Today, I am going to give you a piece of writing advice that I’ve kept private for so many years, I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you.
First, know that I live for hot weather. I love sunshine, and my love is unconditional and all-encompassing. Give me summer heat waves, oppressive humidity, and a scary UV index — you will not hear me complain! As long as I’m squinting, sweating, and pouring myself a glass of water, I am happy and productive.
But when it’s cold, windy, damp, or rainy – or (god help me) all of the above at once – I can be graceless, whiny, and intolerant. I’m not proud of this trait. For those of you who have been around me when I’m cold: I’m sorry.
I’ve been staying in San Francisco for the past couple of weeks. It’s a hybrid writing retreat: I came here to explore the city and to visit friends, but I’m also here to work on a new revision of an old story.
“The coldest winter I’ve ever experienced,” Mark Twain famously stated, “was a summer in San Francisco.”
It’s FREEZING out here! This sounds wimpy, but I didn’t know California could be this cold! S-s-sh-shivering, damp and forlorn, I checked in with my hometown friends for some misery-loves-company – but they’re having unseasonably gorgeous weather in Toronto. Wah.
So what’s this got to do with writing?
Every day, I turn on my space heater and slip on thick socks and sit at my little San Francisco desk to work on a story that takes place during a hot, muggy summer in southern Indiana. In my story, the protagonist watches her uncle make sun tea. She picks ripe tomatoes off the vine. She spends a night sitting up on porch swing, watching the moon cross the sky. It’s too hot for her to sleep.
There’s some conflict, too – it’s not just a story about summertime – but the setting, at least, makes me feel better. If I’m going to write a scene that will become real for my reader, it has to feel real for me first. Literally. So I make myself feel warm when I writing it.
This is the part I’m embarrassed to admit: I can’t face the cold rainy days of San Francisco right now, so I’m writing summer in order to escape them.
I’ve been known to do this before. And the truth is, this is why I started writing stories as a young person: sometimes, I just wanted be somewhere else.
This is my writing advice:
If you can’t change something about where you are, then change your where when you write.
If you live in Costa Rica right now but you miss snowboarding in the Rockies, write a scene about the mountains in winter. Take time to describe the colour of the snow, and the colour of the shadows.
If you live in Toronto right now but you miss being near the Pacific, write about the ocean. Go there in your mind. Describe the sound your feet make as you walk on the pebbled beach.
If you live in Rome right now but you miss the cherry blossom festivals of Japan, go back to Japan on the page. Write about the smell of those trees when they are all in bloom.
Because isn’t this one of the very best and most underestimated benefits to being a writer? You’re in charge of your reality when you’re writing. You can be anywhere you want to be. You can create the day you want by building a scene around it.
Go for it. Indulge a little. And if it’s not lovely where you are today, then just go somewhere lovely anyway – write yourself there.
p.s. – Side note of coolness from 826 Valencia – check out this awesome Cake book! These short stories about cake are all written by kids (some of them are hilarious). I almost bought the whole shelf. And all proceeds from sales go to826 Valencia’s after-school writing program.
Causes Sarah Selecky Supports
The Farm Sanctuary
Nature Canada Bird Conservation
Best Friends Animal Society