Writers and Their Emotions

I’m going for a 60s health-ed movie feel in the title, in case you missed it.

sunriseWriting without emotion is pointless. If you don’t move your readers to feel something, you accomplish nothing. Even with non-fiction, teaching a topic requires moving your readers to care enough to latch on.

With fiction, emotion is everything.

It’s no wonder, then, that we fiction writers are a moody lot.

I have days of euphoria. I also have days in the doldrums. (Like when we have the rare phenomenon of 10 gloomy days straight here in the frozen north.)

A dear friend commented this morning that they were feeling down about their writing.

Steven Pressfield posted about the pure unadulterated panic induced by the research for his latest book.

It’s gonna happen. There are a million suggestions out there for coping: take a walk, take a nap, call a friend. Here are a few things I do to deal with it:

  • Run with it. Sometimes an emotion needs to run its course. Write about the feelings. Sit on the back porch and have a good mope for 15 minutes. I sometimes go downstairs to my music room and write a song. Or turn the distortion up to 11 on my electric guitar and work it out that way. Putting words to paper or screen can purge the mood.
  • Talk to my unconscious. I have conversations, out loud, with the noise in my head. If anyone were to walk by they’d be convinced I was daft or demonized. Fortunately traffic is light on this part of the lake. Talking it out aloud brings things to the surface which don’t float up otherwise. Try it. Maybe in the car where folks will just think you’re singing along with the radio.
  • Freewriting. Pouring out the nonsense can work as part of, or similar to, the first two methods. But it can also be unrelated, a way to focus elsewhere, or to shut off the conscious portion of your brain to allow the unconscious to sort, file, purge, and heal.
  • Music. Mentioned above, but worthy of its own point. Most folks never listen to music. It drifts past, part of the ambient noise. Choose your favorite album, sit down, and listen to it, all the way through. Pay attention to the instruments. Read along with the lyrics, if you like, or ignore them completely. Immerse yourself. Music requires your whole brain, and intense focus on it will clog your corpus callosum (the huge bundle of nerves connecting the two halves of your brain.) My theory is that overwhelming that nerve bundle makes worry (another connection between the emotional and logical portions of our brain) hard to maintain. If you play an instrument, even badly, it’s more powerful than listening.
  • Romantic interaction with Best Beloved. When we are wholly absorbed in each other to the exclusion of all else, especially if it involves, erm, physical interaction, my unconscious cleans house like a madman.

I suspect that playing music in the back seat of a car with Best Beloved while I think out loud could give me weeks of positive vibes.

What do you do when you’re in a funk? If any of these ideas work for you we’d all love to hear about it.

4 thoughts on “Writers and Their Emotions

  1. Interesting Joel. It sounds just like a friend of mine too. (Yeah, that’s it.) Certainly good suggestions for when your mood is moodiest. I find that exercise is often helpful when the black dog barks. I do think it’s a little bit odd that you’re suggesting these mournful fellows have a romantic interaction with your wife, but you are a generous man.

    Seriously though, self-doubt seems to be the second face of every writer I know—when it becomes their first face, then it’s really dangerous. When I can approach my writing without a feeling of expectation (and any comparison with other writers), yet commit to its quality and honest expression, there is some healing there. But of course, some days are better than others.

    And other days, the dictum should be: Don’t think. Write.

  2. We know a lot of the same people, huh? (And now I have to go edit the last bullet point, or get some hollow point bullets.)

    One thing that’s made the past 10 days a mite gloomy for me is that I injured my left knee right after we moved in here, and I haven’t been able to hobble around the property. Today was my first time around the entire house. I intend to make it a habit, this walking about outside. There is some nature there, nature in every direction. A nice change from previous circs.

    You can imagine the gut-wrenching I’ve endured as I implement (or reject!) your edits on A Long, Hard Look. Would Millie really say that? Brennan said what to who? Why is he going there?


    Next time someone asks me about finding an editor, I’m going to do what I always do and give them your name, but I’m also going to point out that their relationship with their editor has to be one of respect and admiration. I know your ability with words, which makes taking your advice hither and yon a task within my grasp.

    If some punk with an AP style guide had marked me up I’da slugged ’em.

    Did I mention, y’all stay away from Best Beloved?

  3. You did have me laugh out loud on that answer. I enjoyed your book, which helps me with the editing, though editing is an odd process: I’d probably suggest different things if I read it at another point, which probably doesn’t say a lot for me as a consistent (or consistently competent) editor.

    Anyway, I appreciate the praise, because sometimes it can feel that I don’t know how to open a box of cereal (though I can probably edit the back panel).

    Hope that knee gives you more cooperation this weekend.

  4. Hey, anytime people are laughing with me . . .

    Interesting comment about consistency in editing. If I’d written this book last year, or next year, it would be different. Editing being as much art as science, isn’t situational application a realistic expectation? (Yes, that sentence is written in rhumba rhythm.)

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