written will usually shake me out of all but the worst moods. Oh, yeah, and turning off my Internet access. It’s amazing how much more I get done when the temptation to check my email or blog has been removed!

After I’d figured out how my moods affected my writing, my next step was to talk to some other published authors and see what they thought. Last week on October 8, I was the guest moderator of the Torquere Pressblog, where both readers and authors of their works can post and share their thoughts. Now, Torquere is a small publisher, and their authors may not be as ubiquitous as your average New York Times Bestselling Author, but they were kind enough to give me an an insight into their work process.

What I found was that many people said the same thing that I did, above: mood can abolish writing all together, and a long depressed mood can bring about emotionally-charged stories, but overall mood doesn’t affect how much is written.

What was surprising to me was that when I asked what people did to get themselves writing or to change their mood when they weren’t able to write, the responses I got were—nothing. Most of the Torquere authors who responded seemed to feel that if they weren’t in the mood to write, they’d never be in the mood.

Something else I heard from other writers, is that when they’re in a writing mood it can be amplified by music. I find this fascinating; music will influence my writing so much that I have to have it off to write effectively and follow the emotional tone of my work, not that of the music I’m listening. However, I seem to be in the minority.

If you’re one of those people who can write regardless of your mood, I’d love to hear from you! Let me know what your secret is. I promise I won’t tell…

Posted on October 18, 2010 at 14:45 by JB McDonald · Permalink
In: Columns · Tagged with: , ,