Craft: In the Mood by Risa Nye

So what gets you in the mood? For writing, I mean.

Does the muse give you an early morning wake-up call, or is nighttime the right time? Do you get those urges at mid-day? Or are you liable to go at it any time, day or night?

From what I’ve heard, writers talk about it all the time, and yet we don’t do it as often as we’d like. Still talking about writing here.

I’m curious about how others deal with finding the time, getting in the mood, and making the magic happen. What about you? Do you wonder about other people? Every time I’ve gone to hear a writer speak, someone usually asks him or her about writing habits: how often, for how long, where, when, etc.  People don’t usually ask the authors what they wear, but I’ll tell:  a few years ago, I bought a writing sweater. I honestly don’t know how anyone gets any writing done without a writing sweater. Mine is a big navy blue cardigan, with long sleeves that I have to roll up at the cuff. When I put on that sweater, my fingers know I mean business and they’d better get a move on and start making music on the keyboard. I Am Writer: hear me type.

The truth is, the only thing that matters is getting words on the page. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, no one really gives a hoot. Rather than coming up with reasons why now is not a good time to write, pay attention to when you feel most productive and outsmart yourself by planning to be ready to write at that time.

As writers, the main thing to consider the end of the day (or the beginning, or the middle), is whether we have observed any patterns in our writing behavior that point to greater productivity and more satisfying results. For example, if I wake up thinking about sentences and formulating phrases that must belong somewhere, rather than allowing them to sink into my pillow and be lost forever, I roll out of bed, toss on a robe, and sit down at the keyboard. Some people swear by morning pages, but I rarely start my day that way—pre-oatmeal and coffee—unless I have a deadline looming that stubbornly worked its way into my dreams. If my fingers are twitching and my brain is itching as I bubble up into consciousness, then everything else must wait until I’ve expelled those thoughts and words and cleared the decks. I’ve unintentionally missed the exercise class I really should go to because I had to finish something I was writing early in the morning. My priorities have been known to shift.

To be honest, most of the time there’s an awful lot of sitting and staring and doing other things involved in my writing practice. I like my desk neatly cleared off. I need to have quiet, which isn’t really a problem since I work alone at home during the day. I have windows in my writing room that look out on the San Francisco Bay. There are birds singing outside. Stuff like that—so many bright shiny objects—can be distracting.

My usual pattern is to waste a lot of time with “throat clearing” before I get down to actual writing. You know: checking various social networks, sending a few emails, looking at a couple of things my friends have posted here and there.  Liking things on Facebook. Tweeting. Maybe Googling something I might want to write about. Oh, and Words with Friends. This throat clearing can stretch out far too long some days. I’m working on it.

But I’m writing even when I’m not writing, and you probably are too. One of my favorite stories about the great James Thurber came from an interview in the Paris Review (Fall 1955). He said:

“I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at    a party and says, “Damn it, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” “No,” my wife says, “he’s writing something.”

These days, instead of staring into the distance and composing in his head, Thurber could stand in a corner at the party and tap notes into a small electronic device, like everyone else, and no one would give it a second thought. He could even speak his thoughts into such a device as he proceeded, Mitty-like, through his daily routine. Writing in plain sight and no one would suspect a thing.

I usually get a burst of energy around 4 p.m. This afternoon boost comes out of nowhere and before I know it, I’m clackety-clacking away on something that just popped into my head.

My pattern may have begun during my days as a college counselor, when I worked at a high school.  After the last period of the day ended, I would wrap things up, leave my desk cleared off, and head for home. The short commute gave me just enough time to shift gears from work to family time. I lived on a school schedule for so many years, the natural rhythm of the days became deeply ingrained. With three kids at home in those days, writing time was a late-night activity for me.

But when my youngest child left for college, I came home after school to a quiet, empty house, which made me sad for the first few months. As the days grew shorter, it would be nearly dark by the time I got home. Hours still to go before my husband returned from his office to create noise and commotion in the house. I soon discovered that if I immediately sat down to write, the time would fly by—and before I knew it, the sun had gone down and the clock said almost dinner time. If I was on a roll with something, dinner would have to wait. (This is one reason, perhaps, that my husband now ends up doing most of the cooking, even after a long day of his own.)

And then there are times when I’m on my way to bed, but sit down just to check email one more time, or take a look at the stats on my blog, and end up writing for an hour and staying up way too late. I’ll stop then, go to bed, and wake up forming sentences from the depths of a dream…and the cycle begins again.

Thurber also said, “If you are a writer you write.” That means: anytime, anywhere, and anyhow you can. And trust me about the sweater. It really does work.

risa nye wearing wingsRisa Nye is a San Francisco Bay Area native. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College in California. Her essays, stories, and articles have appeared in a variety of publications, and she continues to mine her vast experience for more ideas. She also eavesdrops. Her three children live far away and cannot stop her from mining their experiences too. She’s a neophyte blogger at zerotosixtyinoneyear.com.
Print Friendly
  • Kwamee

    i couldnt agree with you more. right on point!!!

  • I find it most odd when writers discuss having writers block or, as you called it, throat clearing. These don’t happen to me. It might take a few hours to get into the rhythm of something but the blank page doesn’t frighten me. The worst thing that happens is constipation. I’m tired of working on something; it lacks freshness. The zeal is gone.
    It’s a cycle, though. It’s a signal that I’ve drained the creative battery and need to recharge myself. Knowing it’s a cycle stops a lot of the worries from plaguing us. This is an excellent time to catch up on emails and social media and reading that might have slipped through during our submersion in the writing– at least for me. Realizing the cycles of one’s work, like the daily creative peak you mentioned, helps these blocks. It smoothes the constipation like Ex-Lax. (My apologies for the crude simile running through this.)
    What plagues me? Nitpicking threads of a piece. This is my best example: http://bit.ly/uoJbL3

    @NicholeLReber:disqus