Sunday, November 14, 2010

Preparing for Hibernation--Building a Winter Writing Rhythm

Where I live in northern New England, it's getting toward winter.  The trees have lost most of their leaves, and it got so chilly last night, we almost didn't open the window in the bedroom.  The change of weather is bringing to mind vast snowy landscapes, the uncluttered look of deep winter.  My best writing time of the year.

As a painter and a writer, I've
learned to juggle the seasons according to what's most natural for each.  I'm grateful to live in a land of four seasons, which forces me to change tasks at least twice a year.   I like to paint outdoors, so the garden's full bloom is when I get easy inspiration.  Getting on winter?  Nothing happening outside?  It's time to write. 

Step One:  Clear the Decks
Like an animal preparing for hibernation, I have ways to get ready for the creative possibilities of winter.  I clean up the garden, getting the summer bounty harvested, everything but the last kale, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, which sweeten with frost.  Or, on a beautiful October afternoon, I might start washing windows--I truly appreciate the clear views all winter when I sit at my writing desk.  I may sort through errant paper piles in my office, filing away the summer's teaching notes.  I start collecting books to stack by the bed for winter reading.  If I'm really ambitious, I attack the clothes closets and toss stuff I haven't worn in a year.

Mindless activities, to get my creative brain in gear, to get me thinking about what I want to explore on paper.  Metaphorically clearing the decks.  Step one of building my winter writing rhythm.     

Step Two:  Wish Lists
Once the cleaning-up cycle is completed as best I have time for, I begin my wish lists.  I dream on paper about the writing ahead.  This winter I am in final revision for my next novel, so I'm sketching out deeper questions about the characters, the theme, the pacing--all revision activities.

Lists help me focus the interior of my winter writing life, remind me about the benefits of writing regularly, with purpose and rhythm.  When I don't like linear lists, I draw big circles and make a cluster of my ideas.

Step Three:  Building a Writing Rhythm
A few weeks ago, I learned about a glorious little book on writing rhythm.  It's called One Continuous Mistake by the Buddhist writer Gail Sher.  Sher simplifies her writing life down to regular practice; what you write is not as vital as the fact that you do write.  Regularly.  Sher offers great steps to building a writing rhythm.  As I read her short chapters, I feel my anxiety decreasing.  The distractions of a full and rich life won't ever go away, but I'll be able to write anyway.   

I've learned the anticipation and anxiety about writing is much harder than the writing itself.  Sher reminds us to just sit and pick up the pen.  Just begin.  Again and again, it's that simple.  Despite the house, my teaching job, wonderful clients and students who need manuscript help, my beloved spouse and teenager, the dust on the stair corners, only two onions left in the bowl, snow tires, that unexpected dentist appointment, a call from a teacher about late homework.  Despite it all, I write. 

This Week's Writing Exercise
1.  Take some time to design your writing this winter.  What would you like to focus on?
2.  See where you might be able to clear some distractions.  Anything you can clean up, put away, throw out to give yourself more inner and outer space?  Clear one unnecessary thing from your life this week.
3.  Take out your calendar and make a date for yourself this week.  You and your writing are going to take an hour away, just the two of you.
4.  When the time comes, just begin.  Take up the pen and start. 


  1. Thank u so much Mary for all ur tips!!

  2. Great idea to make a wish list for the revisions. I'm completely terrified by editing the first draft!

  3. Thanks, Joey! It really helps the terror, I've found.

  4. Thank you Mary...
    you just inspired me again :)

    all the best!

    happy thanksgiving!

  5. Thanks, Kali, and happy Thanksgiving to you too!