As 2017 comes to an end, much of the country finds itself in the midst of a brutal cold snap: temperatures near zero or below, snow, wind. Here in central Ohio we have three and a half inches of snow on the ground. We won’t be above freezing for more than another week. After a few mild winters, we find ourselves pole-axed by this return to a more expected weather pattern, but really why should we be surprised. Face it, we’ve been here before and will be again. Winter will give way to spring. By summer, we’ll have forgotten the inconvenience and misery of these cold days.
Such it is with our writing lives. They’re made up of peaks and valleys—stretches of gloriously warm days giving way to periods of cold and dearth. The wintery days of disappointment can be devastating. Even though experience tells us they won’t last forever, it can seem as if this time they will. As we move into a new year, we might be wise, then, to refocus ourselves on the writing tasks that lie ahead with an eye toward what we can do to help ourselves through the cold snaps—those times when all our creativity seems to be frozen, never to be revived; those times when we doubt the value of what we do, and we convince ourselves that the world doubts along with us. Here, then, are a few tips:
- Accept the fact that the world does indeed doubt the value of the work we do in our writing rooms. It’s a fact. We have to live with it. We can use that fact to our advantage if we’ll also acknowledge the fact that there’s something noble in our knowing the value when others don’t.
- Embrace our family of writers wherever we find them—in writing workshops, at summer conferences, in the books we read. These are the people who know what it takes to do what we do. Not a one of them has ever avoided the same periods of disappointment and dejection that we feel.
- Give as much to the group as we hope to receive. We should be good literary citizens, knowing that what we offer will come back to us. Offer encouragement to others. Offer clear, constructive criticism when someone asks for it. We should be present and active in our communities of writers so we’ll never feel alone.
- Relax with the knowledge that we’ll fail more often than we’ll succeed. Once we accept the fact that we’ll consistently fall short, we’ll be more able to let disappointment roll off our backs, and we’ll be quicker to move on to the next attempt with our minds and hearts open to the spontaneous leaps of the imagination that creativity requires.
- Be steadfast. We need to be consistent with our work habits. We need to know we have a schedule that we can stick to. Maybe we won’t write every day. Maybe we’ll only have one day a week that will be our writing time and we’ll come to cherish that time. Whatever time we can dedicate to the work will reward us. Consistency becomes generative.
My final wish for all of us as we move into 2018 is that we’ll learn to take more joy from what we do in our writing rooms. This is the life we’ve chosen. In spite of the ups and downs, my wish is that we’ll all be able to be more joyful even when the results aren’t what we wish them to be. Be joyful in the work itself, the work that sustains us even through the most brutal winters.