Winter’s about to strike again and I’m excited. It’s almost March and we’re expecting 11 inches along the Wisconsin-Illinois border. The approach of snow and falling temps focuses the mind like few things can. I’m writing this in stages, while panic-buying groceries, because I can’t predict when I’ll be able to leave the house again. But while trapped, I’ll thread various plotlines – currently in my head — into a coherent narrative for a future novel. Here, art often depends on the whims of nature.
If you’re a creative person who lives above the 40th Parallel, you know January through March is a fertile time. After all, going outside is not only unpleasant, it can be dangerous. Your weather app’s warning to hunker down not only keeps you safe, it discourages visitors from interrupting your process. I must use this opportunity. I vow to disable my internet and silence my phone. I’ve consumed plenty of content created by others in recent weeks. Now it’s time to invent something of my own. Lean in, I tell myself, and don’t stop writing until the last pile of snow finally melts.
Hopefully, if you do the same, you’ll have a solid second draft by the time spring arrives. Well done! Now let it rest. It’s impossible to continue because robins are singing (when did they return?), daffodils are blooming, and trees are greening again. The whole earth is stirring with diversion — look a bunny!
See? Who can create when nature demands so much attention?
You might say we’ll be used to these distractions by summer, but you’d be wrong. Almost overnight, people’s clothes get more revealing. Engines rev and roar, and that sun; it rises early and stays up long after dinner. And when it finally gets low, I defy you not to be mesmerized by the sky turning orange, then tomato, then strawberry shake before fading to coal.
No, summer is for editing, a process that’s more craft than art. It’s about weeding words, mowing sentences, shearing off entire paragraphs. You’ve had three months away from your manuscript, so now you can review it with fresh eyes. With careful pruning, it’ll soon resemble a garden maze where your reader enters here, enjoys a laugh there, stumbles into trouble, then gets in even more trouble before ending at a koi pond where they can sit and ponder their journey.
Satisfied with it? Send it to your publisher.
The crisp air of autumn might tempt you to begin your next work, but I wouldn’t. Not yet. Inspiration awaits in apple orchards and bonfires. As the sun sets earlier each day, people begin sharing family lore, including hauntings, and everything is so compelling you realize you’re listening all the time – which is good. This is when you gather all those chronicles and tall tales, bottle them, and let the fermenting begin.
Before you know it, you’re in that period infused with nostalgia: the holidays. The smell of baked cookies and roasting meat sends me back to my grandma’s kitchen, where I stare at a picture of a Black Forest cake and struggle to decipher the recipe. Or was it flourless chocolate with raspberry? When I ask my cousin, he insists the kitchen belonged to my allergic aunt who used karob instead, which may explain my perusing a real dessert book. Nonetheless, competing memories reveal how stories evolve. Steep in these a while longer. And when the New Year begins, and the noise subsides, you’ll know the time for input is over. Go ahead — open that bottle of distilled experience and pour with abandon. Don’t worry about containing spills; there’ll be plenty of time to clean up later. A new wave of creation is underway up north!
If you live further south, where each day is graced with warmth and sunshine, and creativity transcends seasons, I truly envy you. Still, this supports my theory that geography and climate have a greater hold on the imagination than we realize. Whether your locale lets your taps run freely or only when the time is right, make a point of experiencing both. Consider swapping houses with yours truly. This way, I could – without irony — paint seven self-portraits enjoying ice cream outdoors and caption them Monday through Sunday. I wonder what you’d create in a place that’s pleasant for maybe 14 days every year.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to invade your neighborhood. Northern inhabitants like me appreciate how bad weather nourishes our dark side and, frankly, we don’t like being creative all the time. But if you ever get tired of endless sunshine, and yearn for the rhythm of seasons, come up here after the holidays. Barricade yourself against the snow and wind. And if your time up here proves fruitful, be sure to include winter in your acknowledgements. I would understand how un-ironic that is.