A Writer’s Mood

by limebirdkate

I had a different post all planned for today, strategically securing this particular date because of a few Life things going on. I’d written the post weeks in advance, and then let it sit while I tended to other writing matters. I returned to it two nights ago to reread it for typos, and the words bit like little fleas, forcing me to scratch one after the other. I paused in mid-editing, telling myself to stop, I’m too rushed and pressured right now. It’ll read better to me later, after the kids are in bed and I’m relaxed with a glass of wine.

Nope. Still no better.

I started to write something else instead, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was feeling upset and almost betrayed by that other post. (Because our writing does like to play head games, hope you all know.) Why didn’t it still read great to me? Why didn’t it hold up to my standards? What happened between the time I wrote it and reread it to make me think I’d written something as provocative as a hairball?

Popular advice to writers is to sit on writing pieces for a while before we start reconstructing. This is to help us see the holes and flaws that we missed the first time around. (Also, to get a tighter rein on the wily parts. See reference to ‘head games’ above.) But what’s to say that initial impulse, that initial rush of creativity isn’t worthy? Just because it doesn’t appeal to us the same way when we reread it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s terrible writing. Does it?

Moods influence our work, but how do we know which mood is the right mood for that piece? The mood we were in when we wrote it? Or the mood we’re in when we go back to re-read it?

Killing our darlings, revising, rewriting – all of that needs to happen carefully, with heart, and with a certain level of writing confidence and objectivity. My mood when I reread that blog post might have been the wrong mood for revising (feeling rushed). But once I felt that wave of doubt, that fear of poor writing, I lost my edge.

Writers are vulnerable creatures to begin with. But, I’m tempted to say that one of our most vulnerable states is when we’re in the act of rewriting and revising. I wasn’t able to sit on that blog post any longer because of a deadline, so who knows how I might have felt about it if I’d had another week. My experience reinforces the notion that revisions shouldn’t be hurried or pushed. If something doesn’t feel right, give it some time and space before making a final decision.

Because words can be moody, too.

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34 Comments to “A Writer’s Mood”

  1. Oh, it is such treacherous work, I’m amazed we all don’t end up as actuaries. I’m feelin’ your pain. Perhaps you should have another glass of wine?

    • Hey Jilanne,

      I know, right? We never have it easy, and yet we keep torturing ourselves. Another glass of wine could help. Or the whole bottle.

  2. I think the initial rush of creativity is always worth it. What we hand in and are satisfied with at the end might look totally different, but that first word sets your blog/poem/story on a journey of infinite ends.

    That is the joy.

    And the frustration!

    Great read,

    Laura

    • Hi Laura,

      I adore the initial rush of creativity (which is the reason I’m a pantser with first drafts). The revision stage has its allure, too, but I definitely feel as though I’m standing on shaky ground when I’m revising. Like a volcano is about to go off any minute. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  3. Many times I have looked back on something I wrote and wondered how I could have thought it was good, and yet it seemed so spot on at the time. And maybe it was. As you point out, “Moods influence our work.” Like you, I agree that we shouldn’t be so hasty to change the words. Giving it a little time can be wise.

    • Hey Carrie,
      I’m generally an impatient person. However, if I know in advance that I have to give something extra time, then I factor that into the overall deadline. I can handle that. But if giving something some time is a last-minute surprise, I don’t do as well. I think to be at our most effective, we need to understand how we operate under all conditions. Discovery is less traumatic that way.

  4. I’ve had the same thoughts Carrie described above. One day I think something I wrote was good. A week later, it sounds lame. I’d bet even long-established writers face this. It makes me wonder how anyone ever finishes any written work. Maybe mood has been affecting my revision work and slowing it down. Maybe another glass of wine wouldn’t hurt….?

    • Hey JM,

      Exactly! There are days when I am facing my WIP, and I simply don’t want to deal. When the feeling is that extreme, then I don’t touch it because I know nothing will sound good to me. I usually visit blogs instead, because then at least I’m fulfilling an aspect to my writing plan but it’s neutral territory for my muse.

      Good question, how does one finish work if we go back and forth so often on how we feel about our writing? I guess we have more ‘on’ days than ‘off’ days?

      Well, mood might be affecting your revision work. I think our moods have been blue due to the long winter anyway, so it makes sense to me. As I said to Jilanne, another glass, the whole bottle, need we keep track??

  5. wonderful post Kate, thanks! I suppose this is why writers are so great: they can allow feelings and moods in their work. Lots of other professions do not. Fancy a doctor curing a patient in one way on a particular day because of his our her mood, and do something else on another day when the mood has changed! Cheers to mood swings in the creative sector!

    • Really good point! Can you imagine all the malpractice cases out there if doctors could treat patients based on their moods? Yes, I feel fortunate that I live and function in a creative world because artists, writers, poets all have that flexibility to play and explore whereas other professions have to follow the rules.

      What a lovely perspective on what could otherwise be a frustrating part of the writing process. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Great post Kate. I definitely think that mood swings can have a big impact on our work. I have the unfortunate one though where I’m like I CAN’T DO THIS, I HATE EVERYTHING, I WON’T WRITE, YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. Like a grumpy child if I don’t get it right away, I get disheartened and grumpy about it.

    I think I’ll join JM and Jilanne with that glass of wine!

    • Hi Beth,

      Ack, that is an unfortunate mood! As I said to JM, when I feel lousy about my WIP and don’t want to deal with it, then I don’t because I know I’m not going to do it any justice. I do something else instead. And you’re right, if a piece doesn’t flow the right way, it’s easy to get frustrated and grumpy about it. I think though with a lot of practice, writers get through that so that they can keep writing. That feeling of impossibility doesn’t last if we keep writing anyway. 🙂

  7. I definitely think you have to be in the right mood to really write or edit well and if it’s not working you should give yourself a break and then go back to it. I don’t like setting myself a word goal everyday because I might not be in the right mood. I guess it’s finding what works well for you!

