There’s a psychological phenomenon that means when you make yourself smile, you begin to involuntarily feel happy. The well-known cliche ‘fake it till you make it’ has a kernel of truth. I don’t know about other writers, but I use mood music while I’m writing to get me in the right frame of mind to create war/love/melancholy or whatever my story requires of me. I can’t wait on inspiration. If I want to do this on my own terms, I can’t follow the will ‘o wisp that is the muse. I don’t want to wind up drowning in the swamp of my own doubts and insecurities.
Whatever it takes. Today to write this post it’s some quiet time at the office. I have to pay the cat tax first, of course, but while the kettle is coming to the boil I can pet them and love on them until they are done with me… although I note both are still in the room with me. They are not cuddlers, just pats-fiends on their own terms. I’ve got music going, cocoa in my mug, and having paid the toll of a pen for them to bat around, I’m writing.
Writing a new story is a lot like meeting strangers. You never know what you will get. Open, honest, trustworthy sorts, or hidden, coy, unreliable narrators. In person I prefer the first. But in a story, sometimes the second makes more compelling reading. However, if you are in character more one than the other, it’s hard to write the opposing type. (And having said the cats were done with me, Addie is now all up in my lap and on the keyboard purring like mad while pluming her tail over my eyes). In order to lend the tale the emotional verisimilitude necessary to keep the reader’s interest, you may have to take on the physical and emotional makeup of your character. Music can be helpful. Frown, if your character is sad or angry. Smile, if they are glad.
This masking is why I sometimes have trouble speaking a story, I think. I feel profoundly silly saying out loud all the beats you write into text, but never think twice about when you are living life. Who thinks about facial expressions when they meet someone unless those are dramatic? But we do use them for communication – slightly more than half of communication in person is body language. Especially with a stranger, facing them while they speak is key to understanding. With someone you know well, you can carry on an animated conversation while working back-to-back and never even making eye contact, with no misunderstanding because you can mentally fill in their face.
So writing becomes more like that first stage of a relationship, where you pay a lot of attention to the little details that later on slip into the background and you only notice them when they disappear for some reason. You have to write all those out, and it can seem like too much – fortunately we can use cliches and tropes to our advantage and convey in very few words what is going on. Balanced with an interesting plot, of course! It’s always about balance. Too much cliche is going to feel tired and threadbare. Too little is going to feel stilted and overwritten.
And with that. Addie has decided she’s going to curl up at the back of my desk just behind the iPad while I type, with the occasional paw over the top to tap my hands. Evie is decorously washing herself in the soft cat bed. The music is grooving, and I? I’m going to type out some fiction before I leave my retreat and my concentration for meeting strangers is scattered to the distractions of demanding life. Seize the mood!