Writing, moods and discipline

You’ve been deeply distressed about a number of things going on in your life lately. At the same time, you’re creating a character who is going through a crisis.

You’re euphoric about a new job, a new partner, a new plan that materialized. At the same time you’re writing a book about how to be happy.


Not necessarily.

When I am extremely happy, I find that I’m fidgety. I can’t sit in one place to type. My mind keeps darting about everywhere. I can’t keep my thoughts on one idea. I don’t create well.

When I’m depressed, my thoughts run on the same tracks over and over again. This may be good for creating one mood, melancholy, but it lacks the shades to add a good texture to my writing. There is no conflict, no objectivity, no nuance. Moreover, I find that the words don’t come although I can feel the mood itself.

Rainbow pencils
We go through too many moods through the day to count! [Rainbow pencils (Photo credit: @Doug88888)]
Feeling a situation intensely is no guarantee that you will be able to write about it. In fact, it interferes with the writing process. Yet, not being a feeling human being at all precludes the possibility of successfully writing about people and creating stories.

But how do you compose under the influence of different moods?

What if you’re too sad today to write? What if you’re too angry tomorrow to have coherent thoughts? What if you’re so happy the next day that it’s a shame to stay locked up in your room?

This is the paradox of being a good writer. You need to be able to feel deeply and yet not be influenced by the feeling as you write. You need to be the one in control. You have to be distanced from your writing, consider it as work like any other work and feel what others would have felt in the same situation, not just you.

The ability to distance is what separates professionals from amateurs I guess and the productive from the unproductive, the disciplined and dependable from the sporadic writer.

It’s a difficult lesson to learn but one that blogging consistently over a period of time is helping me practice. I wonder how long it takes before one masters one’s own moods and achieves discipline without becoming too predictable.

35 thoughts on “Writing, moods and discipline”

  1. The question is…HOW do we distance ourselves? I’d really like to know. I would think I’d have a hard time writing about an emotion or moment if I waited too long or was too distanced. It’d be like I forgot all about it.


  2. I go under the theory that any writing is better than no writing. Doesn’t mean we have to share what was written under intense emotional furies. I think to write under raw passion, be it depressed or elated, it brings a dynamic to the writing that cannot be orchestrated. Once we capture that primal reaction by writing and letting it all out, i think later we can go back and edit and proofread and craft that raw piece into something tangible. Though i admit, i don’t practice what I preach often. I lack initiative to write and it’s something I’m working on( part of my new year’s resolution), to just write daily in a paperback journal.


  3. Really like this post. I agree–distance from the event or feelings of a moment, time-wise and space-wise, is needed to be objective about your character, scene, whathaveyou. It’s also a requisite to see/feel/inhabit the event from different angles, which weirdly enough can feel more authentic than trying to replicate the feeling or event as quickly as it happens. We need to find that Roche limit as writers–orbiting in a perfect field of vision, but cognizant of the forces pulling us closer.


  4. Thanks, bottledworder, for another insightful post; always helpful.
    I think – like slepsnor – that I write well when my head is reasonably clear of life’s emotional clutter; that might be in the wee small hours of the morning, or it might be after going for a walk. I use those times as thinking spaces for pieces that might need to be slept on for a couple more nights. There are many ideas that go on the ‘back burner’ of my mind until they feel ready, and call for attention to reach completion on the page. It might be weeks or months or years before I return to them, and they are usually linked to an image that I can refer to as a memory keeper. But when I am in the zone, I do not want to stop writing; time shifts and changes …


  5. My mood influences the nature of what I write, but not necessarily the volume. I’ve been writing more humor lately. You’ve made me wonder about whether I’m writing humor because I’m in a good mood or I’m in a good mood because I’m writing humor.


  6. Thanks for the post! When I don’t feel like writing, when my moods are getting in the way of the message, I typically write something anyway. My thought at these times is always that I can go back and inject more life, more humor, more color into the piece at a later date or time. Sometimes, just getting the concepts down first, even if it’s in outline form, signals progress. Then, my mind can relax, take a break and come back refreshed to refine or liven up what’s already there.


  7. Thanks for your reflections on this. At the risk of sounding trite, I think it does come down to mind over matter–or mind over moods? We do have to continue to write no matter what, even if the writing comes out badly. Making (and keeping to) a writing schedule has been tremendously helpful for me, and even though some days I wouldn’t want anyone to see what I’ve written, the continuous practice is indeed a true marker between the pros and the amateurs.


