Monday, December 06, 2010

IN THE MOOD

Before I became a writer, I thought writers sat down at their desks, took out their pens or booted up their laptops, cracked their knuckles and began to write. Just like that, the words flowing in a never ending stream from the writer’s brain onto the paper or screen, novels springing forth fully formed like Athena from Zeus’s head. Effortless. Seamless. Easy.

As if.

Writing is hard work, as I have since learned. It is also deeply rewarding at a visceral level to create something, to pull it kicking and screaming out of your creative self like a newborn child.

One reason, perhaps, that we writers continue to put ourselves through this torture.

I try to write every day. I don’t always achieve this goal, especially during the holiday season, but if I’m not writing everyday I’m thinking about it. At work, at home, in the car. Mulling characters and scenes over in my head, worrying about NOT writing as I bake and clean and do sundry other tasks that don’t—gasp! heresy!—involve writing.

Most days, it’s like pulling teeth. Some days—and they are few and far between—the words come easily. I don’t have rituals like some writers I know. I don’t listen to music or light a scented candle. I don’t brew myself a cup of tea before I sit down to write, or don a particular hat or sit in a particular spot. I work full time and I have a brilliant, talented, demanding fourteen-year-old daughter who requires my attention and a husband who is stretched to the max, too. I lead a very busy life. I have to write when and where I can.

Or . . . er . . . TRY to write.

I guess the closest thing I have to a ritual is that I always go back and reread the previous chapter to put me in the mood. This also allows me to take a fresh look at what I’ve written, to see the words with new eyes and to tweak them. I am an inveterate tweaker.

I write at home propped up on my bed with my miniature Dachshund warming my feet. Or I write at work on my lunch hour or after hours at Books-A-Million or in the car while I wait for my DD, or late at night after everyone else in the house is asleep. I write at my church on the weekends to escape the telephone, and the sound of the television in the living room, and the hubby playing war games on the computer. If our little town had a Starbucks, I’d live there. But, alas, we do not. Too podunk.

So I sit and I write wherever, whenever, with a glass of iced tea or diet coke (or a glass of red wine and a bowl of ice cream if it’s a love scene!) at my side.

What about you? What rituals or triggers do you employ to rouse your recalcitrant and uncooperative muse from slumber and put her to work? How do you make the words flow or, if you’re anything like me, trickle onto the page?

What gets you in the mood?

Oh, and in the spirit of Christmas and our December give-aways, one lucky person who comments on this post will win a Starbuck's gift card. Drawing and winner announced tomorrow!

28 comments:

Christine said...

Sometimes I just have to tell myself that I only have to write for half an hour -- then I can stop if I can't move forward. It's tough on days like these when I'd much rather get ready for the holidays like Christmas. But I tell myself half an hour. That way I at least look at the goop.

Great post!

JoAnn said...

I know some people have success by considering their writing a second job. Hasn't worked for me, though!

Jeanie said...

Christine, you are wise! Some days I don't get a thing done. That's just the way it is. Makes me nervous, especially with a deadline looming before me, but that's life.

Jeanie said...

JoAnn, writing IS a second job for me now that I have a contract. I have been given a tremendous opportunity and don't want to blow it! No pressure there, huh?

Heather said...

I am a lot like you, Jeanie. I normally re-read the last few scenes I wrote to get back into the flow of the story. I listen to music (I normally make a play list to match the mood of the book) to help block out the rest of the world. I also turn the internet off. I try to keep my internet research to set times b/c once I get on the world wide web, I can't stop myself from checking email, then going to Facebook, then a quick drive-by on Amazon, then wait - I may have received an email during this time, so I might as well check again (I think you see the time-suck cycles to which I am prone).

Gwen Hernandez said...

Ha, Heather. I have to go offline for the same reasons or I'll end up in an endless loop of email, Twitter, Facebook checking.

Jeanie: I don't have a particular ritual either, but lately when I'm stuck, I've found that making lists of what *could* come next helps. Also, just writing without worrying about whether it's any good, knowing that I can come back to it later helps. Those, plus my rough outline were the only strategies that got me through NaNo.

Good luck!
(And don't enter me in the Starbucks giveaway. I just won last week.)

Callie James said...

Like you, I re-read prior scenes to get back into it. I tend to associate certain songs with certain characters in a book, and if needed, I'll play one or two of those to get back into a character's head. But that's about it.

Writing for me is still enjoyable, but I admit I view it now more as a second job than a good time.

Jeanie said...

Heather and Gwen, I have the same problem with getting sucked into the internet. I have several blog sites I prowl every day, this one included, and if I'm not careful, I can burn up a lot of time on them. Facebook, too. I try and limit my web time to 30 minutes in the morning and the same at night before bed, or I'll never get anything done!

Jeanie said...

Callie, Laura made me a believer out of me at Silk and Sands with her workshop on connecting with the muse through music. Unfortunately, I've never had the time to compile a play list, so I haven't utilized her helpful hints. I can't listen to music with words without being distracted. I know I need a CD of movie music (without words!) to fit the mood, but haven't taken the time to do so. Maybe that will be my New Year's resolution to compile a writing CD.

Lisa D. said...

I wish I could use music. It's great for inspiration, but I've never been able to listen to anything while I write-- too distracting. I mostly have to just force myself to sit down and do it. Although, that tactic hasn't been all that successful lately. So much for NANOWRMO

Jeanie said...

I feel your pain, Lisa. I have the concentration span of a gnat. It amazes me that my children both like the tv going or music blaring from their ipods while they study. It would drive me crazy! That's why I treasure those rare days when I have the house to myself to write. No television, no radio, no ipod. Just silence, sweet silence.

