The Winter Novelist’s Toolkit

Please note: Those in warm climates can ignore this. They can also keep their weather stories to themselves. I am currently wearing three pairs of wool socks and have situated myself as close to the fireplace as I dare to sit without fretting about the possibility of lighting my computer on fire. If you want to tell me about your writing desk’s proximity to a Mauian beach or the fact that the Gulf of Mexico breezes are currently drying the sweat between your toes or that your staff of slim-hipped cabana boys are, right now, handing you drinks with umbrellas in them and gently sponging the sweat from your unlined brow as you finish your chapter in your tank top and Bermuda shorts and contemplate if you want to eat your lunch while wading in the salt water or floating in the pool, then I will, very politely, tell you to can it.

I do not want to hear about warm places. Or even lukewarm places. I will pretend that you do not exist.

It is Minnesota here. And it is winter. And it is friggin’ cold.

Now, here’s the thing about sitting at a desk and writing – it is cold work. Despite the fact that I sit on a yoga ball (so bouncy!) and that I take hourly breaks to dance around my office or do push-ups (so gnarly!), I get incredibly cold when I write. Even on a warm day. Today, for example, I have abandoned my office in favor of my couch by the fire. The window next to my desk is old and leaky, and even though it got up to a balmy 15 degrees today, (yesterday, the high was -5. We’re improving!) I was still shivering.

Still, sometimes we are on deadline. And sometimes, we have a story itching in our fingers that wants to get out. And sometimes we promised our writing group a new set of chapters MONTHS ago, and they are still waiting. All of these might be true. So even though we shiver and shake, we still need to get the words written. Because no matter what we do, our books will not – and will not ever – write themselves.

(Because our books, let’s be honest, are jerks. And they are lazy. And they expect us to do all the work. Blasted books.)

Anyhoo. I have made a list of useful things to be able to suffer the cold long enough to get the words written.

1. Fingerless gloves.

gloves My mom got these for me a few years ago from Etsy. And they are magic. One of the problems with cold-weather writing is the fact that the knuckles get creaky. And once they are creaky, they are achy. And then they are hurty. And then it’s hard to write. Keeping the hands warm keeps the words going. And also, stripes. Stripes are magic. And so is wool.

2. Tea

My daughter asked me once what I would do if tea was outlawed.

“Crime,” I said. “The only option will be crime. Mass revolution, too, of course. But mostly crime.”

I told her that I would be forced to turn to the dark side of the law – a quick-fisted, heat-packing, fast-talking, tea-hustling skulker of dark alleys. I’d wear a trench coat and a fedora pulled low. “Hey, buddy,” I’d whisper to gents passing by. “Wanna buy some tea?” I’d build speakeasies for tea – illegal tea-rooms where I’d serve Assam topped with also-illegal raw milk. Because, why not? I’d become a Tea Kingpin, slowly building an empire of tea and corruption. I’d be a tea-drinking gunslinger, with a pack of minions willing to do my bidding. My soul would twist and burn. I would cease to be the Nice Mom Down The Block. I’d be like Mr. White in Breaking Bad.

Do not take my tea away, goddamnit.

Anyway. Tea. Warms the hands. Warms the mind. Keeps the words moving. It’s the only thing keeping me alive at present. Thank god.

3. Wool socks.

As I said: three pairs, currently. And I’m next to the fire. Remember in Harry Potter when  Harry asks Dumbledore what his true heart’s desire is, and Dumbledore says “Really nice wool socks,” and Harry thinks he’s kidding? Well, that castle was drafty. And damp. And in England. And made of stone. Wool socks were exactly what Dumbledore needed. Dark Lord? Forget it. Warm toes – that’s what it’s all about.

4. Very Loud Music

Not when I’m writing, of course. I’m a silent writer. But once an hour, I need to stand up. I’ll do jumping jacks or push-ups (which are very warming) or I’ll run in place. Sometimes. But usually, I’ll get up and dance. The Lillingtons. James Brown. Iggy Pop. Sleater-Kinney. The Roots. Whatever. Nothing battles the freeze of stillness with the insistence of movement.

6. Chocolate

‘Nuff said.

It’s funny, I’m working on two books, one of which is set in Minnesota bog country in the middle of summer. And it is hot and humid and sticky. And wonderful. The other is in a world that is not our own, and it is hot as well. And I notice that the writing now is very slow. And deliberate. Because winter is coming. And the cold is waiting. And, even though it is imaginary, I want to hang out with my characters in an extended summer. Where I may leave my wool socks on the ground and let my toes sink in the muck. Where I may shove my fingerless gloves into the back pocket of my cut-offs and feed sugar to a grasshopper in the hollow of my hand. Where I may go with my computer to sit outside, with the sound of birds and birds and birds.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a novel to write. Slowly.

4 thoughts on “The Winter Novelist’s Toolkit

  1. Michigan here. We’ve had a warm winter for the most part (like last year), but this last week it suddenly dropped into the negative degrees. It was so fast, so unexpected, and an incredible shock to my system. That’s saying something because I LOVE the cold, but these last few days have been difficult. My cheeks, fingers, and ears start to hurt within minutes of being outside. My half-breed demon dog cries out from the pain of the snow on her feet before she’s even had a chance to relieve herself. Writing has been very difficult. My fingers get so cold. I find myself holding them to my lips and breathing on them as I mentally form my next sentence. Then my nose gets cold and I truly despise that– how does one warm their nose, for crying out loud!? I’ve been utilizing tea and hot coco. That seems to help fight the cold the best. I love the idea of the finger-less gloves. I don’t know if they’ll help to keep my fingers warm at all, but it’s worth a try.

    • It’s not so much the fingers as the knuckles stay warm. I have mild arthritis in my hands, so heat matters. I also have another pair where I just cut off the fingertips. I find I type more slowly, but they definitely keep the fingers warmer.

      Blasted cold. Still, it keeps out the un-gnarly, so that’s good. 🙂

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