Emily Gilman

Making Stuff Up and Writing It Down Since (Before) I Learned How to Write


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To everything (turn, turn, turn) there is a season (turn, turn, turn) . . . .

(No, it is not actually possible for me to think that phrase without hearing the song in my head.)

The other week I was chatting with a friend about different seasons, and he mentioned that spring often reminds him of fall because as the weather gets warm he remembers the last time the weather was warm. The logic was obvious once he said it, but the idea of warm weather reminding him of warm weather without regard to season fascinated me because it is, for me, an utterly foreign concept. Fall and spring look different. They smell different.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized how much my impressions of different seasons are informed by the cycle of the school year. With the exception of one semester off between undergrad and grad school I’ve been in school for as long as I can remember — first as a student, now as a teacher. For me, the new year begins in September and ends in August. Fall means the start of school. Fall means I have reserves of energy even when I’m exhausted. Fall means looking forward to cooler weather, and changing leaves, and Hallowe’en, and thinking even beyond that to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Spring, on the other hand, is about clinging to each new flower and extra minute of daylight to get through the last leg of the school-year marathon. Fall begins with a flurry of events that then settle into a routine, while spring means watching my routine be slowly overrun with end-of-year events and trips and final projects.

I’m thinking about this today because I’ve started work on a new story. I actually wrote the first scene as a sort of free-writing exercise a couple of months back but then had no idea what to do with it. I finally figured out where it’s going, though, and I’ve spent a good chunk of my “free” time the past few days scribbling notes, filling in details for myself. I’m excited about it in a way that I haven’t been about my other current work in progress, mostly because that still requires a lot of research while this new story is one I can dive straight into. At the same time, I don’t know that I would have been quite this excited — or, more importantly, this productive — had I known how to continue when I wrote the opening.

You see, just as different times of year have their seasons, so too does writing: namely, whenever I’m really busy and ought to be doing other things.

Maybe it’s a version of the procrastination game (where you trick yourself into doing tasks you’ve been putting off by using them to put off even less appealing tasks), but in high school I’d always get the itch to write around midterms and finals, and you’re much more likely to find me writing when it’s late and I ought to be going to bed than you are to find me sitting down to write first thing in the morning. Stressful as these first couple of weeks back have been, I wasn’t surprised to find myself staying up too late because I thought of more character notes. That’s how it’s always been.

I daydream about someday finding the perfect level of busy-ness to be sustainable: enough to keep me energized and interested in writing, but not so much that it’s overwhelming or I burn out on sleep deprivation. Even then, though, if I’m really being honest with myself I’m not sure it would result in a steady stream of words. Yes, the school year affects my sense of the seasons, but it doesn’t define them entirely. If night is my best time for writing, then the dark months of fall and winter are writing season. Come spring and sunshine I want to get out and do things and spend time with people, and I suspect that would take its toll even on a more structured summer than mine currently are.