Moods and Writing

I’ve heard interviews with songwriters who have complained that they are unable to write good songs when they are in a good mood.  There’s something about being in a dark mood which inspires the creation of their best songs.  I’ve heard similar things about comedians and other entertainers as well — that they do their best work when they are feeling less content with their world or their lives.

When I was younger, I found this to be true about my own writing: the worse my mood was, the funnier my comedic pieces were; the sadder I was, the stronger and more heartfelt the poetry was.  In my angsty teenage years, the only dry spells in my writing occurred when I was reasonably happy.  Now that I’m old(er), I find the opposite to be true.  In fact, I’ve found lately that when I’m in a bad mood, I can’t write anything coherent at all.  I’m stunned if I even get a word or two down on the page in that state of mind. I’m not sure why this has changed.  Perhaps it is as simple as “adult problems” being tougher than “teenage problems”, but I think it is more than that.  I think the issue is more that when I was younger and in a bad mood I was more willing to use the act of writing as a form of therapy.  The words flowing from my grumbling, churning mind, down through my arm and hand and onto the page was a safe way to get the emotions out and sometimes release that negative energy.  I was more willing or more able to sit down and just start writing something spontaneously back then, too, which may have also been a reason why it worked.

But today I don’t do this.  I can’t remember the last time I opened a Microsoft Word document or a paper notebook and successfully just started writing on a whim. Usually I end up staring at that blank page and getting into a worse mood than I was in when I started.  When I was younger I could sit there for an hour staring at the blank page and the words would eventually start to flow, but now I sit there and within a few minutes I give up, throw the notebook to the side of the room or slam the laptop shut.  Am I simply less patient now than I was? Are my bad moods worse now than they were?  Am I simply falling prey to the combination of the bad moods and the looming to-do list?

I don’t have an actual answer to these questions and I don’t think there actually *is* a definitive answer to them.  Most likely, the answer lies in some complicated combination of all of the above, in addition to distinct differences in weather patterns and the temperature of the coffee in my mug.  But I do think it’s an interesting thing to look at and to introspectively analyze, so I’m going to throw it out to each of you:  How does your mood impact your writing? Do you find the content, style or quality of your writing to be different based on the mood you were in at the time? Do you struggle to write if your mood is particularly good or bad?  Let’s discuss this in the comments.

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11 thoughts on “Moods and Writing

  1. The poetry I write when in a good mood tends to be utter dreck, unless I confine it to Haiku. With short fiction or parts of a serial, whether I write comedic or tragic material varies with my mood.

    • For me it was similar with poetry — my best poems and songs were definitely when I was in a bad mood and the ones I wrote while in a good mood were mushy and weak. When I was younger, the comedy pieces I wrote were usually when I felt decidedly un-funny. Perhaps it was a coping mechanism.

  2. Absolutely. There are times when my first draft is the final draft–everything simply comes out perfectly. Then there are sittings where I struggle with every word, can’t pull the right word from memory. Hate writing on days like that.

    • Yeah, that’s where I’m at at this point — since I seem to be in a bad mood more often than not anymore (old and bitter = me), I’m less able to write anything coherent at all! I don’t like it.

  3. I think I write best when I’m in an intense mood of some sort – not necessarily bad though. Whether it’s angry, passionate, introspective, opinionated, hurt, etc. Just happy or sad won’t help my writing.

    • Writing does take a bit of passion and intense moods are certainly more likely to generate that passion. I’ve had times where I’m in a melancholy sort of mood and then write a scene which is so emotive or so powerful that I come out of it with an incredibly intense feeling. That’s when I know I wrote something really special.

      • That’s true. I love the times when I’m not “feeling it” but come up with something great. That’s when I actually feel like a writer moreso than when some sort of inspiration hits.

  4. As everything in life seems to be, my writing requires balance. I don’t believe that I am fully effective when I am at any emotional extreme. I get cast to one end of the spectrum or another on occasion. For me, it’s in recognizing this and being aware of it so I can take note of my feelings, thoughts, and emotions in the moment. Once I find myself shifting back to a more suitable medium state of emotional well-being, I can draw upon those thoughts, feelings, and emotions and put them to more effective use.

    But, as you say, there is never one universal formula. What works for one does not always work for another. And sometimes, what works for me at a given time doesn’t repeat reliably. Every situation, every thought, every moment, is different and unique. And sometimes I think we just need to rely on intuition to guide us in the best way in each moment.

    • I’ve certainly had days where I’ve been so far one way or another way with my moods that I cannot write at all. When it gets that extreme, I will write down thoughts and feelings at that point to use as a character building exercise perhaps but it almost never directly becomes a story in its own right.

  5. My writing lets me escape from daily activities and stressful circumstances that I can’t change. Writing is for me a relief. It’s not therapy because I block out all the problems and concentrate on my story. I wish I had more time to write – the imposition of all the other things I have to do is what keeps me from being able to write. But that’s just me.

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