You don’t have to be ‘in the mood’ to write

by Suw on February 8, 2023

Stock Image Woman knows that she can write whenever she damn well pleases.

Sitting at my desk yesterday afternoon, I found myself staring at my computer screen, mulling over whether to write or not. I didn’t really feel like it, but nothing on my To Do list was on fire and I’ve promised myself that I’ll make the most of this work lull to get my six-part TV series scripts finished.

I had the opportunity to write.

I didn’t feel like writing.

There was nothing else more important to do.

I wrote.

And, of course, as soon as I put my fingertips on the keyboard I became completely absorbed and ending up having a very productive hour in which I solved a fairly large issue with the episode I’m currently working on.

There is no mood

I can’t count the number of times I’ve complained to my online friends that I’m ‘Just not feeling it today’ and then gone on to get loads of words written. If I’m honest with myself, it’s because ‘I’m not in the mood’ is nothing more than an excuse. It’s a convenient way to let myself off the hook, even though I know I don’t actually need to be in any particular frame of mind to write, I just need to sit myself down and get on with it.

Indeed, the idea that writing well depends on ‘being in the mood’ is a pernicious writing fallacy which stops people being consistently and persistently creative. It plays into the extremely wrong idea that writing, and particularly creative writing, is a gift bestowed by the gods only on the most special of people at the most special of times. It rarifies the act of writing, turns it from an everyday activity into something anomalous, something exceptional. Only those blessed by the presence of a Muse can gather together those ethereal threads of inspiration and weave them into poetry or prose.

Slaps forehead with back of hand and swoons.

Well, bollocks to that.

If you want to write, I promise that you do not have to waste time waiting for Calliope or her sisters to show up. You have it in you to write whenever and wherever the hell you like.

Why do you think you need to be in the mood?

If you feel like you have to be in the mood to write, but you’d like to get rid of that unnecessary restriction, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself why. I don’t believe that laziness exists – there’s always something else going on. Have a dig and ask yourself what is preventing you from writing.

Perhaps you don’t feel very confident and worry that putting words on the screen will prove to yourself how bad you are. Whilst you’re probably much better than you think you are, it doesn’t really matter because we are all learning with every single word we write. Writing is a process. So is editing. Embrace it.

Maybe you don’t have much time, so you feel that you’ll just get frustrated if you start, get into your writing, and then have to stop before you want to. Every book was written one word at a time, so if you only have time to write one word, that’s still one word less to write later. Use even the shortest scraps of time to write and celebrate the fact that you have to leave your writing whilst you still feel excited and have more to say. It’ll be much easier to pick it up next time.

Or possibly you just don’t know what comes next. This is almost always down to a lack of preparation, so instead of writing words, spend the time working on your outline, background research, characters or world-building. There’s always something constructive to do that will move your project along. After all, writing isn’t just typing.

There are many other reasons you might not be feeling in the mood, but once you’ve identified what’s really going on, you can acknowledge the problem, solve it or set it to one side, and then sit down and write.

All words are equal

I’ve heard people say that if they don’t ‘feel it’ they produce lower quality work. Now, it’s true that writing is sometimes a breeze and sometimes like pulling teeth, but how it feels as you write has nothing to do with how it reads back later. What I write on hard days reads no differently to what I write on easy days.

But if you want to prove to yourself that there’s no difference, here’s an exercise:

1. For a week, write at least 50 words a day on a single project. It doesn’t matter whether it’s something you’re already working on or something you’re doing just for this exercise, as long as each day’s work follows on from the last.

2. In a separate document, make a note of what you wrote and how you felt at the time. Was it easy? Hard? Painful? Excruciating? If you happen to have an easy week, keep going until you have a couple of days where it’s hard, and if it’s all hard, keep going until you have an easy day.

3. Give your work to a trusted friend and ask them to make a note every time they notice the quality of the writing change. What reads well? What doesn’t? If you don’t have a trusted friend, set the work aside for a few weeks and re-read it yourself.

4. Compare notes. The chances of your friend’s notes matching up with your self-reported experience of writing are next to nil.

How we feel as we write is influenced by a whole host of factors that have nothing to do with our creativity. Are we tired? Rushed? Excited? Just had an argument? Hungry? Thirsty? Just had a pleasant surprise? All of those things influence our mood, but they don’t influence how our creativity functions so they aren’t reflected in our writing.

There’s always editing

If, after doing this, you still believe that you produce better work when you’re ‘in the mood’, remember that there are no words that can’t be edited, except those you haven’t written. Writing when you’re not in the mood is a skill you can practice. The more you practice it, the easier it will become. And the easier it becomes, the less you have to frogmarch yourself to your desk and sternly force yourself to write.

Soon, you’ll be writing whenever and wherever you like and getting a lot more done.

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