"The whole house seemed to exhale a melancholy breath of emptiness." ~ Michael Chabon
When you jump into the swamp and meander down deep into the slough, it's difficult to climb out completely clean. Actually, let me change that up. It's damned near impossible.
This is the only way I have ever learned to write. Perhaps there is an easier way, to be able to get absorbed within the story to write it and not lose yourself for a while, but I haven't found it. And to be completely honest with you? This is 97% of the reason why I procrastinate and dread sitting down to write.
A writer said it best when he said, I'm paraphrasing here, "I don't enjoy writing; I enjoy having written." I completely agree. The act of writing is just something that must be done. Looking back on your story with a sense of pride; that's the real reward.
One day over coffee, I was telling a friend of mine about this short story I was writing, Claustrophobia. I mentioned how I hated writing it; it was just icky. No happy ending, no real redeemable qualities to any of the characters, and the plot itself was simple but very, very dark and raw.
It was just icky.
He laughed at me and then asked, "Well, then, Angie, why write it?"
I stared at him, dumbfounded, and replied, "Because it has to be told."
This is the approach I have to any story that happens to drift by in the long, dark corridors of my mind. These stories are captive prisoners, staring at me from the other side of their barred cells, begging to be set free. It may take years to release them all, and all at my own time and discretion.
I'm just glad those folks from Claustrophobia were set free, because I did not want that one lingering any longer than it needed to.
But this blog post is about "the mood." How to get into the mood (no, this is not suddenly a sex advice column), and, more importantly, how to get OUT of the mood.
First, the essentials. In order to set the tone for your writing, no matter the genre, you need a couple of things. The most important of these is time. Not just a set amount of time, but time that you will be completely uninterrupted. Once you get in "the zone," it's frustrating and difficult to refocus and get back to where you need to be to continue writing. Remember that scene from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining where Jack Nicholson goes off on his wife for interrupting him?
I kind of grin because that totally sounds like me. You know... except for the psychotic, murdering aspect...
If you don't have an office, you need to have a space where you can stretch out and relax; someplace where you can be surrounded by things that inspire you (art or books...) Because you'll be typing about 50% of the time, and the other 50% you'll be sitting, staring around, your mind spinning and it would be nice to see beautiful things that keep you in that frame of mind...
Like I mentioned in my first post, I typically like to have music playing when I write. But very lightly in the background, nothing too loud to be domineering or distracting. And a dim light, nothing too bright.
Again.... this isn't how every writer does it, but these things are the very few essentials that I need in order to get to where I need to be. Quiet music, no interruptions, and time...
Getting out of the "mood" is quite a bit more difficult. You would think that once you got up from your computer and left the room that your mind would turn to more ordinary things, bills that need to be paid, grocery shopping, laundry, etc...
But the truth is, the book haunts you. Follows you around like a little specter, prodding you periodically with ideas and notions to add to your tale. This isn't a bad thing. Not at all. As a matter of fact, it's actually my preference to have this little phantom attached to my back. Usually the best intrigues come to me when I'm driving my car, going to this errand or that, when I'm not in my office, in the "mood."
But with that little creative wraith comes that melancholy. It's a melancholy for me because of the genre that I write. It would likely be called something entirely different for someone who writes romantic fiction. It's important to not get too wrapped up in that aspect of it. Use the little ghost as a means to find ideas, inspirations for plot points in your novel; if you write a genre that's tragic or mildly depressing, leave all the emotions and feelings associated with your storyline to languish in your office. Ready and waiting for you when you're ready to greet them...
It's easier said than done, however. I cannot count how many times I would remove myself socially from events, detach myself from friends, go "off the grid" in order to make my deadlines. And quite honestly I did not have enough time to spend with people being happy, taking me further away from that melancholy, because I had a novel I had to write.
Going silent was often easier than explaining this to people. But now they know why I get a little quiet a few months before a book is due. ;)
Another thing that I recently discovered this past year is meditation. And even just the huge impact proper breathing has on your body and your psyche. I know it sounds incredibly New Age, but do me a favor. The next time you start to feel anxious, do something for me. Go find a quiet room and sit down in a chair, closing your eyes. And don't do anything but take ten deep breaths, clearing your mind and focusing only on your breathing.
I guarantee you won't even get to four breaths before you already feel a difference. And things don't look quite so bad afterwards.
But don't be afraid to return to that melancholy; that's where all the magic happens.
And truthfully, that's the only place where I can really dance...