“It is winter proper; the cold weather, such as it is, has come to stay. I bloom indoors like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out.”
At this time of year, as the brutal weather of January and February wraps us in its chilling embrace, and darkness greets us in the morning and travels home with us after work, spring is a longed for guest whose arrival seems impossibly far away.
Yet, in times past, winter was as welcome a guest as spring, for it was a time to slow down, to ease up on the chores of plowing and planting, weeding and harvesting, hunting and gathering. In the midst of the struggle to stave off hunger and cold, winter was a time for gathering around the warmth of a fire and putting hands to work spinning and weaving, mending and sewing, and carving and making. And while hands were busy, stories of community life were shared, along with the entertaining and enlightening stories of myth and fairy tale. Creativity and imagination were given time and freedom.
Even now, when electric lights, computers, and television battle the darkness and the shorter days, somewhere deep inside, our minds, our bodies, our souls, respond to the urge to hibernate, to gather around the fire, to put our hands to some creative endeavor. Like the seeds of winter wheat, in the dark soil of stillness and silence, the seeds of imagination and spirit are germinated and fed. Winter is a time for us, as Annie Dillard says, to “come in to come out.”
All creativity needs a period of rest and incubation. Just as Mother Earth slumbers under her winter blanket of snow, gathering resources and energy before her burst of creative rebirth in the spring, we, too, need this time of outward-seeming inactivity, a period of turning inward to meditate, contemplate, and just be. Every year at this time my husband complains of feeling more tired. I think it is just our need to hibernate along with the rest of Nature, to stop trying to push our schedules and calendars to their maximum tolerance, to replace some of our frenetic action with mindful stillness, reflection, and creation.
Winter is a good time for reading, both in your field of interest and outside it as well, in order to plant the seeds of new ideas and possibilities. Winter is a good time for dreaming, both awake and asleep, and for recording those dreams for exploration and inspiration. Winter is also a good time for experimenting with new crafts and revisiting old ones. It’s also a time for cleaning and organizing our creative spaces—and our dreaming spaces as well.
By the time spring arrives in her green gown and birds are singing outside the window once again, you can be ready to move back out into the world with renewed energy and clarity of vision.
Here are ten ideas to try if you want to take creative advantage of long nights and cold temperatures:
1. Give yourself permission to use a half-hour or hour in the evening to put your feet up and read a book, peruse magazines in your field, or simply close your eyes and daydream. This will plant creative seeds.
2. Keep a journal (no, you don’t have to write in it every day, and the entries don’t have to be Pulitzer Prize material) to record ideas, quotes from your reading, and desires and inspirations from your dreaming. These can even be in list form.
3. If you have always wanted to knit, carve, paint, sing, whatever, winter is a good time to give it a try. Sign up for a one-day introductory class or a few short evening classes. If you can’t get to a class, buy a how-to book and a few materials for a simple first project.
4. Having a hard time getting started on a project? Tell yourself you’ll try it for 15 minutes. Breaking a project down into short chunks helps you overcome beginner’s inertia.
5. Fight cabin fever. Go out to a movie, concert, play, or just to the bookstore. These are great sources not only for inspiration but also motivation.
6. Creating with friends is a great way to beat the winter blues. Remember those sewing circles and quilting bees? If quilting is not your thing, then invite friends over to cook a meal together, organize photos (that can generate great stories and numerous laughs), or plan next spring’s gardens.
7. Check the space you give yourself to play or work creatively. Is it attractive? Is it organized? What can you do to make the space more inviting and efficient?
8. Low on energy and motivation? Do some web surfing under headings related to your creative activity. It is always fun and inspiring to see what others are doing and what is going on in the field.
9. Try something you haven’t done before. For example, quilters could try watercolors. New challenges often bring new perspectives to creative work.
10. Make plans for a summer conference, retreat, or workshop in your area of interest. Getting information and making reservation brings the summer all that much closer.
Remember, winter is a good time for incubation. Rest, sleep, dream, so that when the warmer temperatures of spring arrive you will emerge once again, rich with the seeds of new ideas and possibilities.