In the Mood

- by Elaine Isaak

Not long ago, I had a chance to attend a presentation by Barry Longyear, the famed science fiction writer and author of Enemy Mine, among other things.  His topic was how to cope with the volume of research and development that goes into a historical/paranormal world.  I won’t tell you what he’s working on, but it will be fascinating!  He talked about using some of his research materials to set the stage for the writing process.  In his case, this involves fondling bullets and setting up a second computer screen with a slideshow of research photos.

Writers have many different tactics for getting in the mood, not just to write, but the mood of their particular work in progress.  I hadn’t thought of the slideshow option, but I put one together after Barry’s talk with photos of my English medieval setting.  This selection of photos is my new screensaver for my writing machine.  Now, if my mind goes blank long enough for my screen to go blank also, seeing these photos emerge reminds me of my excitement for the project and my love for some of the settings and scenes that go with them.

Many romance writers use photos of actors they imagine playing the role of their hero as a spark for romantic fiction.  Probably wouldn’t hurt to put some people in my slideshow who may remind me of my characters.

Music is a common technique, and one that I find especially helpful when I don’t have much time to write.  I can not only create the playlist in my computer to run while I’m writing, I can take the music with me on the road.  So I might be commuting to and from, but I’m listening to the soundtrack of my book, and thus I’m already thinking about it.  I use the music as a deliberate trigger especially when I am returning home from dropping off my son at school.  By the time I walk in the door, I’m already getting in the mood.

Hats and costume changes can do the trick. There are writers who redecorate their office for each new project.  Given the amount of stuff in here, I’m not sure I”m up to that task, but I will shift things around or add things that inspire thoughts about the project.  Right now, I have this great period illustration of London I’d like to put up, but no room for it! 

The bullets, though. . . I hadn’t thought about such a physical, sensual reminder for the book.  I can see how holding an object the character might have used could get the juices flowing.  I have some reproduction coins I might just add to my process!


  1. Great blog!

    I build a collage on the bulletin board over my desk. It’s easy to add to and doesn’t require any artistic talent or major redecorating. Some items speak to setting; some to character; and some just trigger a visceral reaction that puts me in the right mood. When the book’s done, I take it all down, stuff it in a folder with the title on it, and start afresh.

  2. Nancy,
    yes, collage is great! I tried it for the first time with my local Romance Writers Chapter and it helped me understand some gaps in my story.

  3. I have always used models from magazines for characters. I’m a visual person and once I \see\ my hero and heroine, I know exactly what kind of person they are with all their wonderful quirks.

    I also use magazines for location details and interiors of homes. They are a wonderful resource and make describing the setting a snap.