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Winter Rest

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the earth is bedding down for a long winter’s nap. The daylight hours are short, shorter, shortest, and the nights are long and cold.  Bears are hibernating deep in their caves. Deciduous trees have shed their leaves. In my garden, all life has fled underground, where energy is being stored for the next season of growth.

We humans are meant to bed down, too.  If we follow the wisdom of the earth, we’ll go to bed earlier, sleep a little longer, eat good soups and soothing stews. It’s a good time to let go of hard striving, and step back to consider what is, and what might be, and what we’d like to grow in the spring.

As writers, creative beings, we must have fallow times in order to produce good work.  Winter reminds us that we can’t grow all the time. What does that look like? 

Winter is a good time to read. A lot. The early dark and unkind weather means we’re trapped indoors. Instead of pushing to outline a new book or write another three pages today, consider reading a new book, or a lot of new books, all kinds of things, unrelated to any project that’s brewing—or maybe all related to a new project.  Remember the pleasure of going to the library and bringing home a big stack of books? I don’t know about you, but I’d bring home all kinds of things, mysteries and romances and historical sagas and whatever else caught my eye. In those days, I didn’t realize books were curated by those who pronounced them good or bad, I just read.  And read. And read.

What would happen if you gave yourself permission to read all winter, the way you used to read when you were a kid? Don’t read what you think you should–read whatever you want. Every evening, in a chair and then in bed, maybe in the bathtub in between.  What would that do for your nerves?

What might all that reading do for your writing? 

Another thing you might consider is—seriously—getting more sleep. Maybe move up your bedtime by an hour, incrementally.  See how it feels.  Often, we’re staying up to fill some imagined need to cram more into the day, but usually, it’s just a lot more nothing. YouTube or Facebook (guilty) or binge-watching something.  What if you just gave it up and slept instead, like a hibernating bear, giving your body and your soul some downtime?  Sleep gives your brain a chance to scrub the floors, organize the bits and pieces of everything you’ve gathered, work on the sticky plot points that have been bothering you. It also gives your body a chance to repair broken points, heal some tears and take out the trash collecting in this spot or that before it turns into something serious.

This is a good time of year to ask yourself what might be next in your writing life.  Not to solve anything—answers come in a different season—just to let the questions rise. What feels good? What feels off? What habits are wearing you down, tattering your creativity? What things are good and healthy and right? What might be next for you on your path as a creative being? Is there something brewing you haven’t noticed or have been afraid to acknowledge?  

Again, this is not the time to get serious and start planning, to set up steps in your planner or start heavy thinking.  It’s easier than that, softer, like snow drifting from a dark sky.

This is a good time of year to do some journaling, noodling, let your thoughts wander, much as a gardener looks at seed catalogues, dreaming about what she might plant in the spring. Don’t get too caught up in it.  Just let the possibilities dance in the back of your mind, now and then. Easy. Try to make everything easy and quiet.

Which goes for the impending holidays, too.  Our culture makes the holidays a frenetic, noisy, overwhelming time. No matter how much we do, it can feel as if it isn’t enough. 

This year, step back from that as much as you can. Set boundaries about how much you’re going to do.  How much you really can afford to spend.  Offering simplicity and love to your family and friends is the best possible thing you can do. You are allowed to say no.  Try doing more of it.

Of course there are days and maybe even a week or two that will be busy and maybe even a little bit crazy.  That’s okay. Try to just stay true to the idea of  the quiet season.  Give your all to those busy, noisy, joyful days and then get back to the honoring of the spirit of winter. 

It’s also a good time to write, of course. Many of us write for a living, so it’s impossible to go months without writing, no matter how dark the days. It can be good to cut back a bit, in the spirit of honoring the season of quiet.  Maybe a less hectic schedule will give you room to see something new in the work.

In general, winter is a slower time of year. A time to renew, rest, honor the cycles of productivity and rest, so that when spring comes, you’re fresh and vigorous, ready to grow like a field of new plants.    

What can you do to honor the season of quiet in your life?  What rituals or ideas have I missed? 

Hey, friends—want more like this? I’ve created a Patreon world, filled with essays and notebook prompts and even a monthly podcast for writers. I’d love to see you there: https://www.patreon.com/barbaraoneal [1] 

About Barbara O'Neal [2]

Barbara O'Neal [3] has written a number of highly acclaimed novels, including 2012 RITA winner, How To Bake A Perfect Life [4], which landed her in the RWA Hall of Fame and was a Target Club Pick. She is a highly respected teacher who also publishes material for writers at Patreon.com/barbaraoneal. She is at work on her next novel to be published by Lake Union in July. A complete backlist is available here [5].