In the Mood: How to set the stage for writing fiction by Jennifer Lamont Leo
I’ll admit it; I’m addicted to author interviews. I love to learn the stories-behind-the-stories. I keep a file of author interviews I’ve collected over the years. Every so often I pull them out and leaf through them, looking for inspiration. I’m especially interested in the little daily practices that authors use to “prime the pump” and get themselves ready to write. Some writers read a few pages of a favorite book. Others take walks, putter around in the kitchen or garden, pray, or meditate. Still others retype what they wrote the day before to get into the “voice” of their character. (If you want to read a really interesting collection of tactics used over the centuries, check out Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.)
Here are some of my favorite ways to get in the writing mood:
Did you know that the root of the word “music” is “muse”? If your writing muse is napping, turn up the volume and wake her up!
Novelist Bret Lott opens his writing time by listening to certain music: a different “soundtrack” for every project. He prefers music that’s complex and instrumental, so that the words of the song don’t get mixed in with his own. While writing her bestselling Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon listened to Scottish folk music, “trying to grasp the cadence and charm of their language.”
My debut novel, as well as the sequel I’m working on now, are set during Prohibition. At the library I found a CD of hit songs of the 1920s, and for a while that was my writing soundtrack. Recently I discovered the wonders of Pandora and have downloaded my own selections. Now when I hear the opening strains of “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” I shimmy myself right back into my story.
Some writers use objects to get into the writing mood. Kent Haruf says he writes the first draft with a stocking cap over his face, typing blind so as not to be distracted by the words on the paper. Others don a certain shirt or pair of slippers. Several writers have mentioned lighting a candle at the beginning of every writing session. I love this idea, except I tend to be forgetful, and a shrieking smoke alarm is unhelpful to the creative process. Instead, I collect old magazines from the 1920s that I find in antique shops. They’re fairly inexpensive, and the ads and illustrations are great for helping me capture the clothes, hairstyles, decorating, and even popular slang of the era. I also have an antique lipstick case that I display on my desk. It helps me conjure up an image of the “flapper” who might have carried it, back in the day.
Tastes and Smells
Catherine Palmer prepares for writing her Regency-England romances by brewing tea in an elegant china pot. Amy Tan burns incense. I don’t yet have an aroma associated with my novel, but if I did, it would probably be bootleg whiskey or bathtub gin (on second thought, I’d probably best leave well enough alone!).
How do you get in the writing mood? Do you have certain tricks, habits, or rituals that set the stage for your writing? If not, maybe give it a try. Who knows—your muse might just appreciate your lucky bowling shirt as much as you do.
With a passion for all things historical, Jennifer Lamont Leo captures readers’ hearts and imaginations through fiction set in times gone by. Her debut novel, You’re the Cream in My Coffee, set in 1920s Chicago, was published in 2016 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. An award-winning author, journalist, copywriter, and editor, she writes from the Idaho mountain home she shares with her husband, two cats, and abundant wildlife. Visit her at JenniferLamontLeo.com.