Friday, March 6, 2015

Snowmaggedon, Bipolar Weather, and Our Productivity

Photo by Deborah Downes / Take to Heart Images
By Kim

If you are anything like me, weather has a great deal of impact on your mood and productivity. While we have not had the snow our friends in the northeast have experienced, the winter of 2015 here in Dallas would best be classified as bipolar. One day it is 70 degrees and the next we have freezing rain. We had four inches of snow last night and now it is nearly all gone. We’ve gone through long stretches without seeing the sun. The constant state of flux has made it hard for me to focus. Even tasks like writing this post seem too daunting to manage.

So I’m letting other people write it.

I reached out to several of my writer friends, asking them what the weather has been like in their neck of the woods, and how it has helped or hurt the number of words that make it to the page. Some of their ideas about how to keep or reclaim focus may be of help to some of you (like me) who are still struggling. Here is what they had to say:

“I am a summer person, and am more productive when the weather is sunnier and hotter. Here on the West Coast it has been a particularly foggy and wet winter. The fog really drags me down, and productivity in all areas flags. I’ve been using my light box more this winter.”
Brin Jackson – Fantasy writer

Photo by Deborah Downes / Take to Heart Images
“New York City's very trying, cold, icy winter has made me want to run away inside my novel and find a nicer world. I wrote one scene describing such sweet spring weather, and was quite astonished to find myself still struggling over dirty mountains of old snow outside. Which shows my creative worlds are more real to me at times than the one I live in every day! I wrote cherry blossoms and really expected them to appear!”
Stephanie Cowell – author of Claude and Camille

“Maryland has had pretty gloomy weather for the last 3 months--lots of rain, ice, wintry mix; very little sunshine. I normally love winter and find grey days excellent for concentration, but lately have been finding it hard to keep working. The desire to pamper myself--perhaps comfort is a better word--gets stronger with every dismal day. If it just snowed, I'd be a lot happier! (I used to live in Massachusetts and miss the snow's clean lines, the blue light at dawn and dusk.)”
Barbara Morrison – author of Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother

“I’m hesitant to blame my lack of writing progress on the weather, but February here in southern Ontario has been downright nasty. We had stints of wicked cold (-20 to -30, for those of us who speak only Celsius… to put that in perspective, that feeling when you go outside and your forehead kind of aches from the cold is around -15) followed by slight warming, but the slight warming was always accompanied by giant dumps of snow. There are mountains of shoveled snow acting like blinders alongside my driveway; backing onto the street means taking a deep breath, hoping for the best and gunning it. I don’t think we saw an above-freezing temperature all month. I mostly gave up on running outside. 

Photo by Deborah Downes - Take to Heart Images
So yes—it’s been more a month of going mad than of writing like mad. You’d think that, stranded indoors, I’d find lots of time for writing. Not so, and I’m not sure why. I was frustrated with my project, feeling like I couldn’t get anywhere. To be honest, I put it aside. Not in a mature, considered way, either. If my story were a person, I’d have shoved her into the ditch with all the self-restraint of a tantrummy three-year-old. I wiped my hands clean and walked away. 

But oddly, just as the past few days have gotten brighter and it’s starting to feel like there might possibly be an end to this winter, I’m feeling hopeful about my writing again, too. My writing group meetings have helped, even when I didn’t want to go and had to force myself out the door. It was good to see friends, especially friends who have struggled with their writing, too. The workshop I attended recently also helped—I’d almost forgotten about it, and grumbled when it popped up on my calendar, but hearing about someone else’s approach to story helped unlock my rusty brain-cogs and start things spinning again. 

I don’t know how it’s going to go, but the snowdrifts are shrinking, and I’m easing back into writing and back into the world.”
Erin Thomas – author of Forcing the Ace

“February in the Mighty Mitten was cold and snowy. The temperature never rose above freezing once, was below zero about a dozen times, and topped out in the single digits or teens more than half the days of the month. We had about a half-dozen major snow events (more than four inches) in February, but on well over half the days of the month we received dustings and/or snow flurries. Total snowfall for this area for the year is around 70 inches. Unlike the Northeast, this has been a fairly typical winter, here along the Lake Michigan shoreline. And it’s been beautiful!

