Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting myself in the mood

For the last couple months, I’ve received a certain type of message three or four times a week.

It’s usually from a long-lost college pal or a Facebook friend or a regular blog reader who happened to be spelunking the caves of Slovenia when I announced my divorce.

I’m so sorry, the message will start.

I didn’t hear about it until just now.

How are you doing?

There’s usually a paragraph or two of wonderful, heartfelt sentiment – a personal experience with divorce, a virtual butt pat, a reminder that things will get better.

I appreciate the messages more than you can imagine, and I’m touched each time I open one.

I don’t mean I have someone under my desk waiting to grope me while I read my email, though that is on my personal fantasy list.

No, I mean I’m emotionally moved by the arrival of one of these notes. They mean a lot to me.

And yet, they’re always a little jarring.

The truth is, I’m doing great. Ridiculously, joyfully great.

I won’t lie, things were bumpy there at first. I’ll also admit there are days I’d rather stick my hand in a blender and hit pulse than deal with the details of deciding who gets the sofa or whether the dog counts as an asset or a liability.

But for the most part, I feel stupidly happy 98% of the time.

I’ve also grown a little protective of that feeling. I want to nurture it, coddle it, make sweet-sweet love to it in a room filled with sage scented candles and Barry White playing on the iPod.

A co-worker once described me as the least moody person she’s ever met. Years later, I still consider that one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten. More than anything, it’s due to momentum. I make up my mind to be happy, and if I put my head down and keep plowing forward, I pretty much stay that way.

I think that’s one reason I’ve been procrastinating this round of edits on my third contracted novel. For those playing along at home, this is the romantic comedy I was writing while my marriage was falling apart like a cheap sex toy. Given those circumstances, there was no way the story wouldn’t end up with a more melancholy tone than the first two.

My three critique partners and three beta readers did a fabulous job of kicking my ass and whipping the story into shape so it might make readers want to laugh instead of drown themselves in the toilet. By the time it got to my amazing agent, she assured me she would feel more than confident sending it to my editor as-is.

And yet…and yet….something was still “off.”

She knew it, I knew it, and we spent a long time on the phone trying to figure it out.

And now I’ve spent a month just marinating on those notes.

I say “marinating” because it sounds a lot less lazy than “procrastinating,” but that’s certainly a part of it. The truth is, I’m a little afraid to dive back into that story. I was in such a dark place when I wrote it, and I worry that diving back in will put me there again.

On the other hand, isn’t this the best time to do it?

Let’s all pause and snicker and point out to ourselves that it’s always a good time to do it.

Seriously though, the story needs an injection of joy and humor and confidence and flirtation. In my new-and-improved state of mind, shouldn’t I be able to bring those things to the manuscript instead of fearing the manuscript will drag me down like some medieval sea creature with a taste for virgin flesh?

One way or another, I'll find out this weekend. I've carved out ample time to sit my butt in the chair with my hands on the keyboard and the manuscript spread open before me like a willing hussy. I'm determined to conquer her and she may be determined to conquer me, but somewhere in the middle, we'll probably meet up and ravage each other to the point of blissful exhaustion.

What impact does your mood have on your writing? Are there times you just can’t bring yourself to write the sort of scene or story you need to be writing? A happy day when you need to craft a dark and dreary death scene, or a gloomy funk while you’re writing about a wedding?

Please share!

And for the record, I don’t own any sage scented candles or Barry White music. Perhaps I should remedy that?


Matthew MacNish said...

There we go. Now I know it's really Thursday.

Matthew MacNish said...

So there are several things to respond to here:

This is sort of why I didn't email you. I look up to you and respect you a lot, but I didn't really feel like it was my place to get all up in your inbox with my sentiments. Having had a lot of loss in my life I know that sentiment is usually more for the sake of the giver than the receiver.

But now I feel bad, because getting touched from under the desk sounds fun.

