Writing My Way Out of the Swamp

If you read my Swampass post, you know that summer isn’t my favorite season. When I say “I want to be hot,” I mean I’d love to look like a supermodel. I have no desire to walk out into a blistering hot day and breath in air that feels and smells like swamp sludge.

The end of last week and this weekend in Baltimore have been brutal. On Friday, we hit a record high of 106 degrees at BWI airport and, briefly, 108 degrees in downtown Baltimore. That “record high” goes back to when they began keeping track in 1870-something. Even my summer-lovin’ friends are bitching and moaning, and those of us who aren’t fond of the hazy days to begin with are in full-force squawk mode.

In my family, we’ve always joked that my mother is a lizard. She loves the heat, and usually the warmest days of the year find her sunning herself outdoors like a lizard on a rock. She’s a lot prettier than a lizard, but the metaphor still holds. But this go-round, even she often opts for the comforts of her air conditioner.

My father, meanwhile, hates the heat with something close to a passion, and it only gets worse as he gets older. For the last few summers, he has retreated to his “man-cave’ for most of the season. Mom likes to keep the rest of the house at what she calls “a reasonable summer temperature,” so he has a portable air conditioner in the man-cave so he can keep the room as frigid as he wants.

He also has his TV and his remote, so he can hibernate happily. I won’t accuse him of intentionally freezing out my mom, sister and niece so that he can watch what he wants in peace, but you never know.

Lee and I fall somewhere in the middle. I like the whole summertime pool thing, and Lee loves working outdoors so much that there are days that nothing can stop him. But we both tire of summertime fun more quickly than we do our hikes and hammock time in the gentle comfort of fall and spring. When the temps soar into the high 90’s and 100s, I morph into daddy’s girl and retreat into my own cave.

Unfortunately, my cave is my bedroom. Lee and I have a small house. It is basically a 2-bedroom apartment that happens to sit on a decent-sized piece of property and isn’t connected to other units. Two years ago, our central air conditioning system went tits-up. We didn’t have (and still don’t have) anything close to the financial resources to have a new one installed. Because the house is so small, we opted to buy one window unit and a portable air conditioner instead. One sits in the living room window, the other in the bedroom.

On your normal summer day, this works fine. The living room unit spills over into the kitchen and keeps both areas comfortable as long as we don’t decide to cook up a Thanksgiving-style dinner. We close off the spare bedroom, and our own room is usually nice enough to burrow down under the covers for a perfect night’s sleep.

In this type of brutal heat, when even my friends with brand-spanking-new central units struggle to keep their homes bearable, all bets are off. In the midafternoon through the early evening hours, my living room is a muggy little hot box. Sure, it is about 20 degrees cooler than it is outside. But when it is 106 degrees outdoors, that means 86 degree.

That would be far from ideal writing conditions. I like my brain to be boiling over with ideas, not just boiling. Since I’m also too broke to buy a laptop, this means my “writing space,” the PC in my living room, is an uncomfortable place to be during the hours I’m home and actually have time to write. I can retreat to the comfy bedroom cave and get in some good reading, but that’s not writing.

That combined with the general social butterflyness that comes with summer has made it my most difficult season in my year of writing so far. My word count has gone down drastically in July. The novel has languished. On some days I am boiling over with frustration as well as heat. On other days, I am lulled into the lazy too-warm blanket of summer and don’t give a rat’s ass. Mentally, I’m some southern belle reclining on her fainting couch with a mint julep, which makes no sense since even when I *am* truly lazy it is more of the barstool and cold beer variety.

The weather forecast is looking like there’s not much in the way of breaks other than the odd day here and there for weeks to come. I am willing to cut myself a little writing slack, but that’s too much. So here’s the plan to keep the mojo flowing instead of cooking itself up into a sloppy, useless mess.

– Fewer lunches with co-workers, and more time taking an hour to close my door and tap away at the keyboard in the relative comfort of my office at work.

– Trips to the gym after work a few times a week. In the morning, I go there to work out and get myself energized for the day. The after-work visits will be simply for a dip in the pool. Afterwards, I’ll come home wet and with a cooler body temperature, and brave the warmth of the living room long enough to get an hour of writing in. A cold shower has the same benefit, but there’s something about that dip in the pool that just makes my whole body feel better.

