A note: Just as the seasons will look different around the world, many of the things discussed in this piece will occur throughout the year and will vary person to person. I’m not trying to make a case that we strictly abide by any particular way the seasons operate. What I’m trying to say is, be open to allowing in these natural lessons, especially to other ways of being that honor our natural cycles, and with more kindness and patience. In the end, trust your instincts and let go of what doesn’t serve you.
Spring is that first blank page in a new notebook. A fresh start. It’s a time of rebirth and renewal, a time when the seeds we planted start pushing their green tips through the rain-softened soil. And as Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” As a writer, those words resonate for me, but it took me a while to find my stride among this great planet’s natural cycles and how they influenced my writing life.
What We Can Learn from Writing with the Seasons
The changing seasons have much to teach us if we’re willing to slow down and let Mother Nature show us her lessons. As far as my writing life, I started to notice trends last year that I didn’t realize were influenced by the seasons, not until I read the stunning book Wintering by Katherine May. In it, she shows us another way of being in our lives that includes learning from nature’s pacing as the seasons change—slowing down with fall, resting in winter, re-energizing come spring, and flourishing in summer.
But that’s not how our culture would have us operate. We’re trained from a young age to go go go, operate at the same speed with the same productivity levels throughout the year in our nine-to-fives. While trees get to shed their leaves and bears retreat to caves to hibernate, we’re expected to do the opposite as holidays and capitalism combine and deadlines and productivity goals tower over us.
Instead of understanding the natural flow of the seasons, I’d berate myself for not being productive enough in the colder months, for not being able to keep up the momentum, or for not being able to focus in the alive months of spring when my energy and ideas ramp up and explode into a hundred sticky notes around my office, covering the room in a neon pink and green wallpaper.
So, how might we crack open the windows of our life to let the literal light of the world shine on our writing lives? Can we let the bright rays of the sun illuminate another, more compassionate way of being in our nonlinear creative processes?
Writing with Spring
First, I think it’s important that we acknowledge and honor the transitions from one season to the next for both our lives and our writing. From winter to spring, we move from shorter days in the dark to longer days filled with more light. What if we took a moment to pause and reflect on how these things impact our lives, our writing? Is there anything you might want to change, experiment with?
For instance, I know that after I teach a semester-long course followed by hosting a week-long writing retreat, I not only need a meaningful break from the intensity of those four months, but I also need a gradual ramp up to the next semester. Before, I used to start teaching again in January, but starting this year (thank you, experience, for your wisdom), I decided to start teaching in February and use January to slowly set the stage for the next “season” of my writing and my life. In my work life, this looked like designing pre-writing activities and adding on 1-on-1 calls with my students before we began our class to address this more natural transition into our work. So far, it has been the best semester I’ve had since becoming an independent teacher.
So, after this important acknowledgement and consideration of transitions, what does spring actually mean to you? What does it look like? How do you feel once all the snow has melted and the days stretch longer?
For me, spring is when I want to go hard on a writing project (keep in mind that this born-Michigander now lives in Southern California, so my spring might begin earlier than yours.) This is why my spring courses have always revolved around writers who are also working on bigger projects, and why I’ve hosted memoir salons and created The Writers Circle, so we can do this solitary work together. To have structure, accountability, and a community has transformed my writing life, as I am an active participant in my classes and retreats, meaning that I am both teaching and writing along with my students.
I feel so renewed around this time, noticing those cute little green tendrils sprouting up all around me, the seeds I planted in the fall and throughout the year starting to take shape, stretching toward the spring sun. Now the goal is to try and avoid over-watering everything in my excitement and drowning these sweet little ideas before they have a chance to become something…
Which brings us to nourishment. In the same way that the spring rains nourish our crops and kill the succulents we forgot about all year in the backyard, I also find a natural period of watering my own ideas. This will look different for everyone, but for me (a non-fiction writer), it includes:
cleaning my workspace (spring cleaning!)
finding, organizing, and going through source materials like journals and blogs
working on lots of pre-writing tasks like filling out my pre-writing guide, freewriting, brainstorming, doing writing practice, etc.
listing out and organizing key scenes, which I’ll continuously add to throughout however long it takes to write this damn thing
deciding on some goals and sharing them with my community and accountability partner
experimenting with establishing some new routines
This way, when class starts, I’m ready to focus on writing and not get bogged down with these writing-related-but-not-actually-writing tasks. I can’t enjoy a blooming red rose and its sweetness if I don’t provide the conditions they need to grow.
Finally, I want to expand on the idea of experimenting. Not once have I ever completed every writing goal I set for myself at the beginning of a semester. Not once have any of my students. This is not a criticism whatsoever, but an important lesson and reminder that we tend to have big and often unrealistic expectations for ourselves. And who can blame us? We are EXCITED. We are READY. We bought so many sticky notes and index cards and cork boards (the one I meant to put up in January is still in plastic on the floor to my right three months later).
Rather than berate ourselves over this reality, which does nothing to help us in becoming more likely to achieve said goals, I invite us all to reframe our work through a lens of curiosity, experimentation, and self-compassion. If we’re assholes to ourselves when we “mess up,” it’s only going to make things harder. If we don’t allow a natural phase of experimenting with how these new routines might fold into our lives, we’ll get frustrated and overwhelmed and want to give up. If we don’t stay curious and open to things naturally evolving when life continues to happen, we’re doomed from the beginning. So allow a phase of experimentation as you discover what’s actually possible, what your energy and time really look like, and then settle into a routine and carry onward, friend, if that’s what works for you.
What about you? What does spring have to teach you? What kind of conditions and nourishment would help you flourish? I’d love to hear your thoughts; please comment below so we might all learn from you!
And consider joining me to discuss and write on these things more at an upcoming Writing with Spring workshop I’m offering with Elyssar Press on April 22nd (virtual) and 23rd (in-person). Scholarships are available. Hope to see you soon!