In the mood . . .

by Pari

I’ve long been fascinated with the deep myths we carry about what writers are and aren’t. One of my favorites was very difficult to shed: the vision of myself in a freezing garret somewhere in Paris, circa 1920, with an espresso in one hand and a Gauloise in the other. My hair would be short, oily and wild because of the many times I grab it . . . pull at it  . . . run my fingers through it . . . The mood would be one of mad creativity and struggle – torture almost – as I midwife brilliance out of each ink-dipped quill scratch upon a thick sheet of paper.

Yeah . . . I know.

The reality of how I write is much less romantic: I turn on the Notebook, sit my butt down and go. The phone rings. The dogs need to be let out. Oh, it’s time to pick up the kids! Wow, I’ve got to get this brochure written; that media contact made for a client; call others for donations for a third; here are the fifteen emails for Left Coast Crime; need to make a decision. Is it the right one? Oops! I’ve got to make dinner. Who’s washing the dishes? Taking out the garbage?

Still I manage daily to further the fiction word count. A writer needs to write; I’m writing.

But lately I’ve been going through an extremely intense emotional time. It’s guaranteed to last beyond Left Coast Crime – maybe for the rest of my life – and I’m finding a new challenge in my work. One I’d never thought about before.

You see, my mood doesn’t match the story I want to write and I think it’s influencing my work in a way I don’t want. But I love the WIP and don’t want to abandon it right now. And the reality is that what’s going on personally/emotionally isn’t going to be a quick fix, it might never be fixed. In that case, the whole idea of postponing the work for the right time is moot.

So what do I do?

For now I’m forging ahead. I console myself with the knowledge that editing will probably be my friend in this case. Or, if I’m lucky, I’m wrong about the influence of this sadness on the story. Perhaps writing will stand well enough in spite of – or because of – this period of flux.

So my questions today are these:

1. As readers, have you ever come across a piece of fiction that felt like the storyteller wasn’t in the story? That it was somehow inauthentic – not because of skill, but precisely because of something deeper and much less tangible?

2. As writers, have you ever experienced what I’m so insufficiently trying to express: a time where your emotions just don’t mesh with the work but you’re unwilling to stop writing it?

And an apology: Because of what’s going on, in addition to work and Left Coast Crime, I’ve been very quiet on the blog . . . haven’t been participating in the conversation much at all. I see this being the pattern until early April. Please bear with me. After LCC, I’ll surely be more active here again.



34 thoughts on “In the mood . . .

  1. Matt

    The most disappointing thing as a reader for me, Pari, is when I have chanced across a great author, who knocks it out of the park with a first and/or second novel then clearly turns in an auto-pilot effort next time around to satisfy a new publishing deal and the crazy time constraints.

    Many authors have made huge careers on turning in these AP efforts time and again for casual readers who only read a few books a year, but very frustrating for crime aficianadoes like myself.

    If I ever get lucky enough to be in a position to get a wide readership, I will try my darndest to avoid falling into the same trap and treating my readers with a certain amount of disrespect.

    As a professional film screenwriter, I have had times where I have struggled to get into the story or the director's vision in which case I step aside. People pick up on the vibe very quickly.

    Thanks for the post amidst your hectic schedule, Pari.

    Best, Matt

  2. Brett Battles

    It's hard not letting the outside interfere, in fact most times impossible. I think you're doing the right thing by forging ahead, especially since it is a story that you are excited about and in to. Often when you put a story to the side, you'll lose that thread of interest and may never come back to it. You'll know what you've got to do when you get to the rewrites, and, like you said, you may find the influx of emotion you've potentially been adding have given your story an unexpected layer you'll want to keep.

    I'm sorry you're going through a difficult/sad time. I hope whatever's going on doesn't last nearly as long as you think it might.

  3. Laura Jane Thompson

    I agree wholeheartedly with Brett. It might seem like you're struggling to hit the right pitch now, but upon completion I think you will find your emotional frame of mind has added a new depth to your work–maybe in unexpected ways, but I think it will be there. And you might be telling the story in a slightly different way than you initially intended, but I don't think that makes it wrong.

