Writing Through February

Writing Through February

120px-Girl_with_stylus_and_tablets.Fresco_found_in_PompeiI have a bad case of February.

I know I’m not the only one, because I live with two small girls and a husband who are suffering from the same malaise. You know it: it’s cold. It’s dark. It has been cold and dark for a long time. Christmas is over, spring is a long way off, and everything is just… hard.

If you live in one of the particularly snow-covered zones this is doubly true. Crossing the street is hard. Getting out the door is hard. Heck, getting out of bed in the morning is hard.

So writing? Pffft. The irony is that, like exercise, I know that writing is one of the things that keeps me healthy, whole, and sane.  Keeping the commitment to myself and to the page is necessary. But like everything else at this time of year it is so terribly, terribly hard.

I know what helps me:

1) Move. I know i know I know. We’re geeks. We avoid movement, and sweating, and those girls who ALWAYS PICKED US LAST FOR KICKBALL. Wait, that’s not geeks. That’s ME. Right. But I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The thing is, I really believe that internal lethargy and physical lethargy are two sides of the same coin. So when I stay on myself and actually get out and do something, it helps, in terms of motivation and in breaking through plotting blocks. That doesn’t mean you have to take up jogging! I like the rowing machine. And living room dance parties. And, oddly enough, scrubbing the kitchen floor. Anything that keeps the chatter-brain busy so that the story-brain can chug along undisturbed.

2) Tinker. Painters do quick sketches. Woodworkers whittle. When you can’t do “real work” it can be worthwhile to just play.

We aren’t supposed to admit it, but fanfic resources can be great for this. Play with existing characters without having to worry about creating them. Putz around with voice and format. Practice getting as much story as possible into 100 words. Write meta-essays on Why Janeway Was Clearly The Superior Captain. Or if you’re stuck on a particular piece of work, cruise fanfic memes for more specific toys. Writing prompts geared towards particular fandoms can be great for shaking loose ideas about your own characters. They can help flesh out the kind of backstory that won’t end up in your story or novel but that can make your cast much more well-rounded.

3) If you can’t write, read. I’ve been doing a lot of this myself the last couple of weeks. Maybe because Neil Gaiman’s new book of short stories is out. Maybe because a friend sent me the Black Magician trilogy. Or maybe because, well, February. We all know that writers need to read everything they can get their hands on. Take advantage of a fallow, cold and bitter period to read something you wouldn’t otherwise. If you never have, please, read a romance novel written in the last few years: they’re formulaic, yes, but they have things to teach you. If you normally read genre fiction, branch into something new. Try Austen or Dickens. Read Stoppard to study dialogue. Read something terrible and figure out exactly why it’s terrible. Grab a volume of science writing. Just chuck something down the pipeline and see what comes out later.

4) Try something completely different. Write a poem on The Larch.

No, wait, that wasn’t what I meant to say.

Try another medium entirely. If all else fails, get away from words. Give words a rest, like an overused muscle. Sketch. Try art journaling. Try knitting. Pick up the guitar. Flex your creativity in other ways. If nothing else, it will distract you from the weather.

Most importantly, remember: spring will indeed come. And when it does, we will soon be complaining that we’re stuck inside writing instead of outdoors.

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Sarah Avery

In homeschooling circles, February is when everybody wonders if their kids might not be better off in a conventional school. Naturally, now that my kid _is_ in a conventional school, I wonder whether he might do better back at home. Whatever you do, February is when you’ll get sick of doing it. I wonder if this happens to people who, either through subsistence necessity or idle affluence, migrate seasonally.

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