The second thing is that there is nothing wrong with being happy. I think it's healthy. I mean I've been though a lot of shit in my life (most of it self inflicted) and I've always been a pretty happy, laid back guy. Because just being alive is such an amazing trip, how can we not look at every day with wonder?

And finally my mood doesn't touch my writing. I'm sort of a super-anal, overly clinical, cerbral writer, because I'm a total nerd. I have had patches where I couldn't write, or at least didn't write, because there was no inspiration, but when it's there I can write any kind of scene at any time.

Hopefully some of them will be good ones.

Oh and one final thing: I don't give a damn about candles, but Barry White music is a must.

Patrick Alan said...

"injection of joy"

It just needed to be quoted.

Let's not talk about my moods and writing.

Patrick Alan said...

Note to Matt - "super-anal" not going to be taken the way you want it around here.

"taken the way you want it" also a phrase that will be interpreted.

Anonymous said...

Yea I do think that mood has a lot to do with the tone of a story. When angry, I tend to write choppy; when sad, the sentences are long and drawn out. However, once you are in the story, things seem to even out. It's not you anymore, it is them.

Just get it started and you'll do fine.

Angela Perry said...

I'm a "mood" writer. I write happy when I'm happy, sad when I'm sad, and goofy when I'm goofy. And it's hard to switch just by thinking about it.

I recommend reading something with the mood you're trying to achieve. Maybe read some of your first two books. Or a Janet Evanovich or two. Nothing puts me in the mood like a good book ;)

Unknown said...

My mood infect my will to write, but not so much the story itself. If I feel like sharing your blender, I can't write. If I feel real cheery, I don't mind writing something dark. It might be because my stories have a lot of dark humour and sweet sadness so fits no matter my own state of mind.

Sarah W said...

Music helps adjust my moods while I'm writing, which is good, since other methods of mood-adjustment might hinder my ability to type.

Delia said...

I write a lot of dark stuff, but I find the dark stuff pretty damned fun to write, so my mood doesn't really enter into the whole shebang. (Yes, Patrick, I know. "Enter into the whole shebang" will not be interpreted the way I mean it.) Dark mood or no, it's a win-win for me.

I have every confidence that you can effectively nail that hussy. Maybe you should videotape your party tonight, though. Just to be safe.

Delia said...

Uh, that videotape line should have, "as a mood lifter" at the end of it. It kinda doesn't make sense the way I typed it, does it? Sorry about that.

Kim Mullican said...

I avoided writing a death scene until I felt unusually depressed. It worked well... two of my betas said they cried.

But bringing tears to the eyes of a reader is generally not my goal. I avoid writing when I'm down. Usually, I'm too damned busy to be down at all...which is why I have two manuscripts I haven't been able to edit yet... grrr

Enjoy your joy (throws confetti.) You'll conquer your text. Hell go back and read your own posts. Your wit is what has brought so many readers to your blog.

For me - I tend to write scenes after a few drinks (then fix them when I'm sober.) I'm not sure any of that helps, but hey - you asked!

Best of luck!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

Where I write often affects my mood. That's why I can't write fiction at home, because my desk at home is where I do my graduate work, grade papers, and complete projects for my website job. In other words, my desk is the place where I'm often banging my fists (and sometimes my face) down in frustration because of all the work I have to do. So I can write more easily when I'm out of my apartment, because just being away from my desk and the stack of work waiting on it puts me in a better mood.

Matthew MacNish said...

Actually Patrick, Tawna will probably take it exactly how I want, which will hopefully be her spitting her morning wine all over her swanky, supple leather boots.

Er, wait ... maybe that's not good. Thanks for thinking of me, though!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Sarah above - music helps a lot. Also wine and chocolate. :) I am a very emotional person sometimes it's hard to leave the emotions away from the keyboard.

therese patrick, author said...

In my experience, it does take a hussy under the desk to crack open for rewrites files created when my mood was less than bright. Butt! Like you, I made a deliberate choice to enter the dungeon with broadsword and fireworks. As paragraphs and scenes stirred dark forces from the past, I wended my way despite blurs to my vision.

