Why Mood Matters When You're Editing

Apr 01, 2015

We’re often told to write no matter what mood we’re in. Just park yourself at your desk and work through whatever fears or boredom you may have. You can’t wait for the Muse to turn up—that’s a sure fire way never to finish your book.

I couldn’t agree more.

What we have to really watch out for, though, is our mood while editing and rewriting. Beware—as in: be very aware of—your mood as you do this work; it will deeply affect the quality of your output.

It can make the difference between improving your book and destroying it.

Yesterday, I was editing and by the end of the day I was depleted and, frankly, worried. This morning, I re-read those very same passages I’d been working on, and they came across as totally different. What had seemed wooden now seemed fluid. Nuances I had thought too subtle suddenly seemed obvious. My edits were working. What a difference mood makes.

When we first create new work, we must be open to possibility and exploration. If we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to try things and risk getting it wrong, our work will never blossom. We need to water that plant. Give it fertilizer. Talk to it.

But the editing phase is a dangerous one because it is, fundamentally, about second-guessing everything. Our plant has become a bush and most likely needs to be reeled in a bit. It might need a new pot or more soil or a serious pruning.

Or, it may need more sunshine. More fertilizer.

We know first drafts are never final drafts. And yet, if we allow ourselves to nit pick our work, we risk sapping it of all its magic and energy.

When you reread your work, or when you edit the work of others, it’s critical to assess and acknowledge your mood before you start and take that into consideration as you work. One day you may be overly generous, the next you may find fault with everything.

But if you can marry the two approaches—balance criticism with appreciation, technique with dreamy messiness, fear with trust—you will improve your book rather than inadvertently destroy it.