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Cabin fever

Even though the beauty and extremes of winter can inspire me, I’m more than ready to have it gone. Most of us in the wintery states are at that point, and it’s getting to us, and it shows. Sometimes people pause too long in the grocery aisle or linger too long at a traffic light as if they’re trying to remember if they left their keys in a warmer climate. Some people are venturing out in shorts on days that are sunny but far from shorts weather, a fashion protest against the unmoving temperatures.

In a few weeks I’ll be offering a workshop session in Green Bay – the frozen tundra itself – on writer’s block. This is ironic because I am currently blocked. It’s not unusual for me at this point in the year: Where the deep of winter often lets me sink deep into the creative zone, the edge of it does the opposite. I’m restless. I’m waiting for something to happen, and it’s just not happening. I try to force it and the effort just looks ridiculous. I’m talking about on paper but also elsewhere: One recent blizzardy Sunday, when the weather once again foiled my plans, in an impatient fit I decided to cut my own hair. Later in the week I thought better of my efforts and asked my hairdresser to fix it; I arrived at the same time as a four-year-old boy who had done the same thing. Hilarity ensued. Am I still four? Hell, yes. I love the first snow as much as I want it to go away, please, and also, are we there yet?

The four-year-old in me also feels like tearing up my work, balling it up and stuffing it under the mattress. It’s probably not that bad. If I let it sit and looked at it again in a week or two, I’d think better of it. But then, in a week or two, the temperature will change. Sometimes letting things sit a while is the best way to kick-start the work, but the key, I’ve found, is to keep working. Do something else creative. Find what your inner four-year-old needs, which is sometimes a healthy distraction. Do you paint? Try that. Try it even if you don’t. Go to one of those wine-and-painting sessions with your friends. Get a different kind of creative muscle working. Get up and run around the room. Move. Dance. Breathe. Make pottery. Make a snowman. Something.

Think of your character as four years old: What does she need or want? Do a character study or go deeper into one. Why is she like that? What were her parents like? Did she grow up with both parents? What was a significant or turning-point event in her life? What was her childhood home like? Did she make snowmen, and what did they look like when she did—were they made of perfect, meticulously made spheres or did they look like monster blob creatures? What happened to her at four, or later, as a teenager, or as she became an adult? What does she most fear? What does she most want?

 Even if the answer is ‘for winter to go away,’ you’ve got a place where you can begin to melt the freeze and start to let the words flow again.