Winter has been at the heart of countless literary classics, and for generations, it has served writers well as a metaphor for stillness, sterility, and despair – as well as for introversion and contemplation. Understandably, the relationship between writers and winter has long intrigued.
This relationship is explored intriguingly in Stephen King’s The Shining, writer Jack Torrance takes on the job of winter caretaker at a grand hotel in the American Rockies. He is convinced that the isolation and the light workload will be invaluable in helping him get to work on the novel he’s been planning. Such a feeling is undoubtedly familiar to many writers, convinced that a retreat will be the catalyst to productivity.
Of course, lovers of the book – or the Kubrick film adaptation – will know the reality turns out a little differently. Torrance stalls work and procrastinates for weeks on end and is eventually driven to madness. He works through his writer’s block by typing “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeatedly, and also takes to writing the same phrase on the walls of the hotel. Such a solution to creative block is not advised for anyone struggling to meet deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise).
Yet while Torrance here perhaps does not have the most stable of relationships with the cold season, there are plenty of reasons why writers are drawn to winter – both as visual, linguistical aid and writing tool, as well as being perceived as an opportunity to focus on their work and write (albeit with more focus on the writing and less focus on the axe-wielding murdering that Torrance gets up to).
We’ve put together a few of the best reasons writers should start falling in love with winter right this minute…
- Winter scenery is inspiring
Certain images of winter recur time and again throughout wintry literature. The transformation of a river in winter from a fluid pathway to a solid one can be magical or devastating, a glassy arena for figure skating or an icy grave. This shift can convey a powerful mood.
Think of James Salter’s lyrical novel Light Years, where he describes New York’s Hudson River in winter:
“We dash the black river, its flats smooth as stone. Not a ship, not a dinghy, not one cry of white. The water lies broken, cracked from the wind… The day is white as paper. The windows are chilled. The quarries lie empty, the silver mine drowned. The Hudson is vast here, vast and unmoving.”
For writers of all ilks – screenwriters and playwrights, novelists, poets and short story writers – the scenes and images we encounter in winter can carry all manner of different meanings. They can inspire stories and poems, and guide our pens when we err or lose focus.
- It’s the excuse we need to stay inside and write
Shorter days and lack of reason to stray outside provide us with a reason to devote more of our time to our notepads and keyboards (or minimalist typewriters). The season carves out more time for us to spend with our loved ones – so often the inspiration for great writing – and also leaves us space to contemplate the world, ourselves and our writing.
While the urge to seek distraction via Christmas television, award-season films and through our social media networks may be great, such opportunities for silent, calm contemplation should be seized with fierce gusto by all writers.
As an added bonus, if the weather is too fierce to venture outside, there’s no risk of being that hipsterish aspiring writer sitting in a coffee shop with a cinnamon-mochalattefrappecino. The importance of not becoming this guy can perhaps not be stressed strongly enough.
- It’s a break to prepare for the next round of writing events
Winter gives us a chance to take a break from touring the literary circuit and networking at conferences and seminars, and helps us recharge for next year. It also gives us time to research upcoming events for the year ahead, as well as new writing competitions – a list of which we’ve put together here.
- Winter helps us add new dimensions and elements to our stories
Winter settings add elements of claustrophobia and danger to a story. Think of Butcher’s Crossing, for instance, where a small troupe of buffalo hunters are trapped in the mountains by a fierce snowstorm, and forced to survive for months on end in isolation among the potentially fatal elements.
They also help enhance ideas and narrative elements. Think of The Shining here, how King describes winter weather to help ratchet up the tension:
“It snowed every day now, sometimes only brief flurries that powdered the glittering snow crust, sometimes for real, the low whistle of the wind cranking up to a womanish shriek that made the old hotel rock and groan alarmingly even in its deep cradle of snow.”
- Without winter we wouldn’t appreciate the summer
Perhaps the most important reason for falling in love with the cold season, however, is that our experience of winter helps us better understand and appreciate the summer.
This concept is described expertly by Adam Gopnik in his beautiful love letter to winter. He writes:
“Without the stress of cold in a temperate climate, without the cycle of the seasons experienced not as a gentle swell up and down but as an extreme lurch, bang! from one quadrant of the year to the next, a compensatory pleasure would vanish from the world. There is a lovely term in botany — vernalization — referring to seeds that can only thrive in spring if they have been through the severity of winter. Well, many aspects of our life have become, in the past several hundred years, “vernalized.” (Even those who live in warmth recognize the need for at least the symbols of the cold, as in all that sprayed-on snow in Los Angeles in December.) If we didn’t remember winter in spring, it wouldn’t be as lovely; if we didn’t think of spring in winter, or search winter to find some new emotion of its own to make up for the absent ones, half of the keyboard of life would be missing. We would be playing life with no flats or sharps, on a piano with no black keys.”