Here in southern New England, we expect traditional winter weather, but not too much of it. A snowstorm depositing 12” is considered a major event, as are temperatures in the teens (Fahrenheit). Today, we’re being visited by Winter Storm Cooper, which is expected to deposit 10-18 inches of snow between Monday and Tuesday, accompanied by wind gusts creating blizzard conditions and possible power outages. So, it’s a big deal.
I just came in from doing the first pass at clearing the driveway. I learned long ago that it’s easier to clear every few inches rather than waiting for the end of the storm and dealing with the whole load at once. As I contemplated this, it occurred to me that some of the lessons I’ve learned in dealing with winter storms have parallels in writing.
Preparation is key. Preparation doesn’t have to be a huge deal. Anticipation of snow and power outages mean doing laundry and running the dishwasher so there’s plenty of clean underwear and I don’t have a sink full of dirty dishes with no way to wash them. (When I lose electricity, I also lose water (electric pump from the well) and heat (electric boiler).) Last night, I double-checked to ensure I had containers of water in the basement for flushing (septic system). Other preparation involved filling the bird feeders and the gas tank. Little things, most of which are daily life matters that I rescheduled to ensure they were completed before the storm, just in case.
Similarly, preparation for writing doesn’t mean you need to come up with detailed outlines unless that’s the kind of thing you like. For some people known as pantsers, the only preparation they need is to find something to write on and with. Others like to do a bit of freewriting to wake up the creative side of their brains.
The first time I attempted NaNoWriMo, I plunged in on the first day with barely a thought. By the time I reached 15,000 words, the only thing I knew for certain about my novel was that I had no idea what it was really about. I needed to take time to think, but the days were slipping away and my word count was stalled. I thought at that time that it was cheating to prepare in advance of November 1, but as I’ve watched NaNoWriMo develop over the years, I’ve observed much more emphasis on pre-planning. Even spontaneity can sometimes benefit from a bit of forethought.
The right tools make the job easier. In the case of snowstorms, the right tools include a snow shovel, a snowblower, and a boot/glove dryer so that everything will be ready when it’s time to go out again. (You do not want to go out in the snow in already-wet boots.)
Obviously, weather-appropriate clothing is also important. A number of years ago, a friend came to visit as I was recovering from minor surgery. Her train arrived during a snowstorm. For reasons that remain a mystery, she did not own any type of footwear appropriate for snow despite living in a climate that regularly experienced winter weather. She emerged from the train wearing turquoise loafers. Since my boots were too small for her, I ended up shoveling the driveway the next morning while she and her loafers rested by the fire.
In the same way, certain tools are important for a writer. Much is a matter of preference, such as pen vs. pencil vs. computer. Other tools are essential, including a good dictionary and a better thesaurus. (The ones that come with the computer will do in a pinch.) My personal list of essential tools includes a library card since you may not have the funds to purchase all the resource books you need. The number of books on various aspects of writing (craft, business, inspiration, instruction, etc.) is probably infinity minus one at this point, but you’ll likely end up with a shelf full of your personal favorites (after test-driving them through your library). If you want to publish your writing, you’ll require internet access since few publications and nearly no agents accept paper submissions anymore. If you’re willing to pay for a subscription, Duotrope offers a database of publications, another of agents, and a query tracker, among other features (including a free trial period).
Don’t try to do it all at once. This is true of clearing the driveway; it’s also true of writing a book, an essay, or even a story. It’s okay to proceed with bite-sized pieces. Unless you’re on deadline, you can take your time—write a few pages, a chapter, a verse. Then, let it rest. Come back to it later, after you’re spent time on other things. Read it over to reacclimate yourself, and continue for another chapter. Give yourself permission to do some and set it down, knowing there will be more work later.
There’s only so much you can control. No matter how good my preparation is, I can’t control how much snow will fall or whether any fallen trees will knock out my power. While it’s challenging for a control freak like me, I have to remind myself repeatedly that if I can’t do anything about it, there’s no point in dwelling on it.
Similarly, I can’t control whether a journal or magazine accepts my submission. I can do my best, but in the end, it’s not my call. Ditto with journals and competitions that fail to respond or announce results when they say they will. I’m not saying I don’t hate this; I’m saying I’ve learned (somewhat) to accept it. I’ll probably still check my email an extra fifty times a day until they finally announce their decision, but that’s just the life of a writer.
Adjust the attitude. Sometimes, when plans go out the window because winter happens, the best thing I can do is to focus on other things, such as work or cuddling the cats. Other times, a deliberate shift in attitude is necessary. For today’s storm, it’s easy: just look outside and see how beautiful this snowy world is. When I went out this morning to fill the bird feeder, it occurred to me that this would be a perfect day for cross-country skiing—fairly mild air temperature, fresh snow with more falling lightly, practically no wind. I’m not a skier, but in that moment, I wished I were.
In the same way, while it’s easy to get discouraged, this is an amazing time to be a writer. Is it complicated? Yes. Overwhelming? Sometimes. But this is exactly why our time is so incredible. There are literally thousands of publications, both traditional and online, that will pay you for your work. It has never been easier to conduct all the research you need in order to find the information you need. A myriad of workshops, courses, seminars, and conferences are available online, enabling you to study the craft as well as the business of writing from the comfort of your sofa. Whether you want to publish traditionally, independently, or through a hybrid publisher, you can find all the information and guidance you need with a few simple searches. The rejection you thought was the end of the world may be the gateway to your new path, one you’d never have found otherwise.
NaNoWriMo? Not gonna write more? Doesnât fit context. Iâm using your same principles on my quilting projects. Miss you, Jo. So glad we got together in Vegas. It was my last trip. Kay
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Same here, Kay. So glad we didn’t schedule for March. (Moral of the story: you never know what’s coming.)
I hadn’t thought of how these principles would apply to other creative endeavors, but on reflection, I can imagine it. Thanks for getting me thinking!
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It runs from 12:01 a.m. on 11/1 through 11:59 p.m. on 11/30. Participants aim to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. The idea is that making yourself write that fast will inhibit the inner editor so that you’re just writing whatever you think of and you’ll end up being amazingly creative. (Obviously, there’s a boatload of editing that needs to happen after November is over.) The Princess Diaries and Water for Elephants both originated as NaNoWriMo novels, so it works for some writers and some ideas.
I tried NaNoWriMo to get myself moving on State v. Claus when I was stalled. I ended up deleting about 98% of what I wrote, but I did keep one character who came out of that experience (Meg’s neighbor Rodrigo, who takes care of her cats when she’s away and who I expect will have a bigger role in the sequel).