How Do You Write in the Snow?

I’ll get this out of the way up front:  I’m Southern. Snow is a big deal to me. I grew up around Atlanta, a city with exactly one snow plow, a city completely unprepared to deal with snow. Heat? Yeah. We got this. Snow? Buy milk, batteries, bread, and huddle with your loved ones close at hand. It’s not that we believe we’ll die, but we do believe it could be years before we get the thrill of emergency and beauty that comes from watching frozen matter accumulate on our yards, bird feeders, and cars.

I now live in coastal Virginia, in a city only slightly better prepared for snow. It usually takes about three minutes for snow veterans to start taking pot shots at the “dumb” southerners who behave as if the End Times has come in the form of snow flurries. I get it – snow can make people panic, move en masse, and forget the rules of the road (not to mention their manners). That’s annoying.

Okay. All that crap is out of the way.

Y’all. Yesterday, IT SNOWED!!! Real, legitimate, accumulated, snow-ball-worthy snow! My gleeful, Georgia peach-shaped heart just thrilled and warmed at the sight first of flurries, then steady snow fall, then accumulated snow on my back porch.

I was so ready, too. I was in my house, safe and warm, sitting in the big overstuffed arm chair in my office, my cat sitting on the windowsill. I posted on Facebook my intentions to enjoy the snow show and write while I waited for Amanda to battle through traffic and get home.

Status update.
Status update.

And I got two paragraphs written before flurries began. The scarce, hesitant kind of flurries that you think, just for a second, are just bits of trash blowing on the breeze. But no. It’s snow.

What followed is something I can only call Snow Hysteria.

The first stage involves total abandonment of industry or productivity. It’s snowing. I can’t work when it’s snowing.

I then take photos. Lots of them. Perhaps to show a progression of accumulation, a way by which to provide validation of my glee and excitement. It’s not like I’m abandoning the task at hand for nothing. It’s accumulating. See?

The beginning.
The beginning.
Oh yeah, little bit more.
Oh yeah, little bit more.
Now we're getting somewhere.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
SNOW!!! And birds!!!
SNOW!!! And birds!!!

And then, holy crap, it hits me. I was planning on serving leftovers for dinners. Leftovers? Pffff. It’s snowing. So I begin chopping vegetables for creamy apple-butternut squash soup. I also open a bottle of wine because, really, who are we kidding?

I then realize I am short of breath. My mind is moving fast, my thoughts making screeching hairpin turns through my cerebral cortex. Make bread. Take a picture. Birds! When will Amanda be here? Could we build a fire? More snow! Take a picture.

I have a reality check. Whoa, I think. It’s just snowing. It’s inclement weather. And as my friend Heather says, inclement weather (namely rain) is the weather of our people, good for writing, sitting, daydreaming.

I return to my big chair, put my computer in my lap, and stare at the two paragraphs for about fifteen seconds before my gaze drifts to the snow outside.

*Cue repeat of Snow Hysteria.*

How do people write in the snow? Seriously.

The conclusion I arrived at after two glasses of wine, a bowl of soup, hugging on Amanda when she arrived home safe and sound and only a little cagey from traffic, after we looked out the back door at the pristine blanket of snow on our back porch, was this:  snow is not the weather of my people.

Yes, I’m a writer, and inclement weather keeps me holed up inside, which encourages writing. It was a great meteorological gift that during the winter of my thesis year, it snowed four weekends in a row in January, keeping me in my apartment, computer in my lap, stories getting edited. Thank goodness. That snow helped me graduate.

But I’m also Southern. My snow hysteria is untainted. I have the wide-eyed innocence of a Southerner who dreams about snow but so rarely gets to experience it. The hope and wonder that I attach to snow makes me giddy and ridiculous when I see it. And at first, I was ready to say that snow does not make for good writing weather for me.

But then I got to thinking:  hope and wonder is so essential for writing fiction. That ability to believe in a story that’s not true, to think of fictional characters as if they were real people. To buy in to a world that doesn’t exist.

I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and in it, she says the following about writing:

Writing can give you what having a baby can give you:  it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up. 

Now, I can’t speak to the having a baby part, but I think snow defamiliarizes the world. It softens me. It makes me remember what it’s like to be a kid who wants to build a snowman. It makes me pay attention to little bird prints in the snow. It charges me full of glee and adrenaline and observation.

How do you write in in the snow? By watching it snow. By enjoying it. By never losing that hope and wonder.

How do you write? By watching the world. By enjoying it. By never, ever losing that hope and wonder.


5 thoughts on “How Do You Write in the Snow?

  1. I grew up in Pittsburgh, which is basically a frozen tundra six months out of the year, went to college in Boston, and now live in NYC. So I am no stranger to snow, but whenever it snows you can still find me with my face pressed to the window staring out at my backyard, unable to do anything else. I just love winter, and love the magic of a snowfall, whether it is the first or the fiftieth of the season.

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