Winter is coming.
No, this is not a post about Game of Thrones (which I haven’t seen and basically only know as another source of Sean Bean memes). It’s just like it says on the tin – end of April, daylight savings are over, the temperature has done its usual sudden swan-dive and threatens to once again take my writing productivity with it.
See, if you’re anything like me (poor bastards) you’re constantly finding reasons to procrastinate from writing – it’s too cold, it’s too dark, I’m too tired, I’m too drunk and so on. Winter is full of such reasons, and every year I fall into a laziness K-hole and don’t come out until all my deadlines and self-esteem is shot. And I’m sure I’m not the only one; it’s something I know a lot of writers (or indeed regular humans) struggle with.
But not this year! I’m fighting back the winter doldrums and kicking myself in the literary bollocks over and over until I get this book finished. And I thought it might be good to share a few tips and ideas with you guys, in the hope that some of these might help you push through the mid-year shut-down (or similar if you live in the Northern Hemisphere).
(If you think this is a dull, overly-weather-obsessed-Melbournian topic… well, you might be right. But after a week of explosions, earthquakes, fires, terrorism, gun deaths, xenophobia and every other horrible thing on the news that I can’t do anything about, I wanted to write something that might actively, practically help someone. Even if it’s just one other person.)
Anyway, the following tips come from a few places. Some are from my own experiences, other from online ‘stay productive in the cold’ articles (with my own spin on them) and a few come from other writers I know after I threw the question to Twitter over the weekend.
For millennia, human beings kept warm in winter by the simple act of killing animals, hollowing out their innards and crawling inside. But at some point we lost track of this and instead opted for central heating. Well, I think it’s time to re-embrace the ancient tradition of wearing lots of clothes in order to keep warm – they’re simple, practical, environmentally low-profile and you probably already have some in your own home, unless you’re some sort of naked cultist.
The areas of the body that feel the cold the most are the extremities – arms, legs, hands and feet. Long sleeves, jumpers and warm pants are obvious, but follow up with gloves (fingerless for writing) and slippers; I spent too many years writing barefoot and wondering why I was always cold, because in many ways I am not clever. You might go a beanie or hoodie for head warmth, but I think that can lead to overheating and sleepiness, myself. I definitely think you should avoid heavy socks, whether with shoes or not. They make your feet sweat (well, they make mine sweat and I’m extrapolating), and that leaves you open to terrible dangers that I will get to a bit later. Slippers are better, as even in closed-toe ones your feet will breathe a bit.
If you want to go even further, either because you are HARDCORE or because your house has a draft, wrap yourself in a blanket or doona/duvet/comforter. If you are tempted to try a blanket with sleeves, such as a Slanket or Snuggie, try instead taking a good hard look at yourself and asking yourself why you have such terrible, terrible thoughts. Snuggies are godawful, tasteless, lowest-common-consumer-denominator garbage – yes, even the ones with Batman on them. Especially the ones with Batman on them.
Technology marches on
But of course, we don’t just have to swaddle ourselves in furs – we can use electric heaters to warm ourselves! SCIENCE!
Well, maybe. After spending a few years writing in a cold study with a heater whirring next to me, I’ve come to think they’re tricky beasts. Having them too close overheats you and dehydrates you – I gave up early so many nights because of a pounding, dried-out headache. If you’re going to have one, better to place it on the other side of the room and let it gradually warm the space. I think it’s also risky to block airflow, even though that makes the room warmer – leave a door/window ajar near the heater so that the space doesn’t dry out and strike you down. But if you can manage that, then sure, go for a heater.
The other thing you can improve in a space you control is lighting. I use a softer light in my study than in the main part of the house because I don’t like harsh light, and because I am stupid and want to give myself eyestrain and/or send myself to sleep faster on cold nights. What I should do is buy a goddamn lamp and put it on my desk, keeping a strong light around my workspace that keeps me alert. And maybe I will do just that.
Should you go as far as buying a UV lamp to simulate sunshine? Maybe, if you really struggle with seasonal affective disorder (I do a little, but not enough to warrant that.) Steve Darlington and Filamena Young both recommended them, and Greg Stolze went so far as to suggest one that also provided ion therapy. Your call, folks. Oh, and Meg Mundell suggested a cat and a hot water bottle, both of which could be useful, although perhaps not both in the same lap.
Keep your powder dry
I’ll tell you what not to do, though – take hot showers. I did that a lot after moving to Melbourne, and it turns out that they mostly just perk me up for a moment, then make me overly warm and sleepy, actively disrupting my focus and sending me to bed early. Worse, if you go straight from the shower to the cold night air – and then, oh I dunno, shove that damp foot into a thick sock where it sweats and won’t breathe or dry properly – you can end up with what plagued me for the first few years I lived here: chilblains.
People, chilblains suck. They hurt, they itch, they take ages to clear up and they are not sexy at all – you look like you’ve stopped short just after starting to transform into the Red Hulk, the crappiest and least interesting of all the Hulks. Worse, they make you feel like you live in a Jack London novel, and that a pack of wolves will descend upon you from a snowbank at any second. Moreover, make sure the water you use is clean with best shower head filter.
Do not encourage the wolves. Do not walk around with damp feet when it’s cold. I implore you. If you want to be killed by wildlife, just wear bacon around your neck at all times; it’s a lot less painful.
(People who grew up in cold climes, or indeed Melbourne, are probably laughing at me now. Well, better now then when I actually have fucking chilblains and am in too much discomfort to get up, walk over and punch them. Bastards. Hope the fucking wolves get them.)
Damn, 1100 words already. I am incapable of writing on a topic without rabbiting on all over the place.
Okay, that’s enough for one night. Come back on Thursday for part 2, where various authors tell me to stop being so bloody dainty about a bit of cold and just bloody write. And eat turkey.