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Writing Emotions You Don’t Feel

March 20, 2012

In the super-secret Facebook writing group I’m part of–the one where you write a passage to reflect different character emotions–the emotion of the day is excitement.

Brooks Robinson, for instance, is very excited that his Orioles just swept the Dodgers to win the 1966 World Series. And he can jump really high when he’s excited.

I’m not feeling excited today. It’s been a less-than-ideal week and today’s emotional hangover day. Because I’m not on a deadline, I get to defer on writing about a character who’s excited.

Being a professional, though, means being able to overcome those personal problems to hit the right chords when it’s required. It’s sort of like an actor playing an excitement scene after a horrible string of days in their personal lives. It’s reasonable to let that affect your work, but it’s professional to overcome your emotions.

The question is how to do it:

  1. Write. If you don’t at least try to write the scene, you won’t get it done. Perhaps you’ll hit a home run and even change your mood, but you won’t do anything if you don’t sit down and let some words come out of the keyboard. This might be one of those times where you have to let it come to you, though. Maybe start out by writing a throwaway scene that mirrors the emotions you need to develop.
  2. Immerse yourself in your character. As writers, we imagine what it’s like to be in someone’s shoes and write it. In a sense, we go to that part of ourselves that is that character and become that part for the purpose of writing. No one’s saying to turn of your emotion, just to sample your character’s emotions and tell your readers.
  3. Do something else to feel that emotion. For me, it might be watching highlights of the 1986 World Series or going for a run or looking at pictures of the kids when they were smaller. It could be watching a funny movie or sitting and just thinking to clear my head. Your mileage may vary.
  4. Do something to be busy. If you’ve got the time, maybe go get groceries or run an errand. Let your mind reset itself. (Or, if you need to write a down piece and you’re feeling up, watch Platoon.)

Your mileage, of course, may vary. If it does, what do you do to reset your emotions when you have to write a scene that runs counter to your current frame of mind?

  1. March 20, 2012 6:57 pm

    Great post, Chris. I just looked in our book and the next emotion is “Fear”. Mwahahahah. It will be great!

    • Chris Hamilton permalink
      March 21, 2012 12:11 pm

      Yeah, I’ll bet that’s one of your faves.

      Working on my piece already.

  2. March 20, 2012 9:57 pm

    Good advice. I had something like this happen the other. I was so emotionally drained the other day that I did not want to write. But I had decided that I was done with all the excuses (about three months worth). So I started writing, saying I just had to get down a thousand words…and I did. The best part was, by the end of my writing time I was psyched about writing all over again. And in a much better mood.

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