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How writers can cope with a long, dark winter spent indoors

Need a winter reset? Here are tips for looking after your mental health, filling your creative stores, and passing the many hours until spring arrives.

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CREATIVE PROJECTS AND IMPROVING YOUR WRITING

Delve deeper with journaling

Are you a frequent journal-writer? Revisiting these pages later can prove a veritable mine for self-development and writing ideas. If you haven’t yet formed a steady journaling habit, this winter may be the perfect time to start.

Collect favorite quotes in a notebook

When I come across an inspirational quote, I pick up my favorite fountain pen and copy it out in my best handwriting in a specially dedicated hardback notebook. Think of this as squirreling away little gems. When I fall on hard times (writing-wise or otherwise), I go back to my hoard and read through.

Start a memoir/family history project

Dig out photos and memorabilia and write down odd memories as they come to you without worrying about their shape, and ask relatives in your family to do the same. This activity can be done over the phone, via webcam, or online and can provide a family bonding activity and welcome diversion from the monotony. During lockdown, I managed to trace a family branch of my mother’s great aunt, who emigrated from the Dodecanese, Greece, then an Italian territory, to the San Francisco area and with whom all contact had been lost for generations. This discovery led to the setting up of a family history group on Facebook, which includes members now living in the U.S., Greece, and the Far East. It has helped the older members record and share information and memories, and the younger ones learn more about their heritage and feel more connected.

Start a creative activity that is new to you

This one works wonders for creative blocks. Think of sewing as stitching up plots; singing as freeing up your writing voice; pottery as giving shape to a formless mass of ideas; painting as surveying the possibilities of the blank canvas. There’s more, but you get the idea.

For example, I’ve recently taken up scrapbooking on paper to recreate a rare return visit to Kassos, my native island in the south of Greece. Even the most insignificant mementoes can function as excellent memory triggers: Here’s the ship ticket (still in paper back then!) that reminds me of the late summer sail-off and the salty spray on deck as we left the port of Piraeus behind to sail southward in the Aegean Sea. There’s a print-out of a snap of my sister and me visiting a mountain church I had said I would visit with a special person. I am now putting together another scrapbook on paper, a bucket list of the places I want to visit once the pandemic is over. There is something about selecting, cutting out, arranging, visualizing patterns and sticking images and maps on paper that makes it real – as it will turn out to be. Of course, the by-product is more ideas for writing.

Take an online writing course

Even if you are an experienced writer, there is always a different style or genre you can try. Many offerings are now available online, so something is bound to catch your fancy – explore opportunities at GrubStreet, Gotham Writers Workshop, City Lit, and more. Earlier in the lockdown, I took an online memoir writing course with Curtis Brown Creative, which also offers a free “weekly writing workout” resource. The memoir course was delivered through pre-recorded modules, meaning writers from all over the world (one as far as Tasmania) were able to join. During the course, supportive friendships were formed, and we are still in touch.

Get down to actual writing

All these suggestions will likely yield an abundance of ideas. To move on to the next step of actually getting some writing done, you may find time-blocking is worth a try if, like me, you struggle with distractions. Try out the Pomodoro technique, which structures 25-minute blocks of writing time with scheduled breaks.

Despite the physical isolation, the pandemic also brought forward a number of online writers’ communities organizing writing sessions or retreats, some of them free. My absolute favorite is The Writers’ Hour by the London Writers’ Salon, which started in March and now runs three free daily sessions for writers on the East and West Coasts in the U.S. in addition to London. A heartwarming sense of community surrounds writers from all over the world during these sessions, so it is well worth a try.

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I set out to craft my writing goals as a gift to myself during this long, hard winter. But there is perhaps a more productive way of looking at some of these ideas. Reaching out, connecting, sharing stories and creative ways of converting time into positive experiences – these are all gifts to others during these difficult times, just as much as they are gifts for ourselves.

 

—Sofia A. Koutlaki (sofiakoutlaki.com) is an academic and nonfiction writer based in London. She is the author of Among the Iranians: A Guide to Iran’s Culture and Customs and is now working on a memoir.

 

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