    • Hi Victoria, you’re right, it is all about finding what works. And I think we have to be prepared to be flexible, to deal with those fluctuating moods. Even though my best writing time is in the morning there are some mornings I simply have no desire to work. It’s best to not push it because the quality will be low.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  8. I wrote a really long and involved response to this…then realized I’d gone off on a wild tangent. That’s my distracted mood playing around. 😉

    You’ve made me curious about that initial post, too, Kate. I wonder if you were being too harsh…or, if you’d written it too far in advance. I know for my own blog, posts need to have some immediacy to them. If I sit on them too long, they feel flat, no matter what the topic.

    Maybe blogs would offer more intelligent discourse as a whole if the individual writers created them as thoughtfully as you do, but the “pantsing” technique seems more popular. I’m guessing it’s for that excitement you mention when you write something freely. More often than not, the blogs I’ve read have posts that start, “I dashed this off this morning,” or, “Today, I did x, y, and z.” Blogs seem to be places where writers can say, “Close enough.” Even professional sites I’ve read have errors in them that likely would have been caught by sitting on the posts for a day.

    So, while I think mood has something to do with it, I personally think immediacy is closer to the root of the issue.

    • Hi Mayumi,

      Hmm, that’s an interesting angle to think about. Perhaps immediacy does have something to do with it. Blog posts are different from fiction in this way, and one of the reasons I feel anxious about blogging. I don’t ever dash anything off and submit it without reading it over a few times, even proofreading up until the last possible moment. This is why blogging takes me so darn long! I put as much effort into my posts as I do my fiction. Perhaps I am taking it a bit too seriously, but then I can’t imagine being half-assed about it either.

      Actually, it would be an interesting experiment to write a post and submit it immediately, no editing, no waiting, no proofreading. I’d be a head case, I’m sure. 🙂

  9. That’s a really interesting question! “How do we know which mood is the right mood for that piece? The mood we were in when we wrote it? Or the mood we’re in when we go back to re-read it?”

    I hadn’t ever thought about this before, but I think you can usually trust your after-writing mood better. You’ll be more like your readers, who won’t automatically have a specific emotion or mood from the start. Your mood when writing the piece was probably valid and helpful for writing, but you can’t expect your readers to be in that mood. If your writing doesn’t get you back into the mood, it definitely won’t get your readers into the mood.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • Hi Nicholeck,

      Excellent point about the readers. They won’t have an expectation of the piece other than to be informed or entertained, either of which can be pretty generic in themselves. When we’re first writing something, we usually feel quite strongly about it, and we can’t expect that our readers will have that same mentality.

      I like your two cents. 😉

  10. So does that mean that the other post has been completely trashed or am I reading this wrongly? Sorry for being a drip.

    • I think so unfortunately! 😦 Maybe we can coax her to dig it out again… B

    • Hey loony,

      No, I didn’t completely trash it. But it’s definitely on the back burner. Maybe I’ll post it sometime as a follow-up to this post, just to see what happens. Of course, in order to feel comfortable enough to post a piece I dislike, I will have to be sedated.

  11. The first draft is (to me) all-important, it does after all start the entire process. As Mayumi brings up, I think if I leave my stories too long it’s really hard to get back into them. Maybe I’m bored with it because I’ve recently “done” that subject, and somewhere my itty bitty brain considers it finished.

    • Hey Neeks,

      I think there is some validity to the idea of immediacy and letting pieces sit too long. We lose the fire for them, or perhaps the subject matter is no longer interesting. Maybe I’ll go back to it and think differently next week. Maybe it’s one of those pieces that has no value to anyone else other than me, for that bit of time when I wrote it, and that’s why it didn’t feel right to post it? Wonder if I’ll ever know.

  12. It’s very true. Thankfully it works the other way too, I’ve sometimes written things, thought they were terrible, but then when I’ve gone back to read them later, I’ve thought “Hmm, actually, that’s not too bad!” I don’t think we should ever trash anything after the first writing, or after the first second reading (the first second reading? Oh, well you know what I mean!). If we don’t like it when we write it, then we don’t like it when we leave a while and re-read it, and then we don’t like it again when we go back to it, THEN maybe it’s time to trash it! I sometimes think that us gals can be affected by hormones here too, there are certain times when we are much harsher judges of ourselves about everything than others times!

    • Hey Vanessa, yes, it does happen the other way, luckily. It takes a lot for me to trash something completely, so even though I really don’t like that post, it’s still in my folder. Maybe a day will come when it does feel right, who knows.

  13. Good point! I agree that time changes the way we feel about our work and it can affect it either way. I’ve left stories for months and read them and thought “not bad, I like it” only to leave it again and read it a few months later and think “O M G how BAD is this?” Mood is certain to affect the readings.

    • Hi Pete,

      We’re pretty hard on ourselves, aren’t we? After a while, we all learn which instincts to trust, or when we write at our best, or when to not even open the Word file. With practice and dedication, we become in tune with ourselves, but it’s those unexpected backlashes that can throw us completely off track. The more I discuss this with everyone, the more I think about looking at that post again in a few weeks, just to see if I change my mind about it. If nothing else, it would be a good experiment.

  14. The story of mine that you have read through I initially wrote in one sitting without a plan in mind and didn’t read it again in over year before my first revision…it was so easy to see many issues that I never thought of when I first put thought into words, it really is amazing how great a friend time can be to a writer!

    • Hey Laura,

      Wow, for a one-sitting piece of writing, that story read really well. I’m glad that time worked well for you on that one, because it can so easily go the other way. How’s the rewrite coming?

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