By Gayle Lynds
It’s seven degrees here in Maine. Snow blankets the forest. Squirrels are hiding in their nests. Deer, foxes, and porcupines are out of sight, too, keeping warm, I hope.
I step outdoors, and my nose turns red. My lips are so cold Oh, my goodness, winter is HERE.
I have writer friends who love winter so much they spend hours outdoors skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing, then hit their computers with renewed energy. Others yearn for palm trees and warm breezes; faced with intractable winter, their writing freezes. They either get writer’s block, or head for Florida.
I just have to know, dear Rogues, how do winter and your writing get along?
Oh, I love winter. It’s gray, it’s bleak, it’s as unforgiving as a rusted old gate hinge. When nature goes peace out, laying dormant, until spring, I start my Snoopy happy dance and run to dig out my sweaters, find my cocoa mug, and my snow scraper. Ten inches of snow? Bring it. Sub-zero wind chill? Bah! A Chicago winter builds character. If you can survive one, you’re titanium strong! As for writing, I write just fine in winter because I have to. Editors don’t care what month you feel most comfortable in. Book’s due. Writing can’t be a seasonal thing. Or can it? If it can, give me the dead time.
The winter months are a great time for me to write because we spend it here in Naples, Florida, where I can look out the window of my home office and watch boats glide by and the flag fly under azure blue skies. I can also take breaks and swim laps every day and not think about how frigid it is up north. While “hunkering down” during Covid times, I wrote several novels (not scheduled for publication yet) — all set in warm climates where it was easy to describe tropical breezes and even an approaching afternoon thunderstorm.
As a Colorado girl, I LOVE winter—not that it’s always the best time for me to write. Winter activities have their allure. I’ve downhill skied since I was 3 years old. In my twenties, I took up cross country and spent hours upon hours snowshoeing the edges of Dillon Lake. I enjoy sledding, and I’ll even skate. I’m not very graceful. And I have to admit, it’s not my favorite winter sport, but when pressed…. While many writers hunker down at the computer, hot coffee in hand, I tend to want to bundle up and get outside. That might be why a December trip to Antarctica in 2019 was so alluring. But, it’s the memories of that trip—cold wind on my face in the Zodiak boats, kayaking on the Weddell Sea, standing on the fast ice watching the Adélie penguins—and the subsequent Covid lockdown, that has me hard at work on my newest book project: Operation Gentoo. Outside the temperature huddles at -3 below, fueled by an Arctic cold front, and it’s helping to set the scene. I’m writing. Color me happy in the winter!
It’s ironic that this Canadian has such a challenging relationship with winter, which seems to last forever every year. I have a working theory that I was switched at birth with a Caribbean baby and ever since, I have been trying to make it back home. I’m a self-confessed sun-seeker, a lover of turquoise water and white sandy beaches, and long for that feeling of hot sunshine bathing over me during the long, brutal winters. No matter how hard I squint, I can’t recreate that feeling of joy when I look at those sparkling snow-kissed diamonds on a ski hill. No matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine trading an umbrella drink for a hot cup of cocoa. No matter what, my creativity as a writer flourishes in the heat. No matter how disloyal I feel, I love traveling to warmer climates when the temperatures drop in Toronto. Viva La Sunshine!
I have a push-pull relationship with winter. Once daylight savings stops, seasonal distress sets in for me. Anxiety comes around 5pm as the days get shorter and shorter. But I’m saved by a short list of favorites: candles, snow days, soup, and holidays. Growing up, we never had candles in the house. So the discovery of these little wicks of warm light as an adult has become a constant winter comfort to me—in addition to a roaring fire in the fireplace on chilly Nebraska nights. As for soup—I make it year-round but it’s always better, more comforting, and more delicious in winter. I won’t start writing until I’ve got a pot of something started on the stove. The house smells delicious and meals are just a ladle away. And then of course the holidays, which somehow make the cold and dark nights not only merry but filled with anticipation. It’s still cold after Near Year’s, but at least the days are lengthening and spring is on its way.
Winter writing in my old home of Cleveland would be ideal—typing away in a cozy room with the soft silence of thick snow outside. It’s a bit harder in Florida where it’s 75 degrees with the surface of the pool winking at me from the sliders. A few years—including this one—I started a book on January 1st, liking the structure of it, the ease of gauging my progress. However, unlike Cleveland, winter is when the social life picks up down here. Winter is when we have arts festivals, street fairs, conventions, meetings, parties, etc.—all of which can help a writer procrastinate!
There is wonder in the muffling power of snow, in its quiet, its pause. And as a writer that time for quiet contemplation is to be cherished. Snow forms a blank screen for creativity. It evokes the dramatic potential of cold, of a weather-related emergency, of being stuck far away from needed resources. Stephen King utilized snow in some of his best works — The Shining, Misery — and there’s nothing like “the white stuff” for a locked room mystery or wilderness thriller.
Dear Rogue Readers … How does a cold, snowy winter affect you? Are you, Brrr, or Oh, goodie? … And … Do you have a question for the Rogues? Please add it to our comments. Happy 2020!