Write It Sideways

Give Your Writing A Case of Spring Fever

Today’s post is written by regular contributor Sarah Baughman.

The first day of the year I end up outdoors without a coat always leaves me feeling a little scrambled, giddy at sensations I forgot existed.

“Oh,” I think as I marvel at the grass and leaves creeping in to take the place of snow. “So that’s what dirt smells like!” When my toddler actually scooped up a handful and stuck it in his pocket today, I knew exactly how he felt. Sometimes I wish I too could package all of the textures, scents, and sounds that embody this season, and save them for later.

Even if it makes your laundry dirtier, spring can be an inspiring time for writers. It’s a time of growth and change, when a natural cycle gives fresh perspective on old themes.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ve likely seen a few signs of spring emerge already; but even if you’ll be waiting a few months for the season to shift, consider how this time of renewal might serve your writing well.

Why writing is like spring

1. It involves hope. No matter how much mental work I do beforehand, sitting down to write feels like a hopeful act. I might have a fixed plan, but the act of writing always opens paths I might not have considered before, and I never know quite how they’ll turn out until I arrive there. I once spoke with an author at a writers’ conference whose suspenseful short story had me on the edge of my seat. “I was so worried about that character!” I told her after her reading. “I really had no idea what was going to become of him.” To my surprise, the author nodded vigorously. “I know!” she replied. “Me neither. Halfway through writing, I still wasn’t sure what he was going to do. I’m glad it turned out the way it did, though!” Our characters and plots might originate with us, but they also take on lives of their own, and accompanying them on the journey is certainly a leap of faith.

2. It involves work. I’ve been looking at overnight low temperatures lately, trying to figure out if it’s too early to seed peas. I hear the hum of tractors in the fields by our house, tilling ground to prepare for planting. Like writing, spring is about more than hopes and dreams; it demands careful planning, preparation, and attention to detail. We commit to a schedule, fight procrastination and distraction, edit again and again. There’s no way around it.

3. It’s tricky. One day, we’re giddy, half-drunk on sunshine and sunbathing on our porch. The next day, cold rain or even a sudden snowfall remind us that this season isn’t for keeps. Its fragile beauty is intoxicating but hard to trust. Similarly, it’s hard to take a piece of writing for granted. We might start out inspired, only to fall victim to writers’ block. We might get stuck on a piece of dialogue or a plot twist or a conflict between two characters and lose track of our piece’s purpose along the way.

4. What comes up always surprises us, even if we’ve seen it before. I walk past the same patches of multicolored crocuses and snowdrops that crowded the strips of grass along the sidewalk last year. Yet I love them all over again; each year, they look new. In writing, we might rework old themes; characters in different works might share similar traits or plot lines might reflect aspects of our own lives. Nevertheless, each new work offers the opportunity to view a known concept in a different way, and to gain new perspective.

5. Our senses work overtime. After the austere chill of winter, spring is a constant riot of sensation; we’re hyper-aware as the scent of flowers, sound of birdsong, sight of buds bursting on once-bare branches, and texture of soft soil remind us of how to engage meaningfully with our environment. Writers also deal in senses, heeding the old advice to “show, not tell,” striving for highly specific descriptions and metaphors.

How to make the most of writing this season

1. Be optimistic. Dig up an old piece you haven’t edited yet, or get started on one you’ve been mulling over for a while. Polish a piece for submission.

2. Recommit. Create a writing schedule that works for you. Prioritize your projects. Create meaningful and S.M.A.R.T. goals for your writing.

3. Embrace the ups and downs. Recognize that a bad writing day has still served a purpose; you still wrote. And there’s always tomorrow.

4. Work with new perspective. Choose an element from a previous work to make over. Take risks; write a poem based on a theme from a short story, put an old character in a new situation, shift a plot in the opposite direction you’d planned.

5. Activate your senses. Get outdoors. Describe what you see in as many strange, new ways as you can. Use one of those descriptions to kick-start a new piece of writing or spice up an old one.

Enjoy the season. And if you end up with a little dirt on your writing desk…consider yourself lucky.

How do seasonal changes fuel your writing? What inspiration have you gathered this season?