  8. This point is so true, but one I had NEVER thought of: “This is the paradox of being a good writer. You need to be able to feel deeply and yet not be influenced by the feeling as you write. You need to be the one in control. You have to be distanced from your writing, consider it as work like any other work and feel what others would have felt in the same situation, not just you.”
    I am going to bring this up to the creative writing teacher in my department – I wonder if she talk about this at all?

    Fantastic post.


  9. Having spent some time in roleplay, I came to realize that writing is akin to acting. When writing for a character, I put myself into that character, adopt his or her personality and go with whatever mood that character should be feeling at any given time. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but separating from myself and entering into my characters works for me.


    1. I totally buy into this. My best writing is a little play inside my head, with me playing both parts.

      When I step out of it, it feels like I was at a movie, or a play. The emotions are clearly distinct from my own in the non-writing mode.


  10. it does take a lot of discipline to run with the highs and lows. i run mostly on emotion, so i find the rational oten eludes me because i too often think i am rational. it’s a fool’s game, often. you have nailed that elusive paradox though.


  11. I saw a lady give a talk today on the value of meditation. Someone asked her about how to handle emotions while meditating. To paraphrase, she suggested you observe the emotion you’re feeling, rather than succumbing to it (something analogous to holding the reins on a horse). I like feeling while I’m writing, it feels more “fresh” to me somehow, more lifelike. Different strokes for different folks. Nice post.


  12. I’ve never considered this before, but I see your point. Knowing what its like to experience the emotion is certainly useful when creating characters who have to feel it, but writing about it WHILE feeling it is not necessarily conductive to being creative.

    I have read something I’ve written when I was in a sour mood, or depressed, or forcing myself to write, etc. And it isn’t anything like my ‘normal’ writing, that’s for sure.


  13. This is something I struggle with often. Separating my feelings from those of my characters is trickier than it seems. You would think that feeling strongly about something would make it easier to write about, but just like most things, being objective is key. Also, I find it difficult sometimes to shake off the cloak of mother, wife, and general solver of daily problems. It’s not as though there’s a switch that you can flip to alternate between your writer self and your practical self. So for me it’s an ongoing struggle to prevent my personal feelings of the day from colouring those of my characters.


  14. I seem to write well when I’m emotional and have never really been able to separate my emotions from my writing. I usually use those emotions to my advantage and can hone them into feelings on the page 😉


  15. Often I am able to shake whatever mood I am in by going into the story and picking up on the emotion of the moment. The only mood I have a hard time transcending is fatigue. If I’m tired then I find my characters want to just go to sleep…. Right now I’m working on a story similar to a life situation I’m going through and it’s been refreshing to leave the uncertainty of the real world for my novel.


  16. I think you’ve identified a key element here: the fact that describing emotions (versus feeling them) are two very different things, and it is the writer’s job to be able to harness the ones germane to what he/she is writing at any given moment, apart from what is really going on in his/her life. I think this is something that is learned, the same way a doctor has to learn to look at someone on an operating table as a “body with a set of organs” rather than a “person,” in order to be able to perform surgery. We are, after all, word-doctors, aren’t we? 😉


  17. I have made a commitment to begin taking my writing seriously as a job this year, and I have found that commitment has changed the way I look at my moods. If I don’t let how I feel stop me from changing a lightbulb or snaking a drain, then I shouldn’t let how I feel stop me from writing.


  18. Haha, composing under the influence. Love it! I know exactly what you mean, I’m finally getting myself back into a normal mood range (for me, anyway), but the stretches of excitement make it almost impossible to sit down and crank anything out.


  19. Yes yes! I have learned that the hard way, by writing before I have resolved a situation in my mind and sorted the uninteresting drama from the stuff that would actually interest others. Then I wonder why it comes out lame? 🙂 As you say, it takes the right balance of feeling deeply and having a bottom line that resonate with an audience. You did it again! Articulated what so many are experiencing. Your blog should be called “normalcyworder” :). You make everything seem so normal :).


  20. I have to admit that I don’t distance myself from my writing. I usually take breaks to clear my head when there are emotional changes, but I don’t feel like I can ever distance myself. If I do then it loses something over the gap. I’m sure it’s different for everyone. Personally, I do my best writing when I start in an emotionally neutral zone that I can swift away from and return to through occasional breaks.


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