    Fiction, in my opinion, is very malleable, and I think readers see what they want behind the words. My husband and I will read the same book and come away with completely different opinions on what we feel the author meant us to take away from it, emotionally and psychologically.

    I don't see why the actual writing process should be any different. If this makes sense at all.

    And I hope that the emotional weight resolves itself. You're in my prayers.

  4. Debbie

    I'm not sure that I've experienced this in a novel, but most definately in a blog. I saw the author crash, and not knowing them personally, nor having anyway to get in touch, could only hope that the people closest to him/her knew. That person is still mending, working through issues, but is doing better.
    I noticed slight variations in my language structure and the flow of passages in my first MS, which took several months to write, and during which time I read through several works, both fiction and non fiction. I only wish I had kept a literary/emotional log as a companion, to see if the variations corresponded to the writing.

  5. pari noskin taichert

    I've been trying to think of some examples of writers who've done that. I know I've read them, but the names aren't coming to mind . . .probably just as well. I do know that I resent the whole "dialing it in" approach. In those cases, I simply stop reading.

    The fact that you're aware of it bodes well for your own writing.

    And what you said about screenwriting is really interesting. I hadn't thought about having to work with someone else's vision — bringing it to life. That must be incredibly challenging when you don't quite grok it. Has it happened to you more than a couple of time?

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Thanks for the pat on the back re: continuing with this work. I came to the same conclusion — more or less — and that's why I'm keeping it. I just hope that my emotion comes through. It's quite easy for me to try to hide from it.

    As to what's going on in my life, it's going to be at least a few months because it's on a time line agreed upon with others. So I'm not being self-indulgent here (wish I were!); it's just the trajectory as I see it.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Laura Jane,
    Thank you too for seconding — thirding? — my hunch about how the writing will be affected positively. I hope we're right. The point you mention about fiction's malleability and readers seeing what they want is so true. I remember being astounded with how differently people reacted to my third book, The Socorro Blast. It . . . well . . . blew me away.

    I LOVE the idea of keeping an emotional log as a companion to a WIP. What a fascinating idea. Wow.

    As to seeing someone implode publicly, it certainly is marked if you care about that person. Like you, I hope he/she got the necessary help and is truly mending now.

    Though this time is rough for me, I am working hard to take care of myself and am seeking help to see my way through it.

  8. Jake Nantz

    I think I get what you're trying to say, I'm just not convinced I'm a skilled enough writer (or reader, for that matter) to recognize if that's what's messing up the work for me. So I'll just say that I hope LCC goes really well, that the WIP comes out fantastic, and that no matter what's troubling you God will see you through it. With a Bestseller to boot, of course!

  9. L.J. Sellers

    As a writer, sometimes the mood you're in or the experiences you're having at the time can add depth and nuance to your WIP in ways you may not realize until later. If you like the story and are enjoying writing it, then should forge ahead. And maybe get some beta reader feedback. 🙂

  10. Matt

    Pari, I've had two films where the director and I did not mesh. First, he knew exactly what he wanted but got impatient with the writing process while the second time the director's vision was about five different genres instead of one or two thereby causing havoc from the get go.

    Struggled a couple of times on my own spec scripts, but put the script away both times for a long break and saw it in a different light when I returned. Very helpful. Put too much in to give up. Only written one novel, which poured out without a break thankfully. Sure, I will encounter a road block or two if I write more book fiction down the line. Goes with the territory.

    Glad you are feeling better about things, anyhow. Wordsmiths must stick together!

  11. pari noskin taichert

    Thanks for the good wishes. And I bet you're a skilled enough reader to know when something isn't working. The next time that happens, see if you go deeper into the why of it. That kind of analysis can be very instructive.

    Great advice. And one thing I've learned is that I'm among the worst judges of my own work.

    Thanks for answering my question. This idea really has me intrigued.
    And, yes, we wordsmiths do need to stick together; we're the only ones who really understand each other!

  12. Rob Gregory Browne

    Pari, I'm pretty sure my emotions rarely mesh with what I'm writing. I'm so consumed by thoughts of simply FINISHING on time, that I can't really think about anything else. It's kind of a weird dynamic that somehow works.

