Less chilling, more illing

Did I say I’d come back on Thursday to talk more about the endlessly fascinating topic of how to maintain writerly momentum and focus in the face of Old Man Winter and his relentless legion of slightly chilly draughts under the office door?

Well. Obviously that didn’t go so well. In my defence, though, I was devoting all my spare time over the last week to making my wife happy, and she comments more often than most of my readers. So maybe consider who’s really to blame here.

But before it all breaks down into angry tears and finger pointing, let’s pick up where last week’s post left off to look at some more cold weather tips, whether my own or crowdsourced from other writers.

Super-serums and vita-rays

One of the good things about being married (there are many) is that my wife reminds me to eat healthily, or indeed at all. If I was single I’d just live on cheese sandwiches and the occasional tin of processed chilli  possibly eaten over the sink or within a nest of my own decaying filth. Of course, when I do eat anything substantial, my body shuts down into a carb-processing coma and I end up falling asleep on the couch before dessert, which is why we don’t go to many dinner parties any more.

But even a lunkstomach like myself knows that food gives you energy, and energy stops you from freezing to death, and freezing to death prevents you hitting your chapter targets. What kind of food helps keep you together in the cold? According to those who know, food that’s warming, high on protein and low on simple carbs (snore). Soup’s an obvious one, along with stews, casseroles, chilli and so on – the stuff you can make in a slow cooker over the course of a day, no attention required while you write. I also think Chinese and Thai food are both excellent options and maybe not what we first think of when we think ‘winter food’. While simple carbs can shut you down, apparently complex carbohydrates – whole grain breads, brown rice, legumes etc – can help stave off our old friend Seasonal Affective Disorder. And since fats help you absorb vitamins, you now have an excuse to eat an entire suckling pig in service to your novel! Or, fine, things like fish, nuts and avocados if you so insist. Meanwhile, heavy foods like white pasta, potatoes and cheese are better avoided, no matter how much it hurts.

On top of food, you have to drink. Why thank you, I’ll have an Old Fashioned. Whoops, hang on, I’m being told that… wait, alcohol dehydrates you and hinders your ability to focus? This is bullshit. But fine, whatever, drink a warming non-alcoholic drink. Tea and coffee are the obvious options, but probably best when you’re writing in the day, as late-night coffee is a recipe for sleeplessness for most of us. Well, most of you; with all the various stimulants I jammed into my system in my 20s and early 30s, caffeine barely does shit for me and I can easily have a couple of cups before bed. Also, my kidneys look like mummified dishrags and I dance very badly. Anyway, boasting and renal failure aside, green tea and herbal tea are good options for writing at night, or even something like warm fruit juice or some vegetable broth. My personal preference, though, is hot honey and lemon juice, perhaps with a little ginger. And maybe a shot of brandy or scotch in there. It’s medicinal.

NO. Apparently.


But of course, all this food and drink is just a poor substitute for taking nutrients in pill form, which is how everyone in 1936 thought we’d be living now. (They never expected the existence of Masterchef, and for that I envy them.) Which vitamins should you be taking? Um, I dunno, maybe all of them? B for energy, D to make up for the lack of sunshine, C to stave off illness, K for blood and bone, Q to maintain your superpowers… I say buy a bottle of multivitamins from the chemist and have one every day. If you’re more knowledgeable about what to take, maybe get multiple types and have a big pill party every morning.

Man, pill parties. The memories.

Anyway, on top of my bleating, what do my fellow writers say? Dmetri Kakmi recommends green tea, Meg Mundell prefers coffee and Caroline Alicee suggests coffee. Sadhbh ‏Warren says that popcorn and turkey both offer a bit of a serotonin boost, which can help as well. Greg Stolze, well, he recommends Sertraline, which is pretty hardcore. I’ll leave that one to your own discretion.

The great outdoors (or the nearest facsimile thereof)

Here’s a sudden EXPLOSION OF SENSIBLE from Jody Macgregor on winter writing:

Go outside. I think of writing as an indoor activity and often forget that I live in a country where the weather can be nice. I will sit in a freezing house all morning trying to write, then suddenly realise the sun is shining on my front porch.

Well, of course it’s shining. He still lives in Brisbane.

But even if you’re living in semi-Arctic Melbourne, getting out in the sunshine – or at least getting the blood moving through your withered nervous system – is a good idea once in a while. This is one of my problems come winter; I get up in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark and can go entire days without spending more than a minute or two in the sun. If I pushed that out to just ten minutes a day in warm, direct sunlight, it would probably wipe out my mild case of SAD and leave me more energised for writing – maybe even if I just did that on weekends.

Sunlight’s not the only point of emerging from your wordcave. It’s important to get a bit of exercise in the winter months; it gets the blood pumping and the system energised, and also allows you to mentally shift gears away from whatever pointless busywork very important stuff you do for a living. Riding a bike, jogging, strolling down to the shops and back… all of that can help jumpstart your nervous system and keep it firing. Meg Mundell takes midnight rambles, Sadhbh ‏Warren walks quickly while listening to the Prodigy, Greg Stolze does jujitsu… hell, if it’s too cold to go outside, pull out the Wii Fit and work out – or the Kinect and Dance Central. It all counts.

Dance. Dance. Revolution.

Just do it

Dmetri Kakmi, who has little patience for my whinging, told me this: ‘Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir says “When snow falls, write as if Loki is on your ass.'”‘ David Witteveen says “I find Autumn a good time for writing: grey skies and cool nights set the mood to snuggle in and write.” And if that doesn’t get you motivated, try this wisdom from Cam Rogers:

Embrace the cold… I’d advise actively attempting to enjoy things like ‘cosy’ and ‘tea’ and ‘having an excuse to pike on things outside the house you don’t want to do.’ Make it a positive thing as much as possible.

That dude moved from Melbourne to freakin’ Finland and kept writing. If anyone understands embracing the cold, it’s him.

In the end, what gets you through the cold times is the same thing that gets you through the hard times, the boring times, the pantsless times… your determination to write. Hot food and warm socks help, but they don’t spin straw from gold; you have to want to write, or at the very least to have finished writing something. What can help are the same things that always help – setting targets and goals, keeping to a schedule, using focusing exercises like the Pomodoro Technique, reading positive reviews for writers that you’re convinced are less talented than you… whatever keeps your head in the game.

You have to bring the fire to the table, then use it to warm yourself without setting things alight. Well, not too many things.

And with that 1300+-word wodge of life coaching, I’m done with Patrick’s Magical Winter Working Workshop.

Come back next weekend, when I’ll spend a similar amount of words talking about the joys of punching people in the face. All year round.

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