– Telling the scheduled rhythm of life to kiss my hind-parts, at least when I have the luxury to do so. My writing space is a lovely temperature from about midnight to early afternoon. When I can, I’ll steal time during those hours, even if it means losing sleep or taking the occasional “mental health day” in the office. The other day, my niece said something about how she wishes that in the hottest bits of summertime people could “switch up” and be nocturnal. My job won’t let me totally do that, but I can try to find a happy medium.

– Revisiting pen and paper. I am a keyboard-and-screen creator. I’ve lost the creative flow that used to come from pen to notebook. I may not be able to get back to writing stories that way, but I can at least curl up in my cool cave and scribble ideas, notes, plots and character sketches for future use.

Fall will return, with its cool breezes and softer suns, football and campfires and blazes of color. It will bring my better writing conditions with it. In the meantime, I’ve just gotta keep on keeping on, and doing the best I can.

Does your “writing mojo” ebb and flow with the seasons? Do your rhythms and habits change depending on the time of year? What changes do you make to combat challenges in your “off-season?”

Note: After thinking this through and following some of my guidelines, I had a 5,000 word weekend, and most of those words were on the Man-Whore novel. That’s more than I’ve written (excluding blog posts) in the last 3 weeks. I guess you can beat the heat if you try!

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About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
This entry was posted in Baltimore, Creativity, Family, Slices O' Life, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Writing My Way Out of the Swamp

  1. I feel your pain. It was sizzling hot in Texas last week. But I love the outdoors and I just took a tylenol before heading to the beach. My son thinks the same. My wife is anti-Sun, anti_heat thought and she’ll retreat too. The seasons doesn’t seem to affect my writing though. My mood does. When I’m happy, excited the mojo flows. Best time for me is when I just woke up, my brain just got energized and ready to party! Have a great day.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I know what you mean about morning writing – that’s what works best for me too regardless of the time of year! I always joke that I need to get my writing out before the day eats my brain : ).

      • Shonnie says:

        That is my best time too. I have had major interruptions to my morning routine, which have resulted in Shonnie has just plain stunk at writing all summer. Not from heat, but from lack of quiet. I can’t even get drivel out. Glad to know I am not alone in this. 🙂 Something about knowing others struggle with this makes me feel better. 🙂

      • hawleywood40 says:

        My routine took a dive when I started to work out in the morning instead of writing – again, because it is coolest time of day and also the least crowded in the gym : ). I’m gradually getting it back though – after about a 3-week “body shock” period I seem to be adjusting and the writing mojo is back on the rise.

  2. Katie says:

    Here in Wales (UK) we’re lucky to get a week of sun so I don’t have the same problems as you. My best writing time is actually in the summer, even though I study through the majority of the year, my friends move back to their parents home for a couple of months so my social life quietens down. I have a comfy armchair in my bedroom where I usually go to write, it is in the perfect location for the sun to shine on me. And, my health is at its best in the summer so I usually get most of my writing done then. This winter I will definitely need to work out a plan like you have though because my bedroom (where my writing chair is) gets very cold, my health is much worse and I tend to just want to curl up with hot chocolate for movie marathons. Well done for persevering with your writing, despite all the practical limitations. Thanks for sharing 🙂
    K xxx

    • hawleywood40 says:

      That bedroom armchair sounds like a lovely place to write, read and dream up ideas! I do know what you mean about writing (or not writing) when you don’t feel your best physically. I’m pretty lucky health-wise, but when I do come down with something I’m always way off my writing game. Even if I do force myself to write, what comes out just isn’t up to par.

  3. l'empress says:

    When I find myself writing, “it’s hot, it’s hot…” I figure I will post noting for a while. And I never replaced the AC’s I threw out last fall.

    How’s the portable AC working for you?

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Love, love, LOVE the portable. Highly recommend them for keeping a single room nice and cool. We weren’t sure how it would work out, but went with it because our bedrooms windows are a really skinny, funny shape and it’d be close to impossible to find a window unit that fit them. We got the portable out of a sort of no-choice situation for that room, and ended up liking it better than the other one!

