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Daphne du Maurier rowing near her old house at Ferryside

Mood (or atmosphere) and a sense of place are intimately related. Writers who have a strong sense of place prefer to work in specific locations.

One of the most striking characteristics of the creative individual is their sensitivity to, and fondness for, particular feeling tones or subtle moods. Artists of all kinds strive to capture their favourite mood (or moods) in their work. The desire to accomplish this combined act of self-gratification and sharing is often a major motivating factor in why the artist chose to work in the arts. However, the preoccupation with mood can infiltrate all aspects of a creator’s life. The taste for a special mood often extends to the creator’s work habits. They not only want to produce the mood in their work, they must inhabit the mood while working. Many artists are so sensitive to feeling tone, so dependent on a particular subtle mood in order to access their creativity, that they quite literally cannot work should the needed feeling tone be absent.

In an earlier post, I noted the effect this has on writers and what time of the day they schedule their writing sessions. There are writers who can only work at night, by lamplight. They find the quiet cosy atmosphere especially conducive to creative work. Others need the fresh clear-headedness of the morning with their wits about them and all the spacious day ahead. Yet time of day is only one aspect of establishing a working mood. Place may also be a factor.

Most of us are sensitive to the mood of particular locations. For artists, the sense of place may make the difference between being able to work and becoming mired in creator’s block. Artists can be astonishingly parochial, happily producing on their beloved and familiar home turf, yet drying up completely when transplanted to foreign parts. The required mood is lacking. Everything feels strange and unsettling. The creative urge withers and production evaporates.

Daphne du Maurier was a writer with a strongly developed sense of place. While she could and did write elsewhere, her preferred place was Cornwall. As a young woman and budding author, she lived in a converted boathouse called Ferryside, on the banks of the River Fowey. In love with the area, she and her husband later leased nearby Menabilly, an early-Georgian house that stood on a hill above Fowey. Du Maurier was so fond of Menabilly that when the lease ended, she begged permission to live in an adjacent cottage perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. Not surprisingly, du Maurier is noted for her ability to conjure a bewitching sense of place in her work.

Conversely, there are artists who cannot get anything done in the mundane humdrum atmosphere of the familiar. Exotic moods are what make the creative juices flow. Return these independent spirits to their home port and they suffer the same fate as the homebody languishing in foreign parts.

Canadian author Mavis Gallant has lived most of her life as an expat in Paris. In her novel Green Water, Green Sky, a character describes her preferred situation: “They were all in a strange land and out of context ….” Gallant went to the French capital specifically to devote her life to writing claiming she needs the perspective and feel of her overseas perch to inspire her work. Her numerous short stories – most of which have been published in The New Yorker – deal with themes of exile. Misfits and outcasts people her fictional Canadian and European settings, which exude a sense of time and place (which together generate mood or atmosphere). Her unusual characters are often far from home in both the physical and emotional sense.

Mood is not critical to the work habits all artists, of course. Among writers, D. H. Lawrence was a noteworthy exception to those who need to be in a particular place before they can write. He could work virtually anywhere, even while sitting on a bench amidst the bustle of a busy railway station.

The key to understanding the importance of mood is the vital role associative thinking plays in the creative process. Mood powerfully connects the creator with his or her unconscious associative faculty thereby enabling more innovative modes of thinking. The combining of logical and associative thinking is true synergistic thinking.

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