When the Words Don’t Come, Here’s How You Can Make the Most Out of Writing Winter.

It’s cicada season here in Washington, D.C., a big one. And lily and hydrangea season, and oh-Jesus-it’s-so-hot-and-humid season, too.

As someone in history wrote in Ecclesiastes, “To everything, there is a season.” Even writing.

There’s a lot of oft-repeated writing advice we writers are supposed to follow. Write every day. Set a schedule and follow a routine. Aim for at least 500 words a day. No, write at least 1,000 words a day.

And that’s all excellent advice, some of the time. But what about when the words just don’t come, when you can’t string together two coherent sentences?

What do you do when writing winter arrives?

A rock covered in snow jutting out of a frozen lake
Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

Getting buried By writing winter

There are times when we writers have no problem churning out engaging stories, impactful poems, and informative articles. Ideas are flowing, and so are the words.

These periods I call writing summer. The grass is green, and flowers are blooming, and, even if writing isn’t easy for us, what we write is at least good.

But other times, we struggle. We stare at blank pages and blank screens and wonder what happened to the person who enjoyed writing summer. The thought of trying to write forces us under the covers, and we’re convinced we will never again produce anything worth reading.

That season is writing winter. It’s brutal. Not only are we not writing, but we also start to doubt ourselves and our ability. Could we really ever write in the first place? Will we ever write again?

Having gone through more than a few writing winters myself, I’ve learned to recognize the season for what it is, an opportunity to rest, restore, and rejuvenate. So while I don’t look forward to writing winter when it arrives, I now take a few steps to make the most of it.

Below are three things you can do to benefit from writing winter. But, first is something I implore you not to do.

Don’t kill your younglings.

In past writing winters, I routinely deleted my writing drafts. Like Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode III, I killed all my Younglings. Thousands of words, countless ideas, and kernels that could have popped into something vanished because I was frustrated and furious.

If you take one thing away from this piece, let it be this: When going through writing winter, do not do away with anything you’ve written. Leave your drafts be. Don’t delete your stories and articles.

An old writing adage is to “kill your darlings.” It means that while editing, writers need to be willing to scrap parts of a story that isn’t working, no matter how precious that sentence, scene, or quote is to you.

What I’m suggesting you do is not edit during writing winter, especially if you, like me, tend to slash and burn your works in progress. Of course, good writing is as much good editing, but what’s the rush?

Your drafts will be there when you emerge from winter and are in a better mental place to review your writing. So, while in winter, give editing a rest, unless you trust yourself to not over-correct and kill your Younglings.

Now that your drafts are safe from their creator let’s talk about three things you can do to get the most out of writing winter.

Give yourself a break.

A writer has no worse critic than themselves. But, unfortunately, we can turn the weapons that make us good writers, such as our knack for introspection, against us, leading us to attack our talent and work.

This self-inflicted assault may be most vicious during writing winter, but that’s when we most need to be kind to ourselves. We’re in a fragile state. Beating up on ourselves makes matters worse.

Instead, we need to permit ourselves to experience writing winter. We need to rest, and we need to give ourselves a break for doing so.

And while resting could mean a literal rest, such as sleeping more, skipping the gym, or taking a mental health day from work, I’m really talking about pausing your writing.

GASP — I know, sacrilege to spend a day not writing. May the writing gods smite me where I sit, but I’ve found that not writing during writing winter is the best way to reawaken and do my best work.

Give yourself a break when writing winter arrives. Permit yourself not to write. Instead, rest and pursue some other activities that will refresh you.

Pamper yourself and practice self-care

Along with giving yourself a break, do something for yourself. Think of this as a Netflix-and-chill tactic.

If you want to spend the day in your pajamas watching Netflix, then you should spend the day in your pajamas watching Netflix. Book a spa day. Go for a long run. Eat ice cream.

Identify something satisfying you don’t often do or haven’t been able to enjoy in a while and do that thing. It’s OK, and it’s helpful.

During a writing winter, there have been times when watching a movie or TV show triggered something inside me that propelled me out of the doldrums. The next thing I knew, I was at my laptop typing away, basking in the light of writing summer.

But even if your pampering activity doesn’t spur you out of writing winter, it can at least restore you. Treat yourself so you can derive the greatest value from writing winter.

Person laying their head back with their eyes closed
Photo by Adetayo Adefala on Unsplash

Read whatever you want.

So far, I’ve asked you not to edit and not write during writing winter. Is there anything writing-related I encourage you to do during this season?

Yes. Read, and read whatever you want to read.

A devilish romance novel? Go for it. A listicle of the 22 best players in your favorite sports team’s history? Sure thing. Back of a cereal box? That counts.

We know writers should be readers, and writing winter is a perfect time to read. We’re not writing or editing, after all, so we have some time on our hands.

Let’s fill it by indulging ourselves. Read that book everyone’s talking about if you want. Or, grab whatever magazine catches your fancy.

You may discover a new writer, genre, website, or magazine you enjoy reading that you otherwise wouldn’t. Plus, you’ll be absorbing words, refilling your tank for when you’re again ready to write.

Taking advantage of writing winter

Nearly all writers go through seasons. Sometimes we’re productive, stringing together meaningful, entertaining words that others enjoy.

Other times, we can’t function as writers. Nothing we write works. We’re at a loss for how we’ll ever write again.

These periods are writing winter, and they suck. But writing winter serves a purpose if we allow ourselves to take advantage of them by:

  • Giving ourselves a break.
  • Treating ourselves.
  • Reading whatever we want.

Plus, an activity we should avoid is reading or editing any of our work. Let our Younglings live for a brighter day.

And those days, writing summer, will come again. When they do, if we follow the guidance above, we’ll be sturdier, healthier writers in a position to do our best work.

This article originally appeared on Medium.