We can find creativity in these times.
October is my favorite month, with the sky all gold and gone, and the long mountain shadows creeping down from the hills. And winter is my favorite season, especially with the big dogs on the bed with my wife and me at night, and each day a new adventure out on the slopes.
But spring is when I am most creative. Even, or perhaps especially, a spring of crisis like this one. It’s when I am most productive with my writing. Eight years ago, during a gray, snowy May, Catherine ‘banished’ me to a little cabin in Leadville, where I spent ten solitary days doing the hard work that it took to turn 15 years of notes into a working draft of my first novel.
I had brought my skis, thinking I would drive over to A-Basin one or two times for a little on-hill inspiration. Instead, I worked each day from morning to dusk, then cracked a beer or poured a whiskey and kept working. Driving home, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. Not because I had written something good—that is up to the reader—but because at last I was living that dream.
Something about the longer days of April and May stretching out into the future makes it easier to dive into a project. The freedom of feeling there is enough time to do what you want to do.
Of course, Ernest Hemingway said it best, writing in the book that every writer and lover of the simplest beauties of life should read, A Moveable Feast: “When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits.”
A Notebook for Thinking
A memoir of Hemingway’s early days in Paris with his first wife Hadley, A Moveable Feast celebrates the taste of a cold beer after a creative day, the timeless elegance of a city in the rain lighting up like a carousel at night—and the transformative magic of a good book in your hand.
More than anything, it teaches you about writing. Hemingway shares some secrets of his talent, such as the imperative to “Write the truest sentence you know,” and the magician’s gift of how leaving out some detail or point of pivotal action can often leave the reader with a deeper sense of understanding.
I learn something new every time I pull the book back off the shelf in spring or fall. Most importantly, it reminds me to always carry a notebook to keep me company while I sit on a chairlift, barstool, downtown on a bench, or by some hotel window.
I am addicted to them, filling pages like I am counting some imagination-fueled money. I put a title on the cover the moment I crack open another set of three 3½-by-5½-inch, 64-blank-paged Moleskine Cahiers packets, using the separate colors to code by theme, project, or chosen line of reverie.
I fill pages on the right with narrative, and keep bold or bullet-pointed call-out notes on the left for specific quotes or additional details. And when I am done, I have a working template that I can begin to transcribe onto the laptop for what I hope will be a published book. Someday…
The Act is the Art
In this age of the Internet and one zillion digital options, whenever I sit down at my laptop I quickly find any number of distractions. On longer projects, I do more editing than writing, constantly changing the phrase of this sentence or that back to what it was before.
My little process for writing keeps me moving forward though, working from A to Z on the plotline instead of chasing my tail. I have the makings of at least eight incomplete oeuvres languishing on those notebooks or on my computer as they await some breath of fairy dust and hard editing to help them down the trail.
The one I hope to publish this year entitled The Ghost Hotel is a short memoir of a time when the media company I dedicated a decade to was falling apart at the seams, and in South America, one friend and I watched another ski into an accident that would slowly kill him over two years.
It is about a trip to Switzerland with that other surviving friend, to Andermatt, avalanches, church bells and lovely cows. Covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, where the U.S. Ski Team won an astounding eight medals. And how the following spring, at the legendary Pollard Hotel in Red Lodge, Montana, I found this Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quote at check-in on the wall: “Look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again. Wisely improve the present, it is thine. Go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear and with a manly heart.”
That is the beauty of spring—the idea of something more.