If you know me booknerds, friends, and writers, you know that I don’t like giving writing advice. Advice on writing a book is literally everywhere, often contradictory, and often billed as a “do this and you can’t fail” or “this is the correct/only way to do a thing.” I don’t believe in that, nor subscribe to that mentality. So, know that when I talk about writing, it’s strictly through a lens of: this works for me, and therefore may work for you if you are looking for new things to try. So, with that in mind, let’s talk about setting the mood when I/you/we sit down to write!
My books all tend to be emotional whirlwinds; they include everything from unabashedly fun action, to swoony tender moments, to scenes of extreme emotional pain/grief. Those scenes can take a lot out of me when I write; from the frantic energy I feel when I write my fight scenes, to bringing myself to tears as I dig deep for those scenes where I am less than kind to my characters. Some writers can write out of sequence, but I can’t. I write linearly so if I get to a sad scene when I’m in a good mood, then I’ve got to go to a dark place to set the writing tone. Those writers who can write out of sequence can mark a scene or chapter as something emotionally devastating and will revisit that scene later, when the fun bits that match their current frame of mind are all taken care of. But, since that’s not a process that works for me personally, I’ve learned to improvise.
The biggest thing that helps me get into a particular mood is music. Paying for my Spotify was one of the best writing investments I’ve made as it gives me access to so, so much music. I can curate playlists based on what I need to convey. It helps me capture the flow and tempo of the chapter, regardless of my mind frame: from break up angry/sad music, to high tempo action scenes, and moments of bittersweet character growth. It can take a bit of time to comb through all that music to find what I need, but getting that sorted before I dive into the scene does tend to save me some time when it comes to revisions, as I’m not struggling so hard to fully capture a certain mood or frame of mind. There is one exception to this though: writing sexy sex scenes.
I don’t write a lot of detailed sex scenes. I was firmly in the YA camp for several years, after all. But now that I am writing more adult fiction, it’s becoming more common. Music can still help with this, but, if you’re like me and get embarrassed writing those closed-door scenes, setting the music just isn’t enough. What does help me, however, is wine. If I know a sex scene is in my characters future, that is the one kind of scene I can, and will, write out of sequence. Generally, because it’s fluff to the plot, I can put a big note that says: WRITE THIS LATER and then, when it is socially acceptable to drink, come back and finish the scene. Writing a little tipsy for those sex scenes keeps me from second guessing myself, and basically helps me just get out of my own way so I can get that first draft done. I don’t condone alcoholism or anything, but there is a reason why “Write drunk, and edit sober” is a saying that’s been around for a long time (and contrary to popular belief, Ernest Hemingway didn't actually say it)…
It may sound simple, too simple, dare I say, but this is a very Occam’s Razor scenario for me. Sometimes the simplest answer, or writing method, is the right one. Waiting for your muse or inspiration to strike, for you to be in the right mood before diving in can lead to your book never getting written. Sometimes, you do have to wait, and those blocks are bigger to get around. But if you’re simply waiting to write a scene or a chapter until you “feel like it”, then give setting some mood music a try! Or crack open your favorite adult beverage and let the words flow without overthinking every word you put on a page. Now, it should be said this is my method for first to second drafts only, but those are usually the hardest drafts, so there you go. I hope you found this helpful and/or interesting! And if you have any methods for how you set the mood for your writing or reading, please share! I’d love to see what others do.