It feels foolish to compare last year to this one – or to compare 2020 to anything, really – but I do find myself succumbing to so many more intense cravings this year. I noticed it first with food: At the tail end of a very long winter, I suddenly became obsessed with radishes. While the rest of the Alaskan produce section shriveled and wilted as winter dragged on, the radishes remained bright, crunchy, spicy promises of spring. I ate them raw, with butter and flaky sea salt, dipped in hummus, thinly sliced on toast with herbs. I couldn’t eat enough.
My cucumber phase began when the height of the snowpack outside finally dwindled to single digits. It ebbed only once we harvested our first greens, when I eagerly ate fistfuls of arugula and baby mustard greens straight out of the colander. I made gravlax one week with local sockeye and was genuinely concerned I might never want to eat anything else again. But next came the season of Giant Fork-and-Knife Salads, a swooning dalliance with a local ice cream parlor, and a brief but torrid affair with rhubarb-infused gin.
These cravings crept out of the kitchen and into the rest of my life. I devoted a great many hours to Ted Lasso. I went on a jigsaw puzzle spree, a mystery spree, and then a mystery jigsaw puzzle spree. Weeks flew by where I’d only want to write flash, then only essays, then only flash essays, all while my main-squeeze manuscript sullenly grew dust on my hard drive.
Somehow over the last year, I’d transitioned from a “variety is the spice of life” person to a “just one spice, deployed over and over, until I finally find a new spice” person, which worried me. But I couldn’t deny there was something so freeing in gravitating toward the things I wanted to do instead of the things I felt I should be doing. And often, the Venn diagram of what I wanted and what I needed was a full circle. After a long winter, of course my body craved fresh vegetables. During a pandemic, my anxious brain longed to turn chaos into order via puzzles, no matter if they were in a book or splayed on the table in front of me.
Mostly, I think, I was still glad to crave anything at all after a long year of fear and grief. I was relieved I still had an appetite. I was relieved I still wanted.
And sure, my manuscript grew dust, but my craft didn’t. The writing I did was still writing. And funnily enough, after a season away from my genre, I find myself itching to return to it. As fall arrives in full force, my hunger has taken a different course, from playful freewriting into structure and order. I’m busy solving a new kind of puzzle, analyzing novels and taking them apart to see how they work. I’m filling my calendar with virtual classes and conferences. It’s what I want, and, best of all, I think it’s what my manuscript needs, too.
If you find yourself feeling stuck, or, worse, numb, and far away from the joys that writing once brought you, it might be worth considering indulging in your own cravings. What do you want? What do you find yourself gravitating toward? What do you hunger for on the page?
Follow your cravings and see where they take you this fall – and, hopefully, your own wants will lead exactly to what you need, too.
—Nicki Porter served as the editor of The Writer from 2016 to 2022; she previously served as its associate editor. Before helming The Writer, she worked as a food editor for Madavor Media and America’s Test Kitchen. She’s also written for a number of publications and spoken at writing conferences across the country. Learn more at nickiporter.com.Originally Published