The weather is improving this week, but the other morning the space heater inside the shed did not turn on as planned. The early hours were rather cold and so I activated the shed’s heater through a smart plug before heading out to write. At 6 a.m. my phone showed all was on, but then the main house’s internet went out and without noticing, the heater went cold. This a recurring problem, this internet issue. Crappy service. We pay too much. But that’s another battle for another day.
The issue at hand is this: I went into the shed anyway and wrote in the chill of the morning. And it was glorious.
I was not writing wearing fingerless gloves and stopping every few minutes to rub my hands together over a candle for moments of warmth. It was not frigid, but it was certainly tingly inside the shed and it had me considering, in some small way, all those famous writers who worked in not-so-modern comforts and produced art at glorious levels. One can imagine Dickens in his early years shivering at a desk near a frosty window.
So, there I was, in a scarf and a cap, and my hands smacking at the keys. Although I had been able to eventually turn on the heater, it would take some time to bring the shed to a reasonably toasty level. But yet. it was good. The bitter air enlivened me as does a walk in late November to get the mail at the end of the driveway. It opened me up. Could there be some link between cold weather and creativity? And if not that, might there be a metaphor here for the inevitable mental struggles of a writing life?
Cold is not only about the weather, but also about whether or not we can soldier through the most uncomfortable climates of a life of writing—the climates of rejection and doubt. Many published writers will tell you that talent is undoubtedly important, but perseverance and belief in self are equals. So many good writers have not been as successful as they may have wanted to be—and we can debate for hours on what one means by “successful”—not because they weren’t writing at a high level, but because they couldn’t weather the storms and simply keep going.
In his essay, “Writing in the Cold,” the former editor-in-chief at HarperCollins, Ted Solotaroff wrote. “It is not too much to say that how a writer copes with rejection determines whether he or she has a genuinely literary vocation or just a literary flair. Rejection along with uncertainty are just as much a part of a writer’s life as snow and cold are of an Eskimo’s; they are conditions one has not only to learn to live with but also to make use of.”
Solotaroff makes the point that writers must learn to work in every kind of artistic environment—under the light of a bright and blazing sun, in the dark of midnight rain, in the heat of a tropical August, an icy January in Chicago, or the dank rawness of a early spring morning in the shed.
It eventually warmed up inside and I was able to take off the scarf and cap. And in the end, after about two hours, I had written 938 words of a work-in-progress and had done this both in the cold and the warmth of a writing life.