Writing scenes often requires setting one’s mind in the right mood. Some scenes are intense, some somber, some hysterical. As a writer, I can’t allow myself to travel the emotional roller coaster all the time. I can’t meditate on being angry or scared for the amount of time it takes to write a scene. But there are a few tricks I keep in my pocket to get me into the zone quickly.
1. Find the Right Song
Nothing can put me in the right frame of mind quicker than music. I usually pick a soundtrack of songs that fit the pacing and mood I need for certain scenes, then I can come back to the same songs next time I sit down to write. For Surviving the Stillness, my go to songs were Tenth Avenue North’s Worn, Shane and Shane’s Though You Slay Me, and Jars of Clay’s The Valley Song.
2. Pinterest Boards
I’m a visual person. I have to set the scene in my head before I can find the words to describe the scene in words. Pinterest is both a friend and a foe to scene writing. I can lose precious hours trying to find that one picture that does it for me. On the other hand I follow boards that fit my time period and subjects and have boards for each of my works in progress. The picture of the right quote, face, object, place can make writing a scene so much easier and allow you to come back to it later.
3. Read Short Stories or Poetry
There are so many great pieces out there, both modern and classic, that capture both the technical aspects of writing, like pacing and tone, and the creative aspects, like setting the scene or describing body language. I’ve started reading more short stories and poetry lately and making notes of what they invoke in me as a reader and what they masterfully do as writers. Now when I get stuck on writing a scene, I can either recall from memory or open my writing journal and scan until I pinpoint something that might help me capture a character or a specific tone I want for the scene.
4. Quote Journals
Great quotes can inspire a character or bring a theme to life. When I read a book, I write down great quotes. While I have to admit, most of the quotes that inspire my books come from Pinterest now, those hand written ones often invoke more emotional response. I save each quote to my story board and when I get stuck, I’ll read through them. If I can’t find something I like, I’ll go to one of the quote websites and search by keyword (stillness and running were two words I spent hours finding great quotes for Surviving the Stillness).
5. Get Out into Nature
The brightness of natural light, the layers of sound, the smells, even the colors are more vibrant when we can get out into nature. When I get outside, it feels like I’m throwing open the windows of my brain and a fresh spring breeze is airing out all the musty, staleness. The words begin to flow more freely, too, and descriptions become more crisp.
6. Talk with Someone
Preferably someone you don’t normally talk too. Everyone has a story to tell, even if it is just what they did last weekend. Listen to the words they use, the pace of their voice, the pitches of their tone. Watch how they move their bodies, their facial expressions, their posture, their hand gestures. People watching is good but its the interactions that really capture the person.
7. Try Doing Something Differently
We all have those scenes where someone is eating, washing dishes or some other benign dull task. Most of the time we try and skip adding detail, but then we miss the opportunity to make the scene pop. My favorite example is eating soup. Next time you eat soup, slurp it. I know it is the most annoying sound in the world, but do it. Then write down how it sounded, how it felt sliding between your lips, how annoyed you felt. Then try eating quickly. Pick up your bowl and take a big gulp. Try different size spoons, let the spoon clang against the bowl, or dry up the bottom of the bowl with a piece of crusty bread. Now you have a dozen different ways to describe eating soup. Mix that with a specific character in a specific situation and you have a recipe for a great scene.
8. Buy a New Pen
There is something about a new pen that makes you want to write. Especially if it is a cool color or one that flows seamlessly. Color also invokes certain emotions. Red can invoke passion (both positive and negative). Black can invoke a sense of loss or emptiness. Yellow-joy. If you write exclusively on the computer change the color of your text, the font, even the background color. Changing it up helps your brain create a new relationship with the screen. Use that to help you find the right mood.
9. Buy A Reward
This one requires a bit of self-control, but buy the reward and set a goal. If you write 1000 words, eat that Hershey’s kiss. If you finish the first draft, wear that new pair of shoes (or in my case read that book). Having the reward right there will make you work a little harder. It can also make you a better writer. Waiting for the reward has a psychological effect of releasing the chemicals of desire. This is important in any book. If we want the reader to keep wanting more, we have to want more too.
NOTE: If you find yourself eating the chocolate, put it in the freezer. It will take about 10 minutes to thaw enough to eat or 30 if you want it room temperature, still enough time to keep you from snacking on it.
10. Make a Writing Buddy
I cannot tell you the value of a writing partner. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and to work through trouble spots with is the #1 way to get in the writing mood. Set a time to talk and be specific about what you want to work through. You can do more in a 15 minute conversation than you can doing any of the above for 15 minutes. It’s active creative or problem solving time with someone who is as excited about our work as you are. Make sure to take notes and come back to your ideas when you lose the mood to write. You’ll recall the excitement with which you talked about that character or scene and find it easier to jump back in.