    At least I hope it does.

    P.S. Sorry to hear you've been feeling down, and hope you'll soon be feeling better.

  13. Grace

    As a reader I've been disappointed at times by new releases by some of my favourite authors but it certainly doesn't make me stop buying their books. I don't care what profession, creative or otherwise, anyone is involved in, no one bats a hundred every time. Life gets in the way sometimes and we can afford to cut people some slack.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    No emotion is ever wasted for a writer. Even if you feel it doesn't quite mesh with the book, I feel sure you can use the intensity of it to drive your vision forwards, and I am sure you will triumph.

    Saving a hug for you at LCC ;-]

  15. JT Ellison

    Pari, this is such a fascinating question. I went through a hellacious period last year, and couldn't stop writing because of deadlines. I didn't realize it at the time, but what was happening in my real world became a thematic journey in the books. So much so that without me realizing it until a few weeks ago, it's become an actual plot point in the series arc. Keep pushing forward. You're going to tap into some emotions that are raw and nasty, but the work will be better for it.

    And the phoning it in is something I'm always afraid of – and probably work twice as hard to make sure no one ever thinks that. But there's always going to be a critic. It's unavoidable.

    We love you!

    PS: Winners have been announced on my post Friday…

  16. Matt

    JT, I can safely say you are not phoning it in. Keep doing what you are doing and we will lap it up.

    Just finished Rob's new book "Down Among the Dead Men" and the same goes there as I said to him last week. Raced through last 150 pages in the early hours. Riveting and I want more! Hehe.

  17. pari noskin taichert

    That's the sign of real pro.
    And thank you.

    I'll be glad for that hug and might even prevail on you for two! I also think you're right about the emotion not being wasted. I hadn't thought about it quite in that way.

    I'm with you: JT could NEVER phone it in. And Rob is a fabulous writer! We're truly fortunate here at Murderati.

    That's very interesting. Amazing how our lives can indeed affect our writing for the better. I'm looking forward to reading the new one!

  18. Barb Goffman

    Hi, Pari. So sorry to hear things aren't that well with you. I'm sending good thoughts your way.

    I can only recall two instances where I wondered if a story went astray due to something wrong in the actual life of someone behind the scenes, and they weren't with books but TV. The final season of Judging Amy and the final season of Joan of Arcadia both took a dark, depressing turn that was out of character for both series (and indeed I think may have paved the way for both cancellations). Though I've never seen this discussed anywhere, I do recall noticing at the time that both series had an executive producer (I think) in common, and I wondered if something wrong in this person's life precipitated the changes.

    Regarding books, Donna Andrews has told the story of how she was affected by the September 11 tragedy. As you know she writes funny mysteries, but she wasn't feeling particularly funny after that. But a writer writes. So she forced herself to write the darkest scene in the book, one that best matched her mood at the time. I couldn't do something like that since I write so linearly. But maybe that approach might work for you – pick a scene to write that matches your mood?

    Anyway, I hope some of this helps. Hugs from me.

  19. Dao

    Hi Pari,

    I've read a book that I could not proceed beyond page 2 simply because I had a feeling the author didn't care about his writing anymore. The sad thing is that's his second book. The two pages I read was full of grammatic errors and run-on sentences, bleh!

    On the other note, my friend passed away when I was writing the first book. That whole week, all I wanted to do was to curl up and listen to sad songs, which I did. By the time I gained back enough emotional strength, I wrote a chapter on the day they did a memorial service for her. It was painful and I had full intention to cross out those pages once I reached the editing stage. Now, looking back, I realized those pages don't feel any different than the others I wrote before or after them. In fact, they are my strong pages.

    I'm sorry to hear that you are going through tough time. Like everybody who already commented, I would like to encourage you to move along with your writing. To me, writing is therapy. I feel a lot better after pouring my soul out on paper, or in this case, to the computer. I hope you will feel the same way, too.

