7 ways to keep your creative spark alive in the winter.
Do you feel kind of... bleh... in the wintertime? A little down? Creatively sparse?
It can be difficult to keep the spark alive when it’s dark and just so… dreary out.
Sometimes spring can feel impossible; like a dream we had once, long ago. It can be easy to put our focus on the future -- waiting out the winter with agonizing, ill-fitting patience.
But I’m more interested in what we can gain from the present, even when it’s difficult, rather than waiting or wishing for the future. Whatever I’m doing, I try to enjoy the process rather than putting all my bets on the outcome.
And when it comes to creativity, I don’t really believe much in “the muse”. I believe inspiration is something you feed, not something you find. (Or, if you do find inspiration, you find it, rather than it finding you.)
So, how do we make winter feel brighter, happier and more creative -- right here, right now?
I’ve done some research by way of travelling to a bunch of places that tend get a lot of grey skies and dark days, and watching how the people there survive the winter.
In the winter months of the past year, I visited Amsterdam (which typically gets 300 days of grey skies per year), Copenhagen (Denmark can get up to 17 hours of darkness a day in the winter), Helsinki and Glasgow.
After exploring these cities I compiled a list of winter practices, many of which I have incorporated into my own life here in Toronto, Ontario. So now I'm going to share my favourites with you.
Here’s a list of ideas to help you feel happier, energized and keep that creative spark burning:
1. Embrace the candle factor.
Amazingly, impossibly cozy: Denmark is known for hygge (a sentiment that implies coziness combined with the relaxed gathering of family and friends.) Hygge is much more than candles but you can’t deny the Danes love to a light a flame. They go a little crazy with the candles there (cafes, bars, restaurants, stores, homes, everywhere) and I love it.
Of course, it’s not just candles. It’s the extra effort to make things feel all comfy and cozy.
So go ahead: light some candles. Pile some blankets on the couch. Have a favourite mug at the ready and stock your cupboards with good coffee, tea, hot chocolate.
At the same time, try a little tidying. Instead of waiting for spring, I do a wintertime clean-out. I find that January is an amazing time to clean out closets and cupboards. Removing the clutter and creating a simpler, tidier space opens things up for a friendly, cozy feel.
2. Establish a cozy creativity routine
Most mornings, there are two things I do right away. 1) Put on the kettle for coffee, and 2) Light a candle. I waste no time making the house feel cozy. (See tip number 1.)
This is also part of my creativity routine: a ritual that helps me embrace not only the darkness, but also the morning. Once I have my coffee, I sit on a rocking chair that has a sheepskin rug tossed over it. I write in my journal and I read something thoughtful or inspirational.
This sets a lovely tone for the day and actually helps me relish the dark, cold mornings.
What's your creativity routine?
3. Come together
The Danish word hygge doesn’t just mean cozy; nuances of the word also imply a sense of community, of easy gathering with family and friends.
Unlike the holidays that can invoke a sense of almost manic celebration, the following months offer a chance to simply chill with friends.
Entertaining doesn’t have to be “entertaining”. It can simply be inviting a few friends over for a pot of chili and a beer. Or hosting a games night. Or, taking a page out of Scottish pub culture, meeting friends at your ‘local’ can have a similar effect. Find a cozy spot and settle in together.
It’s easy to fall into hibernation so make sure you’ve got a friend or two around. Maybe even use the winter months to re-connect with people you’ve fallen out of touch with.
4. Look closer
Instead of just grumbling about the weather, take a closer look.
Here’s a journaling practice for you: go for a walk and task yourself with writing about what you see.
Go beyond first glance and get closer. Do you see buds on the trees? Snowflakes? Puddles? Mud? Impossibly fat squirrels?
Lean in. Look for the details. When you get up close and observant, things tend to be less boring, less dreary and a little more exciting.
5. Get the gear
I like camping, and inevitably camping -- even in the summer - can come with some unwelcome weather. So when we go, we are always prepared.
I have waterproof boots, rain pants, a rain jacket, a waterproof bag for my backpack. Basically head to toe in waterproof. Now when it rains, I think -- it’s only a problem if I don’t have my rain gear.
I think this is a great lesson for life in general -- including surviving winter.
Sometimes the problem is that we're simply missing a tool, a system, or a little preparation. Instead of resisting, plan.
So, if the winter is cold: what will make it warm?
6. Create your curriculum and/or commit to a project
I like to think of winter as a time to go inwards. In the summer, I absolutely hate being indoors as I want to appreciate and enjoy every day of sun.
So, the upside of winter is getting to enjoy and make use of the indoors. I ask myself: as long as not much is happening outside, what can happen inside?
Can this be a time to buckle down and write the book, or focus on another project?
Here’s another question to consider: If this were a time of creative focus -- a time to learn, make or do -- what would be on your curriculum?
Take a stack of books out of the library. Join or start a book club. Take on a new art project or write that book. Take advantage of the time and use it to go make your thing.
7. Go out into it
Of course, winter doesn’t mean you have to stay inside all the time. If you’re a winter sports fan, this might just be your favourite season.
But if not, you might consider trying something new.
Strap on some snow shoes. Give cross-country skiing a try if you're not a downhill fan. Go for a walk in the snowy woods.
(I've personally found that exercise and nature have helped me during times of depression. So even if the weather seems foreboding, an outdoor activity can give me a much-needed boost.)
Now I’m home, back in Canada.
The morning is dark and cold and at first it feels dreary. And then I light the candle.
I take out my notebook. And I write.
Bonus: Three journaling prompts to help you make the most of winter
- Journaling prompt: If winter was your favourite season, what would you love about it?
- Journaling prompt: When the winter is over, what story will you tell about these past few months?
- Journaling prompt: Imagine the winter was a season dedicated to your personal creativity. What kinds of things would you do in a day? What might you create?