Usually this time of year, as the weather warms up and the birds start singing in the mornings again, I feel a push to suddenly go forward and create things. I imagine snow melting — I have never lived in a place where snow was a constant for the winter, but I hear there are places where spring is signified this way, and suddenly I want to write. Only this year, I spent the winter months writing, which means I’m facing spring with a satisfied sense of accomplishment.
Was it the hurricane? This entire winter has been colored by Sandy. My neighborhood still has many empty houses and storefronts, in a town whose many small businesses were already hit hard by the weak economy. The weather was mild this year, but even so, it felt particularly arctic as I passed houses that had no heat, as I walked by empty doors and driveways and wondered which FEMA funded hotel the owners were living in, their entire lives rearranged by four hours of a single high tide. We were close to disaster, merely a block away from the height of the water, but as I walk down ghostly streets, I can’t feel anything but my good luck. This is a big change from how I normally go through winter. Normally I am doing my best to just survive and function. Leaving my house to do the grocery shopping is a moral triumph. The cold feels like a personal attack, my own Mount Everest to climb. Trying to create on top of that often seems impossible and I get lazy and out of shape.
But this year, I’ve had a constant reminder of how much worse the winter could be. My very constant gratitude has given me an energy I don’t usually have from November to March. I’ve been deeply immersed in a large writing project. It is the largest project that I have ever attempted and I am further along with it than I ever would have imagined I would be. I’ve written over 60,000 words of historical fiction this winter, mostly scribbled on my train commute, and well over half of which is background that will never be shown to everyone else. But it’s let me delve deeper into my characters, to know them better than I think I have ever known any others. When I close my eyes at night, I see their faces and watch them interact. When I wake in the morning, they are so real to me that I sometimes am confused between which life is truly mine; is it the world they’re living in or the one where I get up and get dressed and do all the other things that are required of me in a day? They are waiting for their story to be fully told and this time I am finding their demands irresistible. They have, after all, been with me for the better part of two years now, in imagining and exploration. Now that they’re actually hitting digital paper, their voices are just getting stronger.
The storm didn’t touch us, but it did. It is everywhere I look, it is as unignorable as my characters have become. It was, in many ways, like a forest fire. It destroyed so much that was valuable and worthy, but it also left room for growth. And now it is spring, the time for things to blossom. It is time to finish the first draft, to explore my secondary characters, to finish etching out my subplots. It is time to create with a purpose.