Keeping Your Emotions in Check When Writing

Spock from Firefly or Something

One of the things I had to learn way back in high school when I started writing was how to control my own emotions.  Not block them off completely, but temper them and access the ones I needed for certain scenes.  I couldn’t be feeling happy while writing a sad scene and let the wrong emotion come through.  Yet, I also didn’t want to plunge myself into utter sadness.  So, there was a lot of learning and experimenting with ways to handle this situation.  Betting there are many out there who don’t think this is a problem or stumble into this issue, but I’m sure there are plenty in this boat.

Over the last year, I’ve had a lot of trouble maintaining my own balance when writing due to personal issues.  This resulted in me not feeling like I can write the scenes that I’m up to or attempting it in utter failure.  It’s why War of Nytefall: Eradication has taken me months instead of weeks.  Well, the job too, but it definitely took a long time because I repeatedly hit moments where I couldn’t stop the outside world from poking into my fantasy realm.  The tricks I’d established over the years weren’t working as well as they should.  This is what prompted me to consider the topic and come up with some suggestions for those who find themselves in this boat.

  1. Don’t force the writing.  If you need to step back and handle life then do so.  This might seem like you’re bashing through a wall, but it’s more than likely that you will have to scrap whatever you complete.  The tone will be off and characters won’t be acting the way they should.  Maybe they’re bickering more or they shrug off a horrible event because you’re too happy at the moment.  You’ll be annoyed with yourself come the editing stage, so it could be better in the long run to handle your business before you dive back into the manuscript.
  2. Music may soothe the wounded author.  If you can write with noise than playing songs to fit the scene can help you focus.  Metal and hard rock could work with action scenes while love songs work for romance.  You can go full mood music as well if you don’t want any talking.  This works for me, but I know it’s not for everyone.
  3. Meditation beforehand can help.  I’ll admit that I haven’t mastered this.  It tends to go with the music and I can slip pretty easily.  You could also fall asleep, but naps can help your emotions reset.  At the very least, you get some extra energy for when you’re able to write again.
  4. This isn’t something I’m capable of, but you could write a scene that connects to your current mood.  It means not going in order and jumping around the story, which can cause some continuity issues.  If you have a way to counteract those or are okay with big rewrites in editing runs then this could work.  The secondary effect is that you can pull yourself out of the funk by bestowing the emotions on your characters.  Them getting through the issues could help you do the same.

I can say that not everything here will work.  Much of it depends on the strength of your emotions and the cause.  Some events will knock you for a loop longer than others.  This kind of brings me back to #1, which is where you get your house in order before you return to the story.  I did this back in August 2018 when my life got a karate chop to the throat and a vicious groin pull.  Took me 5 months before I could bring myself to touch another writing project.  Did I come back stronger?  Not really, but I returned at a point when I felt I had enough control to get the job done.  I don’t think I was right, which is why I took so many breaks.  When I was on the verge of tears, I couldn’t touch my action or romance scenes.  Eradication doesn’t have a lot of sad scenes at the beginning, so I was out of luck here.  Thankfully, I’ve been pulling out of it and managing to carve out a little writing time every week.

In the same vein, you might not want to do any author path decisions.  I regret announcing a semi-retirement when things went south because things kept spiraling until I realized that I needed to hold onto some of what I had created.  Never be afraid to take a break from writing, but try not to be dramatic.  I think I hurt myself pretty badly with that post because my blog traffic took a nosedive.  This is just a personal piece of advice for anyone who is writing and having a hard time.  Trying to hold onto part of the spark even if you can’t add words to your project.  Outlines and blog posts about your writing can help fill the void.

So, what do other people do when they’re carrying an emotion that doesn’t fit the scene they want to write?  Is it easy for you to switch or do you wait for the opportune moment?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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18 Responses to Keeping Your Emotions in Check When Writing

  1. I certainly like the music option. I find it is the best way to stay centered when the possibility of going over the edge is very real.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry things have been so rough for you, but glad you’re making progress. Even if it feels glacial.

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  3. Seem like good tips to me. I usually go for classical music or soundtracks on the few occasions I need music. I also have an entire Lizzie and the hat playlist for those stories.

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  4. Staci Troilo says:

    You listed great tips. Music is the one I use the most. It’s not one hundred percent effective for me, but it’s the best I’ve found. I can’t have words, though. Has to be instrumental. I often rely on classical or on movie soundtracks. I even use nature sounds or crackling fire noise.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    In my head, I commented on this post yesterday. But I see in actuality that I didn’t.
    This is a great post. As others have said, your tips are really helpful.
    I love movie soundtracks. Many of the songs from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse have been great for pumping me up when I approach a scene where the character really has to show what he or she is made of. And the soundtracks from the LoTR movies have been great for scenes of loss and heroic sacrifices.
    There are times when I’m not ready to go there emotionally. I don’t try to force the emotion, as you mentioned.If I’m not prepared to write the level of emotion required for the scene, I try to prepare for the day that I’ll get to that level by writing notes and questions to myself. How is this character feeling? Angry. What gestures/actions will he/she use to show this emotion (punching a wall)? What are the consequences of these actions? Yes, I actually write questions like that. I also think about how I felt when I was in a similar emotional situation.

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    • I tried the LoTR soundtrack once and it made me fall asleep. That’s one reason I don’t go near instrumentals. They have a habit of making me drift off to sleep even if I’m writing.

      I’ve been having trouble with certain emotions recently. The divorce has been a big factor on this because it’s left me in turmoil that will probably last for a long time. So, I’ve found that I’ve had to force it a little. Going back to similar situations has backfired a few times. Recently, I tried to see the characters as separate entities from their inspirations and put myself in a more director mindset. This might be another reason I’m worried so much about ‘War of Nytefall: Eradication’.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As several have mentioned, I like movie soundtracks because they are full of emotions and also full of action/movement. Although many individual pieces are short, the whole carries you along.

    Some stories I work on feel like they’re connected to specific movies or game soundtracks, and that will be what I play while writing that specific project.

    When I’m upset or frustrated and I need to write, I find that I can break out of it by backing up a few pages and reading up to the point where I need to go forward. Reading more than once, if necessary. Eventually I can re-focus.

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  7. Music! Sleep! These are good suggestions! Exclamation point!

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  8. Anonymole says:

    I like the last suggestion: write it out. Remember, you can write into another story, not your current WIP. Write a shortstory, or scene exploration as an exercise. One group who I find have a tough time isolating their emotions from their work are poets. “I’m gonna write a happy poem today even though I feel like crap!” NOT. Write a depressing poem—first—get it out of your system and the focus on something lighter.
    Good stuff, all.

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    • Interesting. I’ve actually met more poets who let their emotions determine what they’re writing. Novelists were the ones forcing scenes that didn’t match their mindset. Guess it depends on the circles. Good point that writing it out is one of the best options. Might not be usable, but it can clear the emotional palate.

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