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I'm not sure if this is right for this part of Stackexchange, but since there is no psychology section, here we go:

I'm currently writing the same short story several times with the intention of conveying one very intense emotion each time. I'm wondering if "putting yourself" in the emotion charges you to write better to that effect.

I'm trying to imagine some link similar to the one in acting. I've heard that thinking of something sad to make oneself cry, or Heath Ledger's depression he experienced during his role as the Joker, one so intense he ended up needing medication.

Is there a connection between the emotion a writer is feeling with how a feeling is being conveyed in the writing?

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  • I'd say yes, there is - but not direct. I wrote some of my most cheerful, sweet and nice stories while heavily depressed and far from these moods, but just so that you wouldn't think it's a simple reversal, some of my vicious and mean works were written under quite vicious moods.
    – SF.
    May 6, 2013 at 0:07
  • Related: CogSci.stackexchange.com, a beta site where (according to the faq) "If you have questions about ... Cognitive science, Psychology (e.g., cognitive, social, developmental, biological, applied, clinical, organizational, etc.), Psychiatry, Neuroscience and neurobiology ... then you're in the right place to ask your question." And while I believe that cross-posts are discouraged, if this particular question does not get the kind of answer you're looking for, you might want to consider asking it over there.
    – Jed Oliver
    May 6, 2013 at 3:57
  • I think that I'll get a better answer here than there. Thank you though!
    – Throsby
    May 6, 2013 at 4:49
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    Is the reductio ad adsurdum that to write about an amputee I should hack off my leg? I think it was Wordworth who spoke of "emotion recollected in tranquility". There is no guarantee that you will be able to exercise your writing craft while in the grip of the object mental state.
    – Fortiter
    May 6, 2013 at 6:45
  • (NOT a professional writer) IMHO there is a certain level of composure required to write, or to do anything. Too intense emotions might hinder that.
    – KK.
    May 6, 2013 at 11:02

7 Answers 7

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I am reminded of the anecdote about Dustin Hoffman torturing himself for Marathon Man because he was a "Method" actor, so he'd look as tortured as his character. Lawrence Olivier looked at him and said, "My dear boy, that's why they call it acting."

Whenever we write, unless we're writing an autobiography, we are always putting ourselves into someone else's mood, experience, mindset, etc. So while you can take notes when you're in a particular mood to use for later, just because you're depressed doesn't mean you'll write brilliant prose from the POV of being depressed. You may just be too depressed to write anything.

That is, in fact, "changing how a writer writes," but not, I think, in the way you meant.

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It does impact how you write, and possibly your ability to write, but not always in a predictable or positive sense.

At first it might seem that it's easier to write about a particular emotion when you're experiencing that emotion. Not necessarily. Let's assume that you can somehow work yourself into that emotional state without it seeming strained or artificial. (I'm glossing over that, but recognize the ability to do so is remarkably difficult unto itself.) Does that really give you any value when it comes to portraying that emotion?

For first-person stories, perhaps, but even then it will require significant editing. People undergoing an intense emotion tend to get wrapped up in that emotion, but you don't want that kind of directionless anger, depression, or what have you in a story. There should be enough to get a sense of it, but getting lost in it means you run the risk of losing the narrative, and therefore the reader's attention.

In third-person I'd say it's almost useless. Unless you're going to let the character's thoughts take over the narrative in some subtle way, there's no point. You need to remain firmly in the mind of the narrator, even if your third-person story follows characters (or possibly just one character) closely.

That said, it is helpful when it comes to writing about intense emotion to have experienced that emotion, but the key here lies in past tense. It's hard to describe something when you're currently experiencing it, but far easier when it's a memory. After all, intense emotion is more often than not an inhibitor of logical thinking, which isn't very helpful when you need to sit down and pump out a story.

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I guess the correct question would be "Is having your text affected by your mood good or bad?"

I have no doubt that what the author is feeling affects the way he writes, just as anybody in any kind of job will be affected in their performance by the way they are feeling. It's normal to a certain point.

The problem is that what you feel might affect your work in different ways, and it's up to you to use what is good and leave out what is not.

I always heard that Interview with the Vampire was written after the death of the author's daughter and, in fact, I see a really good book with a good deal of emotion in it. If that is true, I can see aspects of that death of a child in its pages (if it's not, writing is subjective anyway). I would say that Anne's emotion was good for the text and she knew how to deal with it.

On the other hand, I see people start to do a lot of crappy text because they are depressed. A common mistake is to write about what you are feeling and forget that other people will read it and need to achieve what you are feeling. A book is not a diary.

So, everything has a good and bad side.

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I would say yes. I found a short articles for you to puruse at your lesure:

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/a-positive-mood-allows-your-brain-to-think-more-creatively.html

I have noticed when writing poetry or music, I tend to do my most prolific work when I am upset. I write down everything I can and use that mood as fuel. When I am in a happier mood and reread what I wrote, it is usually garbage, but I am able to do some good editing.

I hate to answer with a completely subjective answer, but that is what I have found.

