“All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts.”
—Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
Today was one of those days when I had to get out of the house to get out of my own head. I packed up my notebooks, a short story in progress, a fistful of pens, and I took refuge in the local library.
(It’s a sad state of affairs when the local coffeehouse holds more peace and quiet than the library does.)
I wanted something to read, something that wouldn’t tax my weary attention span, yet something that would nourish my writing mind and maybe even get me fired up again.
I roamed the Mystery aisles, where I found The Simple Art of Murder. The Preface is in fact the eponymous essay written by Chandler that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly. If you have anything to do with the writing life, you’ll enjoy reading that essay.
The above quotation, taken from the essay, struck me as being a profound truth. Chandler said it in the context of explaining why “escapist literature” has just as much right to exist as what critics consider the more high brow type of literature. My preferred leisure time reading is a good mystery. Getting caught up in the puzzle and the characters takes me away from the stress of my every day life and whatever burdens are weighing on my mind.
Being trapped in “the deadly rhythms” of my private thoughts can trigger my depression or be a symptom of it. Writing in my personal journal isn’t much help then. This is when I need to plunge into the mind of a character. Sinking down to the bone deep level of want and need in someone I’ve created lets me engage in what I think of as primal scream therapy on paper.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how you cannot wait until you’re “in the mood” to write. That’s true. Take the mood you’re in and squeeze it for all it’s worth. Anger. Hate. Grief. Frustration. Despair. Negative emotions tend to be the ones we hold back, so they’ve already built up considerable pressure inside us. Cut the brake lines and ride that emotion down the mountain to whatever head-on collision awaits. It will be messy, but it will also be worth it.
Filed under classics, creativity, Depression, editing, fantasy, Fiction, Lillian Csernica, perspective, publication, therapy, Writing
by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2013
Over the years I’ve discovered that I write the best when I’m in either a really high mood, or the absolute abyss. Am I bi-polar? No. Does my mood vary like this on a daily basis? The short answer to that one is no. Most of the time I’m chugging right along in that combination of happy about some things/worried about other things/gonna kick somebody’s ass about that one thing. This means I’m thinking about too many different things at once, which makes it hard to get my energy together in that mental space called the “creative trance.”
Am I advocating jacking up your mood or getting really depressed? Of course not. For centuries writers have tried doing that by artificial means, and while some of them produced some lasting pieces of really memorable writing, many of them destroyed their talent, their minds, and their lives.
(Yes, there’s a fine line between creativity and mental imbalance. Sometimes they go hand in hand. We’ll talk about that another time.)
There are some things you can do to get yourself in the mood for writing that are not dangerous to your physical or mental well-being. Music is the first example that springs to mind. When I was writing my very first novel, a fantasy novel where I alternated chapters between the two main characters, during the writing of the one character’s chapters I blasted “The Best of Berlin” over and over again. When I was writing a section of SHIP OF DREAMS where Alexandre contemplates all the losses in his back story that made him turn pirate, I kept playing U2’s “With or Without You.” And for those days when I’m feeling sluggish and don’t want to apply myself, I crank up Pat Benatar and in minutes I’m so wired I can’t type fast enough.
In one of my earlier posts I mentioned chocolate. Oh yeah. Please see What Fuels My Writing for my thoughts on chocolate as the writer’s friend.
What does it for you? What puts you in the mood to write the sad standing-by-the-casket scenes? What gets you all happy and jazzed so you can write that intense chase scene? What helps you shut out all the tedious little daily distractions so you can be fully present in your writing mind? Think about it. Keep a mood journal. There’s nothing like tracking habitual data in an empirical format that will show you patterns you didn’t know existed. This could help you pinpoint your best times of day, noise levels, quality of light, all these details. Figure out the environmental factors that support your creativity and productivity so you can recreate them at will!
Wannabes think, “Oh, I have to be in the mood to create.” Serious writers and artists figure out how to put themselves in that mood and make the most of it.