And it was good because make-up sex after a fray has an energy of defiance that can feel even better!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Don't psych yourself out too much, though! You'll rock those revisions, just like you rock your positive outlook. :)
And also, I know I have absolutely no experience like divorce, but don't psych yourself out about that either, because it's easy to think that of course you should be depressed and the next wave is just around the corner. Cause you know, maybe happy is what you're supposed to be. :)

Lucy Woodhull said...

I write rom-com and humor, too, and mood is HUGE for me. Funny enough, my hormones also play a big part. I'm just more productive for new writing during times of the month when the ol' lady juices are in an upswing, and I'm much better for more analytical stuff (say, editing) when my mood plummets like [insert gross period euphemism here]. Good luck with your edits!

Jason said...

My personal mood doesn't seem to affect my writing too much. It's actually the reverse - the mood of my characters becomes mine, which *I think* makes the scene write better. That might be all in my head - have to see when I start reading through this thing.

What affects me more is how tired I am. I use that as my gauge as to whether or not writing or continuing to write is a good idea. Since most of my writing is after work and sometimes after hitting the gym...I have to be careful. :) I'm not a fan of writing because it's writing time, because I know when I'm going to put out some quality versus just writing crap that will have to be re-done anyway. I'd rather save myself the time and headaches.

Anne R. Allen said...

I think humor writing often comes from anger. But not melancholy. That's hard. Also, I think when you're processing some huge change--good or bad--it's like a whole lot of your brain's harddrive is engaged in that process. Not so much is left over for creativity. You may not be consciously thinking of mourning, but the mourning has to happen on some level.

I felt that kind of euphoria after my divorce, too. First anger and grief, but then that surprising joy. That went away too, and anger would come back at weird times, like when I realized he'd taken all the camping gear without telling me.

But then I realized that the new me didn't really like camping any more, and I'd rather go wine tasting. Joy returned.

And so did my comic muse.

Danielle Spears said...

OK, this is off subject here. Well, sort of. But is it just me, or did the object to the left of the computer on your blog image above just appear? No wonder you're in a good mood. If that's what I think it is. :)

Patrick Alan said...

Delia - I would put my 'mood' into the whole shebang.

Also, 'shebang' -- yes, she does!

Allie Sanders said...

Tawna, I think you're an amazing woman and I envy you your ability to be happy because you want to be. It's not so easy for me but I'm getting better at finding my happiness (feel free to take that any way you'd like).

Most days when I sit down to write I'm in a content frame of mind and my mood doesn't really come into play. When that isn't the case but I need to write anyway I've found writing out of order helps me. I'm a pantser with the best of them but usually have a clue where I'm going and I'll write a scene better fitting with my mood. The real challenge for me, the thing that can get me to walk away from the computer and let a scene simmer for days is keeping with the character. Sometimes I'll *want* her to do something but it isn't in her. Those are the only times I really have to not write.

When you find a service that sells people to sit under your desk will you give me the name? I have a friend who might be interested ;)

Michelle Wolfson said...

I can't wait until you come to NYC.

Beverly Diehl said...

I've had a hard time with revisiting material written at tumultuous times, too. It's hard getting past the fear that little emotional booby traps are lurking.

Might as well dive in, though, you may do better than you expect. And if it's too rough... stop.

(On the candles - sage is for cleansing, which may be an excellent fragrance for editing, or washing that man right out of your head. You're on your own with the Barry White.) Writing in Flow

Plamena Schmidt said...

Hmm, I usually try to use my mood to write a scene. I've planned my scenes ahead of time and then I just pick one that matches. That might not work for you though... Either way, good luck!

Delia said...

Patrick, thanks. I knew I could count on you.

Anonymous said...

Great post. You have a lot of people who care about, that's for sure. Probably because of your entertaining and transparent blog posts, we feel like we know you so much! :)

Glad you're doing well. Write on, my friend.