by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
It’s been a while since I’ve written a post for this blog. To be honest, it’s taken all my willpower to keep up a regular writing schedule for the final book in my Divided Elements series *. A lot of that has to do with just being in a bad head space as the world turns upside down with Covid-19 and its impact. But, it’s not the first time I’ve fallen into a bad head space – life is always full of challenges and setbacks, and there is always the risk of succumbing to doubt, frustration, anxiety, and self-deprecation. That kind of mental uneasiness takes a toll and I’ve always wondered how my head space affects my writing. How it shapes the terroir.
Terroir is a French word that comes from the word terre (land). You usually hear it thrown around by vintners who use it to explain a wine’s unique characteristics. Over the centuries, the term was developed as winemakers observed how differences in climate, soil, and terrain would affect the taste of their wines. As Wikipedia notes, “the French began to crystallize the concept of terroir as a way of describing the unique aspects of a place that influence and shape the wine made from it.”
When I’m writing fiction, I’m always conscious of the work’s terroir – the way my current mood, obsessions, concerns, health, and interests are shaping the tone, the theme, and the words I’m putting to page.
Being in a dark place can really bleed on to the page – and sometimes that can be a good thing, if you’re writing say a grimdark novel or drafting a particularly tense scene with a dark-souled antagonist. But sometimes, not so much.
Some good news – you can manipulate your terroir. In fact, writers do it all the time.
Manipulating your terroir
Terroir typically comprises three elements: Climate, Soil, and Terrain. With a little bit of creativity, we can transform these concepts from produce terroir to creativity terroir.
Creativity Climate – External Driver – What’s happening outside your mind
In a creativity sense, the climate is everything that’s happening around you. The weather, current affairs, work, family issues. It’s all out there in the real world and affecting real physiological and emotional changes in you. Like real climate, this creativity climate is impossible to manipulate on a micro-scale. You can shout into the storm, but you’re not going to stop it. But, like real climate, you can change the way it affects you – by either shutting it out or building your resilience to it.
Shutting out the climate is like building a solar passive house that admits cooling summer breezes, but barricades you against blustering winter winds. It’s the equivalent of staying inside when it’s raining, or turning on the air-con when it’s too hot. Avoiding bad creativity climate conditions is all about shutting yourself off from it. Turn off the news, boycott social media for a while, switch your phone off.
Building your resilience to climate is learning to live with it in a more productive and safer way – like putting on suncream and wearing a hat, unfurling your umbrella and donning your Wellies (or gumboots), turning your fog lights on and driving slower. Building resilience to bad creativity climate is all about building emotional resilience. For me, that’s getting more sunshine and fresh air during the day, getting a good night sleep, and doing at least 15mins meditation.
Creativity Soil – Below-the-Surface Driver – What’s happening with your emotions
In a creativity sense, the soil is everything lurking in your sub-consciousness. The emotions, dreams, and random thoughts that pop up from below the surface when things get quiet. Like real soil, it is a combination of historical geology (in this case, historical emotional development) and recent conditioning. There’s not a lot you can do about the long-term historical stuff, but there is a lot you can do to improve and manipulate the current soil condition by adding the creative equivalent of water, air, and nutrients.
Art is the great conditioner of creativity soil. If you are writing a quirky sci-fi caper, there is nothing better to condition your creativity than watching Spaceballs and reading comics. If you’re writing a regency romance, feast your eyes on renaissance and romantic era paintings, listen to a playlist of love songs, and watch all the rom-coms you can handle.
Music playlists are not a new phenonemon, and many authors swear by them to get them in the right ‘zone’ when drafting their novels (Sarah J Maas is one of them). Mood boards and aesthetics are also popular, providing writers with single images, colour palettes, and quotes to generate the desired tone and emotion when writing.
Creativity Terrain – Structural Driver – What’s reinforcing your approach
In a creativity sense, the terrain is the tradition of story you’re writing. Unlike the other two drivers, this one is less about manipulating and more about more securely tethering yourself to it. Getting in a strange head space can sometimes derail you from the promises of your genre – you’re writing a grimdark story, halfway through drafting you find yourself caught up in a new whirlwind romance, and all of a sudden the tone and feel of your grimdark novel is somewhat more upbeat and hopeful.
When readers pick up a certain type of book, they’re expecting a certain tone, standard tropes, and particular types of pay-offs. This is the promise of the genre and it’s a promise readers expect you to keep.
Thankfully, tethering yourself to the terrain of your story (despite the emotional rollercoaster you may be on in real life), is as simple as immersing yourself in the narratives of that genre. If I’m writing a space opera, I’ll binge watch space opera movies on Netflix in my downtime. It’s a nice break for my brain, but it also primes my brain to subconsciously tap into that genre specifics when I do start writing again.
What about you? Do you find your terroir affecting your writing? What tips or tricks do you use to manipulate your terroir and get the writing outcome you are after? Tell me about it in the comments!
Image by Maja Petric on Unsplash
* I’m pleased to report that, while my blog writing duties have clearly suffered, I have been able to maintain a good writing discipline on Revolution (Divided Elements #3). I’m halfway through the third draft and on track for finishing this year. Sign up to my newsletter and follow me on Bookbub for new release alerts and updates.
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