Posted by: Casey Lybrand | June 28, 2010

Are you in the mood for writing?

I decided several years ago to become a writer. Not to become a published author (though I have since made that my goal as well), but to become a writer. A writer of fiction. To help me out, I picked up several books about creative writing.

One book I found very useful is Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich. I have worked through a number of the exercises and found them both helpful for developing my craft as well as thought-provoking about my journey as a writer. Today I want to share two of my favorite quotes from the book, both from the introduction.

On being in the mood for writing:

You don’t need to be “in the mood.” I think you will benefit if you don’t worry about moods: One, you will get in the habit of writing under any circumstances; two, since writing reflects your mental state, you will have a diversity of moods in your piece. . . Many pieces suffer from moodlessness; perhaps the writers are willing to work only when they are calm.

This quote is inspirational when I find myself not in the the mood for writing.

Last night, I thought I did not have any more writing in me. I spent all day Sunday in the sun. I came home and wrote 2,000 words. I wanted to keep going, but I did not think I could. The problem was partly physical exhaustion – too much sun and exertion – but part of it was mental exhaustion as well. I was too worn out on Sunday night – in my mind, in my emotional state – from my long day Sunday, and the long night of writing I had put in just the night before. (On Saturday, I wrote 6,000 words, stayed up past 2AM, and got up again at 7AM to go out on Sunday).

On Sunday night, I thought I had to stop at 2,000 words, but I wanted badly to add to my word count, which had lagged a bit last week. [1] I addressed the physical exhaustion by sipping some water and walking around the house to get my blood flowing a bit. I addressed the mental exhaustion by thinking of the quote above. I started writing again.

I chose a scene in which my characters had been pushed past the limits of their endurance. They were on the verge of collapse. I wrote that experience from the point of view of my main character; I found my own mental state lent itself very well to insight into what she was experiencing.




There is a flip side. Of the 6,000 words I wrote on Saturday night, I cut about 1,200 when I reviewed them on Sunday. Normally I am very loose about what goes into and what stays in a first draft, when it is still in the first-draft stage. But these 1,200 words – the end of a scene and the beginning of the next one – were leading me in a direction I did not want to go with my story.

I think my mood was maudlin on Saturday night when I wrote those 1,200 words – the scenes I created certainly were. I did not want a maudlin mood for those scenes, but the real reason I cut them is that I did not want my plot to move in the direction it was going based on the decisions made by my characters in their/my maudlin mood. It needed to change. My mood led me astray in that instance – but I find that is the exception rather than the rule.

When I was exhausted and thought I was past going last night, I rewrote those maudlin scenes. My perspective Sunday night was more compatible with the scenes: I was ready to collapse emotionally, my characters were ready to collapse physically and emotionally. Rereading the scenes, I am pleased with how they play out. [2]

I had already adopted the habit of writing to fit my mood, rather than waiting for my mood to be compatible with writing. My experience this weekend further confirmed the usefulness of this advice.




My other favorite quote from the book, on being a writer in general: [3]

. . . you are a writer as long as you are writing. There’s no such thing as writer as a noun. It’s a verb. I am a writer at the moment since I am writing these sentences. When I get away from the table, I will be a walker.





Footnotes:
1: I fell behind on my word count goal last week, and played catch up this weekend. Daily word count goals are one of my little tricks: I set a daily goal, I review my progress during the week, and I tell myself, “Better catch up!” I find it more meaningful when there are numbers attached.
2: These scenes are still first-draft rough. I am pleased with the tone, the mood, and the narrative structure.
3: Not sure I agree with this one 100%, but I enjoy the sentiment, and it has stuck with me. Most of all it reminds me to keep writing, and to not take myself too seriously. Both are useful things.


Reference:

Novakovich, J. (2008). Fiction Writer’s Workshop: The Key Elements of a Writing Workshop (2nd ed.). Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books.


Responses

  1. I’ve heard more than one writer say that you cannot wait for “inspiration” to strike, you have to just sit in front of your computer and write. It’s what I always try to do. I can relate to writing in a certain mood to convey that same mood onto your novel and I find that always works really well. I studied drama, method acting to be exact and so sometimes, I have purposely put myself in a certain mood in order to write similar emotions onto my novel.

  2. I also read the ‘Fiction Writer’s Workshop’ a few years ago and found it very helpful :)
    And I love that quote about ‘the mood’. I don’t think we have to be in the mood, but we have to make it a habit. And the mood will follow… Persistence and discipline are two very important elements of writing, without them then it’s just a hobby!
    “When I get away from the table, I will be a walker.”
    I will keep this in my mind the next time I feel like walking away ;)

  3. Agatha,

    Method acting! That’s a great idea. I have studied method acting only in theory. (I mean that really: in film studies courses, we studied the significance the development of the method held for modern western cinema. That, plus some other theory, and we watched a bunch of movies!)

    I really respect how, in your writing, you draw so much on your background. What a great tool it must be, to be able to influence your mood to bring the emotions you want into your work.

    Lua,

    “Persistence and discipline are two very important elements of writing, without them then it’s just a hobby!”

    I agree. The approach must be professional, if the results are ever going to be! I’m so glad you like the book as well. I picked it up about a year or so after I started trying to write in a serious fashion, and it really opened my eyes.

    Haha, no walking away! But going out for a stroll can lead to inspiration, or at least a fresh perspective, sometimes! ;)


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