Mood v. Muse: Does Emotional State Affect Our Writing Ability?

There is little we do which is not deeply affected by our emotional state (mood). This includes writing and creating storylines. I have come to believe that the 'flashes' of inspiration are less "making connections to come up with something fresh and new" to being more of remembering something because our mood shifted.

A short list of what our emotional state alters:

Word choice - The language, vocabulary, metaphors, and imagery a writer uses often reflect their internal emotional state. Feeling melancholy may lead one to more somber descriptive words, while joy may elicit more lively word choices.

Tone & perspective - The tone of a piece of writing closely mirrors the writer's mood. Feelings of anger, sadness, tension, or other emotions get infused into the tone of the text, shaping readers' experiences.

Content & focus - We tend to dwell on and explore ideas tied to our current emotions. Stress may translate into more aimless or chaotic writing, whereas calmness can lead to more focused, orderly work.

Creativity - Some moods, like happiness or excitement, seem to boost creativity by making unexpected connections. But distress can also inspire powerful writing by tapping into primal emotions.

Energy level - Our available mental energy and motivation to write can fluctuate  with moods. Manic highs may increase output, while depression saps willpower.

But let's keep going so that we have an understanding of why some authors have strange needs for their writing sessions. Why they need that pen with that paper facing in that direction until the solstice. To that end let us talk about memories and recall. Depending on emotional states we may not recall particular experiences which otherwise might have been mined for narrative and descriptive choices. This alters the foundation of our writing because not only are our energies and resources affected, but our available vocabulary as well.

Research has clearly demonstrated that our emotional state at the time of encoding memories significantly influences both what we remember later and how vivid those memories are. This effect has been termed "state-dependent memory." 
  • Memories encoded during intensely emotional events tend to be remembered more vividly and for longer than mundane memories, due to evolutionary links between memory and threat detection. Fight-or-flight responses activate strong memory consolidation.
  • Similarly, being in an emotionally aroused state segregates what you experience in that state. The biochemical reactions amplify bias memory encoding.
  • Specific neuroimaging studies have shown the amygdala and related limbic system activity, during emotional situations, leads to what visual, auditory, and spatial details get burned in as part of the total experience.
  • You are more likely to recall positive memories during times you are in a good mood, compared to a bad mood. Contextual cues play a key role in determining what memories readily come to mind.
  • Minor everyday events may be forgotten quickly because they do not engage our emotional systems at all during encoding. We prioritize information tied to biological needs and experience.

But we can get even more detailed. What about the words we can remember? What words do we have for description, and what synonyms 'feel' right and which ones feel 'off'.

The emotional state we are in also influences the vocabulary and language we use, both in speech and writing. Here are some key ways that mood impacts vocabulary choice and usage:

Accessibility of emotional memories: When we feel sad, memories of past sadness become more accessible. This makes sadness-related words and metaphors more top-of-mind and likely to be retrieved and used.

Priming word associations: Positive moods prime positive word associations, while negative moods surface negative word linkages. The words we recall tend to match valence with our internal emotional state.

Emotional specificity in language: Feeling anger activates anger-related vocabulary (rage, irritate, hostile). The available lexical field shifts to be more situation-specific to the mood.

Reflecting inner arousal: High arousal moods like stress or excitement often elicit more vivid, intense and evocative word choice - reflecting inner dynamics.

Settling on descriptors: The judgment process for selecting vocabulary to aptly convey inner emotional state or outer observations gets filtered through mood, leading to distinct descriptive flavors.

So, in many intertwined ways, the constraints emotion puts on cognition steer word retrieval and vocabulary selection to reflect the contours of our momentary moods. Our inner dictionary is interfaced dynamically with subjective experiences.

Many professional writers have created, over their tenure, 'writing nooks,' or areas which they refer to with nye reverent terms. These areas control temperature, lighting, visual cues and add normalizers, scents and incense, and auditory stimuli -- music or white noise or perhaps extra insulation for better silence. Most writers I have talked to personally don't claim this need for a controlled environment as connected with emotional states, they just recognize that when outside of their creation nook, their writing is not as fluid, or as 'clean'. They don't get the insights or fresh ideas they do inside their nook. Words and metaphors escape them.

Rituals preformed before beginning work on the WIP are also useful. Just about anything that helps to normalize our emo-state is useful. I personally develop lists of words, whole vocabularies for scenes and characters. I don't 'use' them for the characters or scenes -- I read through them before I begin to write -- priming my brain. Reminding me that they exist.

Word association exercises and games are effective for this as well, when practiced for a short time each day to kickstart and freshen our usage vocabulary and recall.

Hope this helps. Have fun.

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