M.V.Freeman said...

I think I tried just about everything: I've meditated, prayed, re-read a chapter, made tea, lit candles, and even attempted a feng-shui thing by puttingup a red scarf over the window (Ok, this is not all at one time).

What works? It varies. Fear mostly fuels my writing now. I have to get this done. I have to get the full out. Its amazing how fear and adrenaline can motivate (But it doesn't necessarily get the words to flow).

Then I get tea or put on music, or wine....(I'll do anything just to start)bottom line you have to just do it.

And Yes, I obviously have issues...
But this is a thought provoking post! :-)

Lisa Moore Gee said...

having a coffee in hand helps my creative juices flow! thanks lilcherrygirl at hotmail dot com

Louisa Cornell said...

I can attest to the fact that Jeanie is one very busy woman. I am amazed at all she does and STILL manages to get words on the pages almost every day!

Music works for me, especially when I am writing a love scene or a very emotional scene. Music without words, that is. I take that back. The "soundtrack" for The Raven's Heart was Mozart's Requiem - but that fluid sort of Latin doesn't disturb my thought processes that much.

Funny scenes usually require silence so that I can see and hear them.

I do have to have Milo's Iced tea in warm weather and Earl Gray tea in cold weather. Don't know why, but it helps me to concentrate.

I do go back over the previous scene, but one thing I do (not my tip, got it another writer) I try not to stop writing at the end of a scene. If I can write maybe a paragraph or so of the next scene then I have an easier time getting into what I am writing the next time I sit down.

Jeanie said...

Yep, Mary, you are so right. You just have to do it. And it's hard. Maybe the hardest thing you'll ever do. So keep that red scarf handy. If it works, what the hay. I may even try it myself. Got to get a red scarf first though. Do you think my husband's underwear that I accidentally dyed pink would count? Don't ask. It involved an evil beach towel from Walgreens and several items of laundry were injured in the incident.

Jeanie said...

Lisa, coffee smells so good, but I have never acquired the taste. Like Louisa, I am an inveterate tea drinker, iced and hot. Yes, I think it really is good advice to write a few sentences in the next scene/chapter when you finish a day's writing. Unfortunately, I am usually too wiped out to manage it!

M.V.Freeman said...

My feeling any thing close to resembling red, be it boxer shorts dyed red/pink by accident count.

Jeanie said...

Hee hee, Mary. I will remember that.

Louisa Cornell said...

I suddenly had a vision of David's pink underwear draped over a lamp.

Cari Hislop said...

One of the two stories I've not finished yet has been causing brain-ache. I think I'm missing something, but I think you're right. Sometimes the only thing we can do to get the right thing on the page is to write rubbish until we get it right. I'd prefer to know how the story actually ends, but perhaps I need to just let the characters get on with it and stop being a bully.

As for getting in the mood, I do like listening to music (it has to be smooth and preferably on a loop so it becomes mental wall paper. For the last book I finished (two years ago) near the end I listened to Richard Marx's Falling over 600 times. Liquid mind (new age music) works well as there's no words and it's all fluid like a mental swimming pool. I tend to first read a chapter or two to hear the character's voices first before turning on the music (which drowns out the road noise).

May your work load be light leaving lots of energy to write!

Chris Bailey said...

Besides the words on screen, I keep a notebook. And scraps of paper. On a good day, I have a snippet of dialog that appeared sometime during the bustle of the previous day--something that I need to fit in somewhere. If I have nothing, like today :(, I have to check the previous scene and say, how can I amp up this middle now? What can the antagonist do to make life harder? What's the protagonist going to do about it?

Beginnings and endings tend to write themselves--it's the middles that

Jeanie said...

Cari, part of the reason I never did the music thing is being intimidated by the choices. I will definitely check out Liquid Mind. I like New Age stuff. Like I said, music with lyrics is too distracting. I feel your pain about the ending thing. I have no idea how I'm going to end my current book. I just have to write the darn thing and trust that it will come to me!

Jeanie said...

Chris, I make notes as I write, too, only I use index cards. I have index cards in my purse so I can write down things as they come to me, wherever I am. I also make a word document that contains plot points that I refer to when I get stuck. It helps me stay focused on all the things I want to happen in the story. The sagging middle of a book is something I think most of us struggle with, especially those of us who pants it a bit.

Jeanie said...

Louisa, you are twisted. I like that! I must say, his underwear did turn out to be a lovely shade of pink. It would definitely rosy up the room . . .

Jeanie said...

And the winner of the Starbucks card is . . . (drum roll, please) . . . M.V. Freeman!!!

Thanks to everyone for participating, and Happy Holidays to all.

TDH said...

I work a rotating shift schedule, so like many of you I find it difficult to set a specific time for writing. When I do have the time, I need about an hour and a half. Otherwise, I'm too stressed to be creative. I only write on a PC or laptop. My handwriting is so bad, it embarrasses me and inhibits any creative thoughts. I find music with lyrics to be too distracting as some of you do, which is how I discovered smooth jazz. The TV stays off, but boy, can I get carried away in cyberspace!

Maybe I should buy some pink underwear...

Ted

Hey! This coffee pot's empty! :)

Congratulations to M.V.!

Jeanie said...

Ted, sometimes our daily lives suck all the creative goody out of us. Just keep plugging at the writing when you can. I can relate to your comment about having bad handwriting. Mine is horrible and illegible -- looks like chicken scratching. As for the pink underwear, I'm sure you're man enough to caarry it off!

M.V.Freeman said...

Thank you for feeding into my wonderful addiction!

Woohoo! :-)
Coffee anyone?