  20. Chris Hamilton

    How you manage to write at all when you have real life *and* you're running a conference is beyond me. I've just worked on parts of conferences and it sucks the energy from me. If you add an intense emotional situation on top of that, anything you accomplish is worth being proud of.

    Sometimes you just have to soldier on, cowboy up, do your best and forget the rest, <insert inspirational phrase here>. Writers write. But mothers mother, wives put up with idiot husbands (I know, as I am one). Friends are there for people. Workers work. Sometimes that doesn't leave a lot for writing. Maybe appreciating all the things you do could life your mood a little. I think a lot of times, people are too harsh on themselves in that respect.

    May you live in boring times.


  21. pari noskin taichert

    That's the sign of real pro.
    And thank you.

    I'll be glad for that hug and might even prevail on you for two! I also think you're right about the emotion not being wasted. I hadn't thought about it quite in that way.

    I'm with you: JT could NEVER phone it in. And Rob is a fabulous writer! We're truly fortunate here at Murderati.

    That's very interesting. Amazing how our lives can indeed affect our writing for the better. I'm looking forward to reading the new one!

  22. Alafair Burke

    Part of what we do is a form of acting. Thank God we don't have to perform as our characters, but we do have to learn how to inhabit them. The real challenge of a writer is to learn how to think and feel like someone very different from our current selves. Congratulations on making the effort. It will pay off in the long run.

  23. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Gosh, Alafair said almost exactly what I was going to say, about acting. Even if your – or my – mood doesn't match the writing, you're getting STORY written. You can always go through it in another pass and act it through, and I don't mean acting as in faking it, but acting as in bringing the emotional and thematic depth out.

  24. Sandy

    I am so sorry to hear that these are rough times for you. But over the past six plus months, I have listened to you write about how much you are enjoying your WIP and your renewed dedication to getting words down each day. I agree with many of the previous commenters: Stick with it; continue letting its joy be a part of your life. You worked hard to be in this writing place; now, let it work for you, too.
    All the best.

  25. toni mcgee causey

    I have unfortunately come across many of what I would consider inauthentic efforts, where just one more pass, one more shivering of the bones, would have sifted the story into a deeper place. I understand how it happens, and of those times, many are still enjoyable enough that I don't resent the time reading–it's just not memorable nor worthy of what that author can do. I sort of despise this fashion that we've all gotten accustomed to, that authors will have a book out twice or three times a year (at best) and at least once a year (at worst). I wish the economics for writers were such that we all had the luxury of taking the time as needed. (And writers everywhere just cracked up at that ludicrous impossibility.)

    As for me? Yes, there've been many times when my mood, when what was going on in my life were significantly different than the tone and/or topic of the books I was writing. I think this is where we have to recognize that, at times, writers have this very innate notion that We Are Called, and what they need to remember is that while this Calling may be true–while what we do might create art out of nothing–we also are craftsmen. Craftsmen, in the most elegant, beautiful meaning of the word, look at the work itself, examine it for its flaws, learn from our mistakes (and the mistakes of others that we can observe), and then set about to learn the skills, or practice the skills, to improve the work.

    When I've gone through those times that threatened to drag me to the bottom of the ocean–and there've been plenty–I keep remembering the fact that the people around me who are not writers do not have a choice about whether or not to produce their best work at their jobs/avocations/callings. They've got to work anyway. It's a combination of Lee Child's comment to me about "rigorous self-discipline" and simply accepting that mood for what it is, but saying to oneself, "for the next little while, I am the writer, the person who does this work, who is writing this story, who is in love with these characters" and letting the rest of the world slide away.

    Good luck with whatever you're facing, Pari. You have the strength to do this.

  26. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Pari – I concur with Brett – his comment is exactly as I feel about what you're going through.
    For me, it's always a struggle to remain in the mood of the story, because more of my life exists outside of the story than what exists inside of it. I'm much more insecure about it now, too, since I'm writing a standalone and not the character I've been studying for the past five years. And juggling that with a screenwriting assignment about zombies. However, my life is currently filled with love and creative energy, so I've got that on my side. I hope you can slip away from the thing that is causing you pain, and I hope the world of your stories provides some comfort.