  4. Lafemmeroar says:

    I hear you crazy chick. Even with the AC on sometimes I wish I can live inside the fridge because it’s so hot and walking outside is like walking into the fiery pits of Hades. It’s hard to write in the heat … then again maybe it’s just an excuse on my part.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I know its an excuse on mine sometimes – yes, its harder for me to be creative when my brain is warm sludge, but that should just mean I gotta plow on through it – I’m getting there, in my own crazy way : ).

  5. Shelly says:

    My writing mo-jo ebs and flows with how my body is feeling. I suffer from chronic and adrenal fatigue. I’ve got good and bad days.

  6. theladyinredink says:

    Yesterday, we got an hour or so of a cold front here in Indiana, during which it rained and thundered. Then it was back to 100+ degrees. We’ve been averaging 110 most days. It makes for some pretty gross conditions.

    In terms of writing, I, too, have become a compose-on-the-computer person. I used to write pretty much only with pen and paper. My parents and I watched a Lifetime movie about JK Rowling the other night…it was very interesting and almost exhilirating to see someone writing an entire novel by hand. I can only imagine the writer’s cramps! (Isn’t there a name for that…I mean, it’s not what I just called it…but I can’t think of what it is).

    • Shonnie says:

      Wow, Lady, that makes my hands hurt just to think about her writing those novels with pen. I wouldn’t even be able to read it when I finished if I did that. WOW! Thanks for sharing that info.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I so admire her for doing that – I know I probably never could. And even if I did, I honestly think I wouldn’t be able to translate what I’d written when I did get to a computer! My handwriting becomes ridiculously sloppy if I write longhand for more than say a page or so …

  7. Aurora says:

    Nice piece, Hawley, conveys the challenges of heat. I wilt in it, too, but not much to complain of where I live this year… yet… before I speak too soon, lol. On the upside the heat leaves me with little, if any appetite but on the downside, I find it so hard to do anything, I’m not really burning any calories either hahaha. My ex still HATES the heat more than anyone I know, okay, except maybe for your dad, lol My ex is long and lean and tans nicely where I just burn. Go figure.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Yes, yay on the loss of appetite – I’ve had that going on too! And when I do crave food, its fruits and veggies instead of pizza and cheeseburgers lol. I am lucky in the tan category – I get that from my mom. A few hours a week floating in the pool and I’m brown all summer. Dad’s fairskinned and burns a lot more, and I get enough of that from him to usually have to go through one burn before the tan comes on : ).

  8. —I found you on Twitter & I’m so glad I did.
    Nothing really stops me from writing. Heat. Cold. Sun. Dark. Even in my sleep.
    Man, it’s like breathing….but I can understand your pain. It’s been HOT as hell in MN, too.
    Your book “Man-Whore” definitely sounds like something I would buy! xx

    • hawleywood40 says:

      You’re in the Crazy Chicks Club too, right? I think I found your blog there : ). I am striving to be more like you in letting that need to write overcome anything. A lot of times it is like breathing to me. If I don’t do it, I feel like I’m suffocating. I just hit roadblocks every now and then, and then freak out and move past them. I am having so much fun writing Man-Whore, and am hoping that fun is translating into the words. Thanks for coming by – glad to have found each other’s blogs and tweets!

  9. As a desert dweller, I’m no stranger to high temperatures. People are very fond of saying ‘but it’s a dry heat.’ I don’t care how dry it is, when the mercury shoots past the 110 degree mark, it’s still way too HOT. One learns to compensate. The ceiling fan goes on high, a jug of iced tea waits in the fridge, and my freezer is full of popcycles. That’s my arsenal against heat-induced lethargy.
    Hope your temperatures drop soon.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Mmm … popsicles : ). One of our recent things, at the suggestion of my mom, has been popping bananas in the freezer for a while before eating them. Bananasicles! Yummy and healthy too. We’re actually only hitting 90 today, and right now things are actually – dare I say it – pleasant! (knocking on wood).

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