Moodiness is one of the characteristics of creative people. They prefer intuition and feeling; they experience high levels of excitability; they’re sensitive; they’re “inner directed,” and inside is where the moods are. They approach their work with an almost mystical intensity, and feel the pleasure and excitement that comes from meeting creative challenges. And the deep joy in producing a work that means a great deal to them. They have to learn to control and regulate their moods so they aren’t overwhelmed by them.
Russian author Anton Chekhov observed that unhappy writers write happy stories and happy writers’ stories are unhappy. Was he right? He said, “The more fun I’m having, the more depressing my stories are.” A study of composers found that they did their most creative work when they were in the most pain and facing serious life difficulties like marital and legal problems. Gustave Flaubert told his girlfriend, “You should write more coldly. Everything should be done coldly, with poise.”
All his life, Gabriel Garcia Marquez experienced a mood that is so common among writers and artists—he was frightened at the moment he sat down to work. But fear or no fear, he won the Nobel Prize, so how debilitating could the fear have been? Writer Joan Didion speaks of dread: “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning…I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.” But exuberant Thomas Wolfe was fearless and found the act of writing a “wild ecstasy.”
A writer or artist in an optimistic mood with high positive expectations has the advantage of being able to generate positive memories and large amounts of information. Good memories and that much information enable him/her to work creatively. A mood of boredom decreases artistic productivity. But a good mood improves a creator’ problem-finding and problem-solving abilities
It’s clear that regardless of the type of writing or painting you are doing, the act of doing it almost always improves your mood. Unless, that is, you’re working on a subject you feel no emotions about, neither positive nor negative. Then you don’t experience the uplifting emotional effects of working. The topic is bland; your mood is bland. But generally after writing or painting, sculpting, dancing, etc., creators’ moods are elevated. They may start their work in anger, for example, or depressed, but after finishing an hour’s work feel happier, more satisfied, more delighted, more joyful, and also calmer, less nervous, more relaxed and enthusiastic, serene, and peaceful. Positive mood or negative mood depends very much on how satisfied you feel with your performance. “Is the work going well or poorly?
Mood can have a profound and dangerous effect on creative people. They have a higher rate of mood disorders—a fantastically higher rate—and poets, male or female, more than any other kind of creators. Poets—particularly female poets–have a high suicide rate. American poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are prominent examples. Female poets are significantly more likely to sufferer from mental illness than other types of female writers. Poets have the highest rate of depression and greatest number of suicides of all occupations. Studies consistently find that 50%-80% of creative writers studied suffered from a mood disorder. A very high percentage of the writers on the faculty of the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop studied over a fifteen year period had bipolar or other serious mood disorders.
Another creator’s mood is envy. Envy has been called “the writer’s disease,” and I suppose it might just as well be called the painter’s, sculptor’s, actor’s, and ballerina’s disease too. Envy is based on a “scarcity mentality,” the anguish caused by the belief that there is not enough money, opportunities, fame, etc., to go around. Envy may create painful feelings of inadequacy as the writer or artist thinks so-and-so is better or more successful than they are. Although it can motivate you to do better than those you envy, it can also make you lose focus. But if you free yourself from comparison to others, or from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth, your status–you’ll overcome envy and other impediments to your best work. Your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the thing to be written or painted.
Many would-be writers and artists wait for the “right” mood before they begin. My father was a machinist and often wasn’t in the mood to go in to work. But he never missed a day. I don’t see what’s so special about writers and artists that they can’t do the same. Whether you are a machinist or a creator of great works, there is no such thing as being perfectly ready to work; there is just work that should be done whether you feel in the mood or not. To Norman Mailer, that was the difference between professional writers and amateurs. He said, “By professionalism I mean the ability to work on a bad day.”
And remember that whatever mood you’re in when you begin working, when you quit for the day you’ll probably feel terrific.
© 2015 David J. Rogers
Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers
Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority