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  • Writer's pictureLissa Cowan

30 Ways to Make Writing Your Plaything this Winter

Updated: Jun 9, 2021

I'd no idea how important light was to my writing practice until I drove from central Nevada to Canada's Pacific Northwest.

It rains pretty much every day here in the fall and winter. I'd finished the second draft of my creative non-fiction book in the desert far from any one or thing, only to then arrive in the rainforest and promptly crash.

The contrast between the light of Nevada and the dark of the Pacific Northwest made me especially fearful. Not like a child worried about what lurked under my bed, but more as an adult shuddering at the thought I'd feel gloomy, bummed out, and not have the energy or juice to keep up my writing pace.

Here, I feel the Western red cedars and five-foot high ferns closing in on me, and imagine that I may grow gills or reptilian frog-like skin. And that's why I decided to make up a list for myself and for you, dear reader, as you may also be shaking your head and saying--shit it's dark!!

So here's some stuff you can try when the dark winter days feel like they'll drag on FOREVER and always, and you feel like you just can't bring yourself to write or do much of anything.

This post includes an audio Winter Meditation and manifesto of sorts for practicing magic (if, like me, you're an impractical writer) plus loads of other ways to bring more light in so you can keep up (or start) a writing practice.


1) Wake up and do something right away that connects you to your creativity. This might be meditation, exercise, drinking a warm, invigorating tea or coffee, or it might be sitting down to write for 15 minutes. This one thing you do will kick off the day in a good way!

2) Bring lights into your space that inspire you such as a cool lantern or a string of lights that you put in a vase to light up a room. This year I got serious about lighting and bought a S.A.D lamp which I use every morning for 30 minutes while writing. Although, thankfully I don't suffer from it, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real mood disorder that can make people feel depressed in the winter, and is thought to relate to a lack of serotonin or melatonin.

3) Another option is to take advantage of the darkness by creating a nest for yourself with furry throws, candles, pens and a new writing notebook that inspires you. Hunker down! Buy some new teas or make some nourishing soups so you have them when you get down to writing. Use this time to go inward and get in touch with what it is you actually want to write or create. See my guided Winter Meditation further down to help you go inward.

4) Use the Five Minute Journal to pull you out of the doldrums and get you energized. I have friends who refer to this journal as a 'lifesaver.' Tim Ferris of the Four Hour Body says,“The Five Minute Journal is one of the simplest ways that I have found to consistently ensure improving my well being and happiness. Both in terms of achievement and actual measurable, quantifiable results.” The daily journal combines writing the following: Daily affirmations, something you're grateful for, and how to make the day great. Five minutes per day could be the push you need toward that writing project filed away in the drawer.

5) I’ve practiced different meditation techniques throughout the years and have settled (for now) on Vipassanā or Insight Meditation, which is based on the Theravāda Buddhist tradition. Not only is meditation good for self-reflectiveness and mental well-being, it also helps to develop compassion for others. When we meditate we can begin to experience life more directly and to witness our own story unfolding. We become more forgiving and grateful of others, and of our own circumstances. When you meditate, even for 10 minutes, it helps to clear your head in preparation for writing. If you're interested in combining meditation with a daily writing practice, then take a look at my 21 Day Writing Meditation course. Or, to try it out, I'm offering my 7 Day Writing Meditation Course absolutely free.

6) Start or end each day with envisioning exercises or mantras. Doing this can help you to create a space to envision what creative project you'd like to take on this winter. The dreams you're weaving in your head become more concrete as you experience aspects of them through visualization or through words from the mantra you create or select. This is a great way to get back on track, away from dark thoughts, and to bring those feelings of inadequacy to the surface to be dealt with once and for all. Also, you can join me for this special winter meditation + a poem about the dark (See below. The meditation starts at 1:27) to prepare for winter and the coming year.

7) Gather low-hanging fruit. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you look at a big creative task in front of you. Where do you start? How will you finish? Gathering low-hanging fruit simply means that you tackle smaller things that you’re able to complete first before moving to something bigger. Doing these smaller things first will give you the satisfaction of accomplishing something, and also give you more energy and confidence to tackle the bigger stuff. I try to have at least two small tasks on my list that I can check off right away before sinking my teeth into a longer project.

8) Exercise increases our energy and that stretches the time we have to write. Cool, eh?! It gives us more get up and go to fit in those creative to-dos that we’re always trying to find time for, but that constantly get pushed aside. Sometimes when I have writer’s block and I don’t know what to write about or how to move forward with my writing, I’ll bounce on a trampoline or go for a run around the block, skip for five minutes or do some yoga. Moving my body, getting out of my head, and releasing endorphins, really helps me to write. The body craves movement and wants to be part of the creative process.

9) Take up a new creative hobby. I recently bought a ukulele and am excited to be learning some tunes. I find it helps me write better when I have another creative outlet that's not in the least like writing.

10) Eat chocolate. The good stuff. When working on a longer writing project, I give myself a few pieces as a reward. It also perks me up enough to push through and get my work done.

11) Carve out movie nights. You could watch an old black and white movie like Philadelphia Story or old slapstick films with physical comics like Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Or, a vampire comedy that's the epitome of silliness (that I've watched on my worst days). Laughter is the best medicine during cold, blustery evenings, and could give you some ideas for your writing.

12) Poetry is often seen as a highbrow art, which is a shame because it's one of the best written forms for self-reflection and idea-making. It can equip you with an emotional map for how to piece together life's disjointedness. I often turn to American poet Mary Oliver when I'm having trouble navigating the road in front of me. To make accessing poetry even easier, the Poetry Foundation has a free app that allows you to search poetry by emotion (i.e., lovesick, jubilance, fear), which is pretty cool. And uber-talented spoken word poet Sarah Kay is definitely worth checking out, especially her If I should have a daughter that's received millions of views on YouTube.

13) I get irritable when several days go by and I haven't given myself even a few minutes to write. And if you can relate to this in any way, then I suggest carving out a time each week (preferably at the same time) to write--your memoir, novel, blog or web copy. Set it as an alert on your phone so you make it a priority. You wouldn’t forget to pick your kids up for school or take that chocolate cake out of the oven.... Treat this date with yourself as important as other commitments in your life. At first it may seem strange that you’re setting aside this time because in actual fact you may have no idea what you’re even going to write about because it's been so long since you've given yourself that time. Try 15 minutes to start, either early in the morning before others wake up, or late at night when your home is quiet. Writing in a cafe works too!

14) Volunteer. Giving to others in this way can release feel-good hormones like serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. Also, it may sound self-serving but the people you meet may just give you some ideas for characters or stories.

15) I talked in #13 about carving out a set time to write. Well, one step closer to your goal of finishing a creative project and feeling better about life in general would be to create a work plan that maps out when you'll work on your project and when you plan to finish. Obviously these are working plans that you’ll need to update, but actually having one and putting it on your wall or in your day timer for you to be reminded of is key. Break down your goals into bite-size pieces (or action items) so that you can see the progress you’re making and not feel so overwhelmed.

16) Take random strolls in a park or city street. When I'm in the thick of my work and am hunched over my keyboard for what seems like an eternity, that's when I force myself to get outside. Movement is vital to keeping the flow of creativity, yet it's also good for grounding yourself. When you do this you'll come back to your work with more vigour and intention.

17) Be inspired by the work of other creative people, whether it’s going to an art gallery or reading an amazing book or seeing a great movie. This will help to keep your eye on the creative ball—stay, stay, stay(ing) alive like that 80s disco song.

18) Own your talents. When you want to share your passion with the world it’s important to be aware of your gifts and to accept them as yours. I’ve spent a long time undermining my gifts. Imposter syndrome is a name for a person who doesn’t believe that they in fact possess the accomplishments they possess, and are afraid of being exposed as a "fraud.” Even very successful people can experience Imposter Syndrome. Actress Meryl Streep, for example, says that each time she goes to do a new film she gets cold feet and wonders why she’s acting because she doesn’t know how to do it. Other women suffer from this syndrome such as Sheryl Sandberg and Tiny Fey. Even when you’re a professional and are clearly an expert in your field, you don’t always feel like you are. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that we are experts in what we do, that we have these beautiful gifts, and we’d like to share them with the world.

19) Practice gratitude in small or large doses as it helps to refocus on what you have rather than what’s missing. Even in the dead of winter, try to find something to appreciate every day to make space for creative thoughts and actions.

20) Sit down and write. I initially came across the expression “first thoughts” in Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within. In her book, she counsels to keep writing even when you feel like stopping to read what you’ve written. Allow the pen to continue across the page and don’t cross out anything. Goldberg’s “first thoughts” or what other writers might refer to as “free writing,” helps you trust yourself and open to the creative process. It allows you free reign to write and not worry about what you are writing. Exercise: Pick up your pen and begin to write down the first thought that comes to you. Keep writing, staying with that first thought, and not looking back to judge whether what you wrote was good or bad. Enjoy the flow of the thoughts that are coming to you and just write them down. Try to stay with this burst of thought for as long as it carries you. It might last five minutes or it might only last 60 seconds. Once you feel that the first thought is complete, put the pen down.

21) Celebrate Thursday, December 21 (in the Northern Hemispere), the first day of winter and the darkest day of the year. You can go here to look up where it is in your area. Mother Earth Living suggests using this time to feed our spirits: "For people throughout the ages—from the ancient Egyptians and Celts to the Hopi—midwinter has been a significant time of ritual, reflection, and renewal. Creating a meaningful celebration of winter solstice, either in place of or in addition to other holiday activities, can help us cultivate a deeper connection to nature and family and all the things that matter most to us." Take time out on this day to write down your thoughts about the year that's almost past. What was it like for you? What were some wins? What was challenging for you? A ritual that I've done for years is to write down some ideas, emotions or stories that I want to let go of, and then I burn them in the fire. This is a nice way to clear the path for new stories in the year ahead.

22) Practice magic. You don't need to be a witch to do this. Take a look at my Practical Magic for Impractical Writers. Make writing fun!

23) Bathe in the forest. Even though this isn't a new thing, there's been some buzz about it lately. Basically it's spending time in the forest and allowing our senses to take in its wonders. Translated from the Japanese word shinrin-yoku, forest bathing is also seen as forest therapy. If you feel that your long-time therapist isn't helping you with your issues, then you may wish to consult the trees.

24) Tell people you love that you love them. I've no recent studies to back this up, yet I do know that when I do this, my heart rate slows and I feel calmer and more receptive and open. This is a good thing for writing or creating of any kind, wouldn't you agree?

25) Set reasonable goals for the future and make them specific. For instance, don't write, "Finish novel" in your list of 2019 goals. If you do that then the task will seem too daunting and you're more likely to just avoid it altogether. Instead, you could write something like, "Finish first chapter by end-of-December." If you sign up for my occasional newsletter, you'll receive my ebook, Write Like Your Heart is on Fire: A Guide for Writers, Entrepreneurs and Creators on How to Get **it Done. The ebook includes several exercises to help you stick to your writing goals.

26) Plant something indoors. A few springs ago I decided to plant gogi berry from seed. For weeks I watered that little guy and I all but gave up. Until one morning when I saw a little green leaf poking out of the earth like a small hand. I watered and cared for that plant, sometimes bringing it inside if it was too cool at night, and checking the composition of the soil to make sure it had the right nutrients to grow. Writing like gardening takes patience. When you have a plant in your creative space, you can gradually watch it grow and take comfort in the fact that, like your writing process, if you feed and water it (the plant!), then eventually you'll see your work blossom.

27) Make an altar or sacred space. Find a quiet space in your home, such as a nook, den or an attic. Bring objects into your space that have meaning for you such as a rock or shell you might have found on the beach one day. Or a brilliant orange fall leaf you spotted in a local park. Bring some fresh flowers or a plant into your space, a special cushion you sit on or luxurious shawl you wrap yourself in while writing. Finally, buy or make (see #29 below) a pleasing notebook that inspires you to write. Consider the following when planning out your sacred space: Altar, inspiring artwork or nature photos, pictures of family or friends, shells, rocks or driftwood, plants, fresh flowers, candles, colorful cloth or cushions, beautiful pens and notebooks, statues or pictures of spiritual gurus or guides, a book of inspiring aphorisms or prayers.

28) Schedule a Do-Nothing Day. In the past when I'd see people doing absolutely nothing for a whole day, I'd feel jealous yet think that I didn't have the time to take a day for myself. Now I realize that doing nothing for a day is the best way to keep sane and it also helps with creativity. When I go back to my writing after a short holiday, my writing feels more expansive and there's an ease to my writing process that I'd lost due to stress, fatigue or overwhelm. If you can't take a day out each week (most people can't), then try one day a month or an afternoon.

29) Make some fun writing notebooks. I recently came across Nik the Booksmith and her free book embelishing course. She teaches people how to make wonderful, inspiring books of all kinds. I recently signed up for her basic course for free. Taking the time to make a beautiful writing book shows your doubting self that writing is a beautiful thing for you to allow into your life, and to give more time to.

30) Listen to your Muse. Elizabeth Gilbert has a wonderful TED talk called Your Elusive Creative Genius that shows that creating isn't straightforward and that there's probably loads of magic to it. She also says that tuning into this magic takes the burden off ourselves and makes it easier to actually create.

I hope you'll test out some of these small steps to fire up your writing or creative practice during the winter months. And to see dreary, cold days as opportunities to dip into your creative well and be astonished by what gems you uncover.

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