Psychology of writing

Do you ever come accros a webpage adorned in colors and why it is all these colors, while none of the other writing tips pages are so adorned?  It is called psychology.  You were cruising along through the pages, then you clicked to a page and were sort of startled.  It grabbed your attention.  I know you have heard it said many times, you have to grab  the readers attention.

No, this isn’t about why you write, but about how you write.  Having rather extensive training in psychology, I have tried to analyze the frame of mind you must be in and your surroundings when you write.  The following suggestions are based on sound principle, and some of what I use in my workshops and seminars.

The first question is:  Where do you write?

  • Do you have a fairly quiet, relaxing place to write?  Can you escape from the other sounds and distractions around each of us?  In other words, can you find solitude, without any sort of distractions?  This is vitally important to writing well, especially when you do that final rewrite to make your novel or book as perfect as you know how.

The next question:  Is your writing place cluttered or neat?

  • I firmly believe one must work in an uncluttered environment  for their writing to be uncluttered.  If you have “stuff” stacked all around, two dirty coffee mugs, half a dozen notebooks and scratchpads with notes on them, computer disks lying about, a half-eaten package of Oreo cookies in front of your monitor, a bag of Fritos alongside the monitor, a haphazard stack of print paper on the other side of your monitor, a clock atop your monitor, so you won’t forget to pick the kids up, well, you get the idea.  This is a cluttered mess!  How in the world can you work in there, while stepping on spilled potato chips? (:
  • I have what I call uncluttered clutter.  Yes, I have some fifty CDs that have to be close by, but I have them in those neat little vertical racks, sorted by type of program etc.  Yes, I have several notebooks and scratchpads, but they are also in one of these stack file trays, with a label on the tray to tell me what is on or in each notebook or scratchpad.
  • How many books do you have stacked around?  If they are references you are currently using, put them somewhere besides right on the desk by your monitor, yet still within easy reach.
  • Sweep the chips off the floor.  Just kidding.  (:
  • Another little reasonably priced piece of equipment that is great is the case to set your printer on that holds your paper, etc.  These come in a number of styles, but my favorite has side-by-side trays that accommodate 8 ½ X 11 paper.  It comes with four slide trays, so you can have four different papers quite neatly and readily available.  Cheap copy paper for those drafts you print out, good 24 lb. Bond paper to send to agents etc, card stock for printing your own cards identifying you as a writer, and that laid bamboo paper for important correspondence.
  • All in all, the message I want to deliver here is, as I stated, an uncluttered work area makes for an uncluttered mind.

So, now that we have our room all cleaned and straightened up, what about your frame of mind as you write?  And, this is far more important than your writing area being uncluttered.  Please do not object to language here, because it is part of writing.

I would first like to ask you a question.  How many times have you seen an actor/actress in a movie shed tears?  I mean, when you can actually see the tears run out of their eyes and down their cheeks?  How can they actually cry in that scene?  Sure, someone can squirt onion juice in their eyes, but do you think Julia Roberts would put up with that?  Have you noticed, the truly good actors and actresses draw you in, make you cry, too?  Heck, you know it’s just fiction.  Why are you crying?  Because the actress is crying.  Plainly and simply, you are feeling what they are feeling, and that is the secret to their being able to cry in a sad scene.  They actually FEEL the sadness they are play-acting, so they cry.

How can you get in the frame of mind to write a sad scene that will move your reader to tears?  You do not have the good fortune to be able to sit with your readers and cry like the actress sits on the screen in front of you and cries.  YOU MUST DO IT WITH WORDS!

Again, let me ask a question.  Can you write a truly sad scene while laughing at someone telling you a joke?  Not likely.  Can you write a funny scene when someone is telling you about their mother passing away?  Of course not.  Not only would her sadness distract you, but it would be a rather impolite thing to do.  (:

Remember, we are speaking of the psychology of writing.  You must be in the proper psychological frame of mind to write certain scenes well and make your reader cry, get angry or laugh.  If you do any or all of these things with your writing, you are doing well.

How do you get in the right frame of mind to write an angry scene?  Well, for some, you can sit and stare at the shredded picture of that bastard you gave the better part of your life to, only to have him run off with a twenty-year-old!  Think about him going out the door for the last time, and the anger you felt.  Get mad all over again!  Then, sit down and write your angry scene.

To write a sad scene?  Wait for a rainy or, at least, a cloudy day.  Stare out the window and think of the hurt you felt when he left you.  Or think about the young boy who died of leukemia.  Think back to when one of your parents died.  When you have tears running down your face, start typing.

When I do a writing seminar or workshop, I like to have fun.  So I tell the attendees all these things, only I elaborate.  Then, I tell them I have to replace my keyboard about once a month.  I either ruin it from the salt in my tears or I beat it to death!

Again, how do you write a truly funny scene?  Well, some scenes will be funny regardless of your mood.  But the best way, before you start writing, don’t think about funny jokes you have heard or read.  Rather, think about true funny things that you have observed or which have happened to you.

In conclusion, the main thing to remember is that your mood will be reflected in your writing, despite yourself.  It is a psychological fact.  Let me give you a small bit of information that will convince you of the psychological pressure used against us every day.  Are you aware that corporations such as GM or Ford or Proctor and Gamble pay Industrial Psychologists HUGE, HUGE salaries and bonuses, sometimes running into the millions?  What do they do for all that money?  No, they do not design commercials.  That’s another department.  What they do is, cause you to  choose their product over others through very subtle means.

Unless you saved your boxes over a year's time, you would never notice the slight change in package colors to fit the season.  Hot summers call for softer color.  The dead of a cold winter puts the brighter, more intense packaging on the shelf.  The brighter colors unconsciously attract you when the weather is miserable.

Let me tell you about another trick they pull on you.  I’ll illustrate by example.  When you buy a box of a well-known brand of laundry detergent, it comes with a little scoop included.  You put a scoop of powder into the washer, and when the box is empty, you buy another box, with a brand new scoop enclosed, and you throw the old box away, scoop and all.

Now, suppose you are the executive in charge of this division, and the big boys tell you your sales were lagging.  My gosh, you’ve done everything you know how to move more product.  Then, you hit on a great idea, perhaps with the aid of your Industrial Psychologist.  Just increase the size of your scoop, so people will use more product in each load of clothes they wash.  “Hell, Joe, let’s just make the scoop half again as large!  Brilliant!”

“No, no, Percy.  People would notice.  But, what we can do is gradually increase the size of the scoop.”

That is exactly what this company has done over the last two to three years.  They have increased the size of their scoop by over 30%.  Guess what?  You are using 30% more detergent to wash your clothes every time you dump a scoop in the washer.  But, you hadn’t noticed, because the scoop was slowly increased in size and you threw the old scoop away every time you bought a new box, along with its slightly larger scoop.

This really happened.  Being the frugal and inquisitive type, I saved the scoops for comparison.  I use it as an example of how we are manipulated by the company wanting us to buy their product or use more of their product.  You have all seen the ad for the well-known aspirin brand that states it helps prevent heart attacks.  They advertise as if their brand is the only one that will do that when, in truth, an aspirin is an aspirin.  But, heck, who doesn’t want to prevent a heart attack?  Gotta go get some of them!

Although these examples have nothing to do with writing, they do point out the psychology of how we perceive things or how we don’t perceive them.  It illustrates that we are, indeed, susceptible to our own psyche.  That is why it is so important to be in the proper frame of mind to write various scenes.  If we are consciously sad, our unconscious mind will lend toward us putting that sadness in our work.

I hope this article will be of use to you, and keep writing.  (BUT, psyche yourself up for the task first.  (:  )

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