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Yes... before writing, writer feels the emotions of the character thats been depicted into the story. Its a role of a writer to create emotions of the character and personally feel the emotion and be into the character while writing. If you as a writer don't feel the character, readers will never be able to feel. So its important to be in the mood and emotion of the character while writing and it does effect your writing... :)

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Everything about you on a particular day influences your creative output. Not only mood, but also how tired you are, what drugs you have been taking, whether you are hungry or not hungry or have eaten way too much food, whether you have worries or not, whether you feel rushed or not, what location you are writing in. That is why you see a lot of writers (and artists and other creative people) carving out a quiet, neutral room to work in so that when they go into that room, they go into a neutral place and mood, apart from the details of that particular day, apart from the world, and then they can shift high or low in mood and intensity as required by the subject matter of the work they are doing.

What you are doing by writing the same story while in different moods reminds me of the following art project, where the artist painted the same self-portrait multiple times while under the influence of different drugs. Included here as food for thought about how state of mind influences creative work.

Bryan Lewis Saunders — Under the Influence

You might want to experiment with any or all of the above factors. Like fast for a day and then write your story, and then eat 10,000 calories in a day and write your story.

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Connection? Yes... a bit of one. Sure.

I understand that this is a bit late and may never be read -- which is fine, I can always spruce it up a bit and use it as a blog post.

The connection you are inquiring about not only exists, but it is profound. There is little we do which is not deeply affected by our emotional state (mood).

Word choice - The language, vocabulary, metaphors, and imagery a writer uses often reflect their internal emotional state. Feeling melancholy may lead one to more somber descriptive words, while joy may elicit more lively word choices.

At the surface level of this, mood and emotional state affect writing:

Tone & perspective - The tone of a piece of writing closely mirrors the writer's mood. Feelings of anger, sadness, tension, or other emotions get infused into the tone of the text, shaping readers' experiences.

Content & focus - We tend to dwell on and explore ideas tied to our current emotions. Stress may translate into more aimless or chaotic writing, whereas calmness can lead to more focused, orderly work.

Creativity - Some moods like happiness or excitement seem to boost creativity in making unexpected connections. But distress can also inspire powerful writing by tapping into primal emotions.

Energy level - Our available mental energy and motivation to write can fluctuate hugely with moods. Manic highs may increase output, while depression saps willpower.

But let's keep going so that we have an understanding of why some authors have strange and sometimes plain weird needs for their writing sessions. To that end let us talk about memories and recall. Depending on emotional states we may not recall particular experiences which could be minded for narrative and descriptive choices. This alters the foundation of the energies and resources we have available for composition.

Research has clearly demonstrated that our emotional state at the time of encoding memories significantly influences both what we remember later and how vivid those memories are. This effect has been termed "state-dependent memory." Key evidence and mechanisms behind the impact of emotion on memory:

  • Memories encoded during intensely emotional events tend to be remembered more vividly and for longer than mundane memories, due to evolutionary links between memory and threat detection. Fight-or-flight responses activate strong memory consolidation.

  • Similarly, being in an emotionally aroused state leads what you experience in that state take on enhanced salience in memory retention. The biochemical reactions amplify memory encoding priority.

  • Specific neuroimaging studies have shown the amygdala and related limbic system activity during emotional situations leads visual, auditory, spatial details to get burned in as part of the total experience.

  • You are more likely to recall positive memories from times you were in a good mood compared to a bad mood. Contextual cues play a key role in determining what memories readily come to mind.

  • Minor everyday events may be forgotten quickly because they do not engage our emotional systems at all during encoding. We prioritize information tied to biological needs.

But we can get even more detailed. What about the words we can remember to be used for description, and what synonyms 'feel' right and which ones feel 'off'.

The emotional state we are in also influences the vocabulary and language we use, both in speech and writing. Here are some key ways that mood impacts vocabulary choice and usage:

Accessibility of emotional memories: When we feel sad, memories of past sadness become more accessible. This makes sadness-related words and metaphors more top-of-mind and likely to be retrieved and used.

Priming word associations: Positive moods prime positive word associations in our brains, while negative moods surface negative word linkages. The words we recall tend to match valence with our internal emotional state.

Emotional specificity in language: Feeling anger activates anger-related vocabulary (rage, irritate, hostile). The available lexical field shifts to be more situation-specific to the mood.

Reflecting inner arousal: High arousal moods like stress or excitement often elicit more vivid, intense and evocative word choice - reflecting inner dynamics.

Settling on descriptors: The judgment process for selecting vocabulary to aptly convey inner emotional state or outer observations gets filtered through mood, leading to distinct descriptive flavors.

So, in many intertwined ways, the constraints emotion puts on cognition steer word retrieval and vocabulary selection to reflect the contours of our momentary moods. Our inner dictionary interfaced dynamically with subjective affective experiences.

Many professional writers have created, over their tenure, 'writing nooks,' or areas which they refer to with nye reverent terms. These areas control temperature, lighting, visual cues and normalizers, scents and incense, and auditory stimuli -- music or white noise or perhaps extra insulation for better silence. Most writers I have talked to personally don't claim this need for a controlled environment as connected with emotional states, they just recognize that when outside of their creation nook, their writing is not as fluid, or as 'clean'. They don't get the insights or fresh ideas. Words and metaphors escape them.

Rituals preformed before beginning work on the WIP are also useful. Just about anything that helps to normalize our emo-state is useful. I personally develop lists of words, whole vocabularies for scenes and characters. I don't 'use' them for the characters or scenes -- I read through them before I begin to write -- priming my brain with their existences.

Word association exercises and games are effective for this as well, when practiced for a short time each day to kickstart and freshen our usage vocabulary recall.

Hope this helps. Have fun.

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