It’s winter here in Ottawa now and everything is frozen. The river is blocked with ice and won’t feel alive again for another two or three months. And this winter has been particularly horrid – you know it’s cold in Canada when they won’t let the kids play hockey outside.
A friend of mine is trying really hard to write a book. She has an outline and knows the shape of her book, but finds herself unable to get down to the writing of it. Her office feels cold and dark, and she can’t find just the right, warm and light-filled place to write. If she could just find that place, she knows the book would just pour out of her and onto the page.
But I wonder if there aren’t seasons to writing, and if her book isn’t like the river, frozen to the eye but still very much alive underneath it all.
I'm not in that season now but I have definitely felt this way in the past – constantly striving and pushing and feeling like I should be writing (dammit) but just unable to write, or once started, unable to stay in the warm light of my own work. The writing just felt forced.
I’m not saying that writing shouldn’t be work – sometimes it is and sometimes you hunker down and get ‘er done. But it’s taken years to just let myself have the occasional season of winter with my writing. Instead of constantly pushing myself to the page, forcing myself to face the horror of the snow-white screen and that damnable blinking cursor, I decided a couple of years ago to just let it be.
Sometimes it’s okay not to be writing.
You can use those times to rest, to read, to refill the internal well from which all creative work springs. Put your slippers on, make yourself a cup of tea and curl up with a quilt and a book you’ve been wanting to read. Let yourself be warmed by the light of someone else’s words for a little while and have faith that your own words will come again soon. Eventually, you may find yourself scribbling ideas on stick-it notes and random pieces of paper and when that happens, you’ll know that spring is just around the corner.
Of course winter can go on too long – even I’ve seen enough Game of Thrones episodes to know that. And when that happens, it’s time to bring out the dragons and burn through old patterns and ways of thinking, time to create new rhythms and rituals to support a new season of your creative life.
But that doesn’t have to be the immediate response to not writing. If you’re feeling frozen and blocked and just can’t make yourself do it, then maybe consider this the opportunity your mind and spirit have been calling for to Just. Not. Write. For now, just for this season, just to see how it feels when you don’t force yourself to the page.
Give yourself permission to be a writer who is not writing right now, and monitor yourself carefully for signs of spring.