Making it easier to keep your writing resolutions, Part III: placing your work in its best light

After yesterday’s post, I had a jolly old time picturing all of my readers marching up to their loved ones, putting their wee feet down very firmly, and declaring, “I deserve support for my writing!” If that didn’t happen in EVERYBODY’s household, please don’t tell me: let me dream of a world where writers get all the help they need to write terrific books.

Those of you who haven’t yet read yesterday’s post are probably scratching your heads right now, right? Manifesti don’t bear repeating, my dears; I’m afraid that was one I can’t paraphrase. Suffice it to say, I suggested a few radical steps a dedicated writer might take in order to carve more consistent writing time out of an already busy life, creating a New, Writing-Positive Schedule (NWPS for short) that will amaze the masses with its efficiency.

If yesterday’s steps were too sweeping for you, you might want to try going on a media fast for a week or ten days, to get a sense of how much the yammerings and enticements of the TV, internet, etc., are eating into your creative time. It won’t hurt your worldview to turn off the TV and radio for that long, not to skip the daily newspaper, nor – dare I say it? – miss my daily musings.

It sounds odd, but simply taking a brief vacation from outside stimulus and noise will help you get back into the habit of listening to your own thoughts without distraction, as well as gaining a more accurate sense of how you would use your untrammeled time.

Not only will this allow you to assess just how much time every day you are currently spending being entertained, annoyed, and/or informed, to see if you could purloin some of that time for writing, but it is also mighty impressive to bystanders. “This writer is committed!” they will think – and if you are intending to institute some time-purloining measures in your home, establishing your devotion to your writing will help minimize the resentment of the rest of your household about your NWPS.

Trust me, nothing impresses kids with the seriousness of a project as much as your giving up your favorite sitcom for it.

Even if you are not trying to free up time, but are instead trying to free yourself from writer’s block, a media fast can be extremely enlightening. I go on one of these fasts every spring, and it honestly is amazing how much it calms the thoughts. It also arouses the pity and wonder of my household, and reminds my kith and kin just how important it is to me to have inviolate writing time. It reminds them that they, too, are contributing to my writing success, if only by remembering not to call during my writing time. (Did you hear that, Marge?)

It reminds them, in short, that they can actually LOOK for a paper clip or a stamp when they need it, rather than asking me. What am I, an office-supply shop? A post office? The neighborhood information booth?

It also reminds them why I am so strict throughout the rest of the year about not wanting to hear what is happening on the currently hot TV show. (Paris who? Jennifer what?) For me, getting sucked into an ongoing plot line is a big dispensable time waster. I have seen a grand total of one episode of FRIENDS, and none of ER, but I have written a couple of pretty good books.

And that, my friends, is nothing at which we should be sneezing.

Even if you have arranged your life so that you could not pick any of the casts of FRIENDS, SEINFELD, or any of the fifty thousand crime scene dramas out of a police lineup, you may well be having trouble sitting down to write – and for reasons that have absolute nothing to do with willpower, but have everything to do with why New Year’s is positively the WORST time to expect a reasonable person to be chipper about a new endeavor.

Those of you who live in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, Alaska, Sweden, Scotland, or anywhere else where winter light gets scarce probably already know what I’m talking about: Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD, to its friends). Here in Seattle, it is an annual epidemic: people who hold day jobs droop visibly, as they are going to work AND coming home in the dark. On top of that, this is the rainiest winter in the history of well, ever, so even those lucky enough to be able to snatch some noontime rays would be hard-pressed to find them. It can be depressing, making getting out of bed feel like an outright burden.

The late dawns and early dusks of wintertime are particularly hard on writers, I think. No matter whether you get up early or stay up late to snatch your precious daily writing time, the fast-waning winter light is bound to alter your schedule a little. I write and edit full-time, so I am spared the pain of the pitch-dark commute, but let me tell you, when I look up from my computer and notice that I have only an hour of daylight left, I practically have to lash myself to my desk chair to keep myself from running outside and flinging myself onto my front lawn, covered in solar panels.

Yes, the gloriously long days of a northern summer do compensate for the blahs of a local winter, but that’s awfully hard to remember in mid-January, isn’t it? Just try to remember the kind of September when grass was green and…well, admittedly, the grass does stay pretty green around here all winter, but still, you know the song. My point is, back in September, you could get off work and still SEE that the grass was green without whipping out a pocket flashlight.

So if you’re feeling blah and unmotivated, you’re not alone, especially if you happen to live in my neck of the woods. After all, Seattle is where those clever doctors DISCOVERED Seasonal Affective Disorder. (Possibly tipped off by all of those people leaping off the perversely-named Aurora Bridge – THE place to do oneself in around here, my dears – screaming, “The sun is never coming back! The sun is never coming back!”)

It really isn’t just you — or me, for that matter. We who live far north need to take better care of ourselves in the winter. I’m no doctor (well, I am, but not of medicine), but see if any of these classic SAD symptoms sound like anything that might be making it hard to stick to your writing resolutions:

Increased sadness
Higher irritability
Greater anxiety
Difficulty concentrating
Falling asleep earlier
Feeling less rested
Tiredness during the day
Decrease in activity
Craving of sweets and/or carbohydrates
Weight increase (usually blamed on the preceding two)

If you take just the first five, it reads like a diagnostic list of writer’s block symptoms, doesn’t it? Enough so that the FIRST thing you should do when you encounter writer’s block in the winter is to turn up the lights in your studio. The problem might well be physical.

Fortunately, there is a low-cost tool that makes seasonal adjustment easier: the full-spectrum light bulb. Yes, they are a bit more expensive than your average light bulb, but they do undoubtedly help fight the deep-winter blahs — they really are worth the investment. Write ‘em off as a writing expense; most writers do find that they are more productive in the winter months with adequate lighting. And if you use them strategically, you need not spend a fortune to improve your mood.

If you are willing to spend a fortune to improve your mood, go ahead and invest in a lightbox. Sitting in front of one of these babies for a scant 45 minutes a day replicates standing out in the sun at noon on the equator, without any of the harmful UV rays. Do comparison-shop, however, because even low-quality lightboxes, the ones where you practically have to have your nose pressed into them to enjoy any significant benefit, can be quite expensive.

Even if you would be perfectly happy living in a cave year-round, you can use the body’s response to light to help you keep your good writing habit resolutions. I’m about to share a trick of the full-time writing trade, one of those professional secrets that you always suspected the published shared with one another in furtive whispers: in the winter months, have your writing space be the ONLY room in the house equipped with full-spectrum lighting, and plenty of it. Make it blaze.

“That’s it?” I hear you cry in frustration. “Light my studio differently from the rest of the house?”

Yes, oh scoffers, that is what I said. Do it, and make sure you spend at least an hour per day in the room for the first week with the new lighting. (Try playing your writing CD at the same time: ideally, you should be writing while you’re there, of course.) It does not take very long to inculcate the habit in your psyche. Soon, you will find that your body actually CRAVES being in your writing space. You (and, most likely, any pet animals you own) will automatically gravitate there.

Nifty trick, eh?

Remember, no matter what advertisers for weight-loss and smoke-cessation programs tell you, there is more to changing your life that brute willpower. There’s being smart, and being creative. And, of course, keeping up the good work!

P.S.: There’s a really good discussion about what techniques readers use to jump-start their writing sessions going on in the comments on the first post of this series, January 4th. Some really creative solutions!

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