February can be a tough month. There’s no real reason for it – it’s a short month, and it’s ostensibly no worse than the month before it, winter-wise. (In the southern hemisphere, it might even be a pleasant summery time? I would have to ask how February feels to the southern hemisphere folks.) Here on the winter-side of the planet, somehow, February feels darker. It feels harder. It seems like more friends are lost, more pets die, more bits of ourselves get waylaid and relationships go sour in February than any other. It might not be true, but it feels true. Dar Williams even has a song about it that is apropos (titled “February,” of course.) “And February was so long, that it lasted into March…” Of course, Dar Williams is quite good at verses to describe that kind of winter-esque depression. From “After All” comes the lyric “… a winter machine that you go through and then you take a breath and winter starts again, and everyone else is spring-bound.” Dar Williams grew up somewhere with snow, I think. Somewhere in the northern hemisphere, where February lasts into March, and it feels like it will never end, and it’s taking your sanity with it.
So that’s the month we’ve started, and the goal is to make it through without dropping into that winter machine, without forgetting what crocuses are (although here in the PNW they’re already blooming, so it’s easier) and holding onto the thought that every few days the sunset is just that little bit later, the sunrise is just that little bit earlier, and light can shine through if you let it. That’s the (figurative) month I’m in with my writing: not that I’m depressed by it, but that I’m stuck in the middle of this middle with a lot of writing before and behind me, and the end isn’t in sight yet. I know there must be a path to it somewhere, just keep searching. I have to keep looking for the light.
Sometimes in the middle – the muddle in the middle, as so many call it – you (I) can feel like there’s only the slog, there’s none of the joy, the excitement that there was in the start. All that’s left is plot holes and lost threads and a bunch of boring scenes that don’t push forward the way you want and mostly seems to be people standing around musing about things. Why do I even need this scene again – but then there is a reason, maybe not a good one, but a reason. So you keep writing it, only to bang your head on the keyboard like a Muppet five minutes later and cry “I’ll never get it! Never! Never! Never!” and wish you were only writing “Mary Had a Bicycle” like that Muppet dude. Where’s Kermit to redirect when you need him? This happens with distressing frequency when I’m stomping around in the middle of the story, skipping around to all points of the plot, retroactively fixing plot holes I just kicked into things and hoping desperately that it’s not too obvious I did so. Please to ignore the spackle. It’s February in the middle, freezing halfway down in the ice, blaming the text for the freezing and forgetting.
I am hardly the only writer to be stuck here, pushing through despite feeling like all the words are stupid, and all the scenes unsalvageable. It’s a known phenomenon, and everyone has their own ways of coping. My way, at this time, is to push away from the boring scenes, jump into the next scene, find some fire to warm the blizzard. I write myself notes and questions that need answering, and then I ask other people for help – smart people, who know something about my story, and might have some ideas. It helps me feel less alone and frozen, and it’s kind of like a night out for the writing brain. Sparking ideas from other people’s ideas makes the process jump ahead a little.
Of course, the only way through February is through – slogging forward. But you can be kind to yourself in the slog. Remember that it doesn’t last forever. You don’t have to say the mean words to yourself, because you know they don’t help. You can say the cheering words; the ones that give hope and comfort, the ones that motivate you to try again. Words you need to store up for those times, so you can apply them as salve to your winter-writing wounds. February can feel long and cruel, and the middle, too, but you don’t have to stay there. Work your way out of it, little by little: find your way to spring-bound. I’m looking forward to the flowers.
This blog brought to you by all the banging around in the plot, more questions than answers, and listening maybe obsessively to Dar Williams albums. Thank you, Dar, for being the perfect amount of angsty/wry.