Which comes first, the story’s mood, or yours?

In creativity theory, there is an interesting result, first published by two guys named Trope and Liberman. [1] It states that making intuitive leaps tends to get you thinking about things in a more abstract fashion, and that it works the other way around, too: if you can get yourself contemplating things abstractly, you will tend to make more intuitive leaps in your thinking. And when I say “intuitive leaps in your thinking,” you should immediately translate that as: “creative ideas.” Cool concept, but what does it mean to you and me?

It suggests that you are not a slave to the whims and fancies of your state of mind – those states can be controlled (to some degree at least) by what you choose to think about. Well, I had an experience today that suggests to me that this phenomenon extends further than just creative moods, and I’m taking it as further evidence that the writers who spend all their time trying to establish appropriate ambience for their writing time, or waiting for the muse to strike them have it all wrong. You don’t get yourself into a spooky mood in order to write spooky. It works the other way around – writing about a mood makes you feel it.

One of my favorite characters in Strange Places is the exuberant little girl, Winry. She’s in the middle of a tough childhood, only she doesn’t seem to know it. Like all five year-olds, she’s curious and energetic, and she doesn’t know how to be quiet about any of it.

So today, which started out a bit gloomy, I sat down to write a scene with my favorite five-year old, and by the third paragraph, I found that my mood had changed completely. I’m now as bubbly and as energetic as any pre-schooler has ever been.

Beyond simply curing my own Tuesday Blues, I’m wondering if this is an effect other writers have noticed. Do you find that you can use your writing as a sort of emotional self-medication? Do you find yourselves choosing which scene to work on next by assessing which emotions you find currently lacking in your own emotional tapestry?

How science can increase your writing productivity
Anatomy of a recap
  1. [1]Yaacov Trope and Nira Liberman in Psychological Review, Vol 110, Issue 3, 2003.

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.