Notes on Winter Writing

20 January, 2016


Picture Source: Pinterest

“I’d lowered myself to the notion that the absolute only thing that mattered was getting that extra beating heart out of my chest. Which meant I had to write my book. My very possibly mediocre book. My very possibly never-going-to-be-published book. My absolutely no-where-in-league-with-the-writers-I’d-admired-so-much-that-I-practically-memorized-their-sentences book. It was only then, when I humbly surrendered, that I was able to do the work I needed to do.” – Cheryl Strayed

I have a confession: I don’t hate winter.  Sure, it is cold and there’s the constant fear of slipping on ice, or your kids slipping on ice, but all those hazards gives us an excuse to do exactly what I love: pull inside, find some books, light a fire, and make soup. And there is something about winter that naturally lets you slow down to a pace that is excellent for writing.

I should throw out the caveat that we travel up north to the mountains every other weekend to ski and breath fresh air and shed cabin fever. So my official stance is ‘I love winter with some scenery change’. And wine. Of course wine. But on the days the writing needs to happen I wave goodbye to my kids and husband as they ski and I sit by a fire with tea and write.

If you are one for personality studies, such as the Myers-Briggs test, which The Atlantic explained very nicely here, you may align your feelings about winter hibernation accordingly. I am an ENFP, the most introverted of the extroverts, which means I love hanging out with people, but my introverted intuition makes it ok if the people I hang out with are in books.  So I my brain gets tricked into *thinking* Ann Patchett, Anne Lamott, and Flannery O’Connor are my friends. There are worse things that could happen.

Right after I started this post on winter writing, my friend sent me this article in the Portsmouth Press Herald about a writer in Maine, Lily King, whose fiction I can’t wait to read. The end of the article quotes her by saying: “Winter is good for writing, she said. “I love drinking tea and putting on a couple of sweaters and sitting at my desk and not feeling like I am missing anything by not being outside,” she said. She also says that writers who are at their desk at 9 every morning don’t have kids. Love her.

The only problem is once you are on a roll with writing, you never want to stop. So the balance between the creative energy and the constant interruptions of life with kids starts. This is not easy. It seems you go through every emotion writing, and the trick I think is to just show up and do the work despite the emotions. Right now I am about a third of the way through the food memoir, and I am polishing up what I have to send out some initial pages. I love polishing up writing. Editing makes me feel like a painter. Moving words around to make the picture clearer to the reader is just about one of the best things I know in this life. I am thankful to be moving forward, knowing that I can always revise to improve writing, but if there is nothing on the page, there is nothing to revise. If I let myself linger in emotions like fear and elation, I would never get a word down.

That is why I don’t love Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast “Magic Lessons”. It hangs out in the emotions of writing a little too much for me. I haven’t read the book Big Magic, but I listened to the podcasts while walking the dog or doing the dishes. Perhaps she will help someone overcome their writing blocks or creative blocks, but I feel like I learned a long time ago that writing has to be a job, one where you show up and do the work, try to get better at your craft, but don’t romanticize it. Some writing advice even says, “Do accountants get accountant blocks? Do teachers get teaching blocks?” Writing is hard work. The ones who do it are driven – as Cheryl Strayed says – to get the second heart beat out of their chest just have to get the work done.

So for now, my life goals are to do well at my job as a wife. A mom. A writer. A friend. I will keep running since it helps me process what I am writing, and helps me sleep. I will steal whatever chunks of time preschool and babysitters and Paw Patrol will give me to write. And at 4 o’clock I will be in my kitchen, making dinner, helping kids with homework, thinking about what I got to write today or didn’t get to write today, and holding gratitude in my heart for it all.

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