Though hands grow cold, the pen stays hot: Why the Winter season is conducive to writing, by Crystal Maitland


Winter is cold, yes, but perhaps it would be better to say that it is honest. Winter whips away the cover of lush leaves and plush petals; wriggles through armor of wool and fleece and down. It is not so much cruel as it ruthless in its hunger for vulnerability. Winter can crack open a person’s shell and spill out the hidden tender, delicate bits that have been tucked away in warm, cushioned rooms in secreted nooks of the mind. Out in the open, they are awakened by icy bites and pinches. Exposed against a backdrop of bare branches and pale sky, a person can not only see more of their self but further and deeper into the endless stretch of possibility.

The chilled and frosty stillness of early winter morning seems to crystallize dreams and ideas, drags them forth from the damp fog and suspends them before the minds’s eye. There they appear to be so solid and mirror-clear that it is easy to believe that you only need to reach out and grasp them with naked hands; pluck them from the air and lay them out on a table. Seeing your creative imaginings in such stark, raw clarity and honesty can be terrifying. They are so fresh and delicate that it is easy to fear their new life may be painfully brief, or that they are useless and unworthy of exploration. You may even come to think that your pre-dawn ideas will dissipate—wash away into nothingness with the first cold spill of milky winter sunlight.

However, the watery, grey-white cast of a winter day makes them appear all the brighter; makes their colors richer, their edges stand out in almost aggressively bold and crisp relief. Winter tugs up the lids of the mind’s eye and allows it to really see, with unblinking focus on every fledgling creative idea that stumbles and toddles before it. And you find that, perhaps you were too quick to shy away from them. Instead, a fondness grows warm and sharp inside you for their lovely awkwardness, and with that comes an aching desire to give them give them life and purpose. In the quiet of winter, when you are alone and tending to your imagination, you can develop patience for yourself, your creativity, and your creative process.

Now, for all that winter may have its harsh, frosty layers, there is still sweetness to be found. This season has many sensual aspects to explore. Worlds exist in the warm, velvety sip of good hot chocolate and the heady, smoky tang of wood burning in the fireplace. Mystery in the pockets and lapels of a pea coat. Emotional resonance in the tail of a scarf flickering in the wind. And you never know what your fingers may discover in the bumps and curves and creases of hearty winter vegetables. The prickling sensation on your pallet from spices found in a mug of hot apple cider or mulled wine, or a bite of fresh gingerbread can conjure up playful and exciting ideas, carry you away to places real or imagined, and add flavor and zest to any characters or scenes of yours that you feel are too bland. On that note, when you are feeling slumpy and frustrated, think of winterberries. There is something rebellious and voluptuous about those bright red clusters of fruit, thriving—vivid, resilient, and alive—in weather that seems to preclude the survival of most plant life. So, should you find yourself suffering a particularly grievous bout of self-pity, despairing in the belief that your writing will never bear fruit, and merely thinking about picking up a pen requires herculean effort, picture winterberries. See them rich in color and life, all the while thickly covered in snow. And come to trust that both you and your writing are stronger than you think.

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Posted in 2012, Non-Fiction, Op-Ed
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