As is typical for me, the winter months are more productive, writing wise. I finished a draft of a major rewrite of a manuscript in February, after struggling with it over the holidays. The manuscript was a total rewrite (in other words, I did not reuse any old material), as near as I can calculate (based on where I think I was on Feb. 1), I wrote around 55K of new words, plus assorted essays, etc. The final few days of the month were spent in a pass-through edit of the project (in which I’m still engaged).

I’ve always loved reading or writing in inclement weather. There is a coziness and a feeling of solitude, and perhaps a bit of melancholy, that all suits my fiction, and leads me to hunker down and disappear into the process. There is a lovely quietude that comes with the snow. It’s so still out there. I’m cushioned in sweaters and thick socks and slippers, with a hot coffee cup to warm my hands. Immersion is easier. I look out at the swirling snowflakes, and the green pines and gray beech trunks, and I’m off to Dania.”
 Vaughn Roycroft – epic fantasy writer

Photo by Deborah Downes - Take to Heart Images
“So. The weather here has been wonderful, if you are a fan of Frosty the Snowman, who has decided to move in permanently. My youngest has had 7 snow days and at least one delay, followed by a week of vacation. Not much writing is happening. On the other hand, he's growing so fast he's only about 6 inches shorter than me now, and in a few years snow days will mean sleeping late or hanging with his friends instead of sledding with me, so I'm still pretty grateful for the extra time.”
Liz Michalski – author of Evenfall

“I spent almost the entire month of February sick, and did little to progress my actual book. It also meant I had too much time to doubt my current book, to dither between projects, and doubt every word I've ever written. It's been a rough winter. My husband has talked about getting me one of the light boxes Brin mentioned.

Keeping a journal pulled me through the worst of the doubt, though I'm still muddling through questions about what I should be writing. I did a lot of stream of conscious writing and surprised myself with a few revelations about my process and what was in my *colander*.

Meditation also helps me get through the worst of the weather. I am a much better person (and less grumpy mom) when I take the time to just *be*. But, like writing, it's a practice. Some sessions are better than others.

We have almost two feet of snow where I live in south-central Illinois, as well as below zero temps. I live in a rural area where many people reside in the country and have been snowed in. I have an elderly great aunt I've been taking medicine to.”
Tonia Marie Harris – writer of YA speculative fiction

Photo by Deborah Downes - Take to Heart Images
“Winter is the time I do most of my writing, because in the warmer months I want to be outside. And this has definitely happened this winter, because I have been trapped indoors with the never-ending snow. *sobbing* And although, like Liz, my kids have had 8 days off from school followed by a vacation, I've still managed to get a good number of words on the page, and even better, I've been happy with most of what I've written.”
Jeannine Walls Thibodeau – freelance editor/proofreader and writer

“Growing up in an area with sunshine 350 days out of the year left me with reverse seasonal affective disorder. I need the change of seasons both for clear thinking and focus. I do work differently in warm weather vs. cold—outside by the harbor during the summer months and at my desktop during the winter. Venue doesn't seem to affect productivity.

That said, we just came off the snowiest month on record, and I've had trouble concentrating. Not because of the gloomy weather, but because of claustrophobia. I live on the ground floor and the snow is piled so high around my building, when I look outside, all that is visible are walls of white.”
VR Barkowksi – author of A Twist of Hate

"Here in the Florida panhandle, our winters are quite mild, with about a cumulative week's worth of cold in the 20's scattered throughout February. There really is no big change in seasons...the leaves drop and the grass browns, things become dormant, but that's about it. I usually have a lot of yard maintenance in the winter, because once everything comes back to life, it comes back in full-force. Since the days are short, I do my writing at night during the winter. During the summer, of course it's tough to keep on top of the growth (especially if you didn't do winter maintenance), but since the days are so hot, I only work in the yard in the early morning or late evenings and write during mid-day. So, seasons do alter my writing habits--at least the time of day that I write."
M.L. Swift – writer of “unboxed” stories that don’t fit neatly into a genre.

"I am more productive in the winter. I posted on my blog about this topic. When the weather is inclement (I live in Connecticut) I find myself indoors more and it is much easier to write. In the summer there are too many competing distractions. I love the beach and I like to be outdoors in the summer. I suppose that's no excuse because one can always bring a laptop or tablet and write outdoors."

C.G. Blake – author of Small Change

So, what's the weather been like in your neck of the woods? How has it affected your productivity? If it inspires you, why? If it does the opposite, how have you been able to reclaim your lost focus?

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