On “the mood” and inspiration

The Muses

Last night I sat down and pounded out 2,500 words in about an hour.  It was easy and organic, the words flowing through me from the scenes in my mind onto the electronic page.  Why?  Because I was in the mood.

I’ve been going through a very difficult emotional time in the last two weeks, involving a lot of heartbreak, a lot of very deep soul-searching, and a lot of learning about myself.  Writing has been pretty much out of the question.  I’ve sat down a few times to try and write, but my mind was completely preoccupied with my emotions and there was no hope of focusing on my novel.  Yesterday wasn’t exactly a great day, but I felt more at peace with things, and it was as if a swell of creative energy came bursting through the containment dome in my mind.

I’ve certainly noticed this in the past.  I tend to write more, and better at certain times: when I’m in love, when I’m not stressed about work, and when I’ve been enjoying other forms of creative entertainment like reading or watching live music.  I’m not complaining about the bouts of inspiration, but it raises a question for we the aspiring professional novelists: how do we power through this?  How do we write when the mood isn’t striking?

We all know (or I hope we do) that professional authors have to write.  Every day, or almost so.  When I am focused and disciplined, which is a minority of the time, I try to model my own schedule on what I’ve read of Michael Chabon’s: write four or five days a week, and produce 1,000 words per day.  On that schedule I can produce a first-draft novel every six months, and if I spend a suitable amount of time revising, that might mean one finished novel per year.  Note that I have never actually maintained this pace, but I’m working on that.

The trouble is, some of those days 1,000 words are just agony to try and withdraw from my brain.  I sit at the computer and stare at a blank screen, or write and rewrite the same sentence five or ten times.   So how do we power through? How do we dedicate ourselves to our craft, and to our goals, and do the work when the work doesn’t want to be done?

I’ll share a couple of my own techniques in my next post – but I’ll tell you up front that they were pretty powerless against crippling emotional grief.  In the meantime, would you share some of your techniques?  How do you squeeze out the water when your creative mind turns to stone?  How do you make yourself focus on your fiction when your real life seems to be crushing in on you or collapsing around you?

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Chris
Chris is an author, artist, personal trainer, and long-time nonprofit fundraiser. His work has appeared in The Nib, GOOD, the Huffington Post, Salon, MTV, and numerous other publications. Chris lives in New York City.

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