  27. Reine

    Pari, you have some brilliant comments by other writers here, readers as well. I don't think I can add to it, only to add my affirmation that your emotional life can only enhance your writing, and not writing, is never a good option for a writer.

    Only one thing remotely similar in my writing life was a series of three sermons that were miserably off track with my personal beliefs, written only with the purpose of fulfilling ordination requirements. I could not reconcile with that and moved back to an academic track in psychology.

    Of course I wasn't purposely writing fiction then. In my training as a therapist/counselor I was taught to be "congruent" – present and transparent with with the client. I didn't find this to be awfully helpful — only to the degree that I was able to let my feelings contribute to the process of healing/doing. When that worked, when my emotional sense meshed with the purpose of the relationship, it was very helpful. When off track? The client/student let me know, and it was never subtle.

    So will this seeming incongruence allow your writing to enrich your work? Will your work let you know where your emotions lead your WIP? I think so. You're a writer. You can't, not write.

  28. KDJames

    Pari, I'm not sure this is going to come out the way I intend it to, but I'm going to try. I don't think I've ever written a piece of fiction that has matched my current mood. The prospect of doing that is unsettling. In fact, some of the (according to others) funniest pieces have bubbled up at times when I'm feeling very low. Some of the most serious thoughtful even gut-wrenching things I've written have been accomplished when I'm feeling generally very lighthearted. Does this make me dishonest? I don't think so. I hope not. Part of this is that I see writing, as is reading, to be an escape of sorts. But also, I need some distance, however small, from certain strong emotions before I can grasp them clearly enough to write about them authentically. It's less difficult for me to "remember" an emotion and re-create it than it would be to put it on the page while I'm mired in it. If I had to write about grief, for instance, while I was actually grieving or suffering a great loss, I don't think I'd ever come out the other side. So maybe, for me, it's a matter of emotional balance. Or I'm just psychotic. It's a possibility.

    All this is to say I think your writing will be fine. You have strength and experience, in writing and in living. There is more going into your writing than merely your current mood. Plus you're enjoying what you're writing, and that speaks volumes. Have a little faith.

    Sending good thoughts your way and hoping the sadness is neither too deep nor too wide.

  29. pari noskin taichert

    Great examples! I'm trying to think back to Judging Amy. You're right that it went very, very dark. And maybe I should talk with Donna about this at LCC?

    Thank you for the advice; I plan to keep writing.
    I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, too. Grief never leaves us, not quite anyway.

    Thank you. I'm not quite sure how I'm doing all of this right now either. My mantra is "April 2, April 2" by then six major events for which I'm responsible — in part or in entirety — will be mostly through. I look forward to it.
    As to living in boring times? Well. Thanks . . . but no thanks. Even though some of this is truly hell, at least I'm interested.

  30. pari noskin taichert

    Alafair and Alex,
    Yeah. I like that image. I can get into the character, I just don't want her slitting her wrists or anything because there aren't any medics in the time period I'm writing about <g>.

    Thank you for that reminder. During the last six months, I've completed several works (just haven't edited most of them0, but this one is particularly intriguing to me. Letting it work for me sounds like a marvelous way to frame it.

    " . . . for the next little while, I am the writer, the person who does this work, who is writing this story, who is in love with these characters" and letting the rest of the world slide away."
    Toni, this is beautiful. Thank you.

  31. pari noskin taichert

    Debbie, yep.

    I know it's possible. I just have to do it.

    You hit so many important points here. The notion of congruence is incredibly powerful and a model I'd not considered — not in those terms — but it feels right somehow. You nailed what I was trying to express. Congruence. But as others have commented here, perhaps I should let the depth of the emotion out while not trying to dictate the what of a particular emotion.

    I wonder what mood you're in right now — or when you wrote that comment. It made me smile in several places. I don't think you're psychotic, not more than the rest of us at least. Writing one's emotions while one is experiencing them is probably impossible. I find I'm fairly inarticulate about what's going on inside me right now; I just know it is really difficult.

    Well . . .I also know that this too, shall pass. Having faith is good counsel. Thank you.

    To the point. Spot on. Aye aye.

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