Maintaining a writing routine during the winter: 3 reasons why it’s difficult and 3 solutions

Maintaining a writing routine during the winter
The winter months are busy and have lots of seasonal changes. This can all affect our writing routine.

Wouldn’t it be great if our writing was unaffected by the change in seasons? If we could maintain the flow from that really good week where it was easy to sit down and write. But when we are working on novels and long projects we need to be able to write the whole year-round. It means writing through all of the changes. But it can be difficult maintaining a writing routine during the winter when there are so many changes and adjustments that have to be made.

Let’s get started with the reasons why it is hard to write in winter.

What makes it harder to write during the winter months?

The first thing I want to talk about is the change in weather. Now, depending on where you are on the planet will depend on how much of a difference there is between summer and winter. I’m in Ireland so Winter for me means colder temperatures, rain, fog and sometimes sleet. (There is a joke here about how it’s not that much different to an Irish summer.)

What your winter looks like is not as important as how you are affected by it. Our daily routine can have many new additions compared to our summer routine.

Colder weather means we need more layers. So, every time you leave the house you need to put on a coat. This new change in your routine will take up space in your brain until it becomes an unconscious action. It is a new habit that needs to be included as part of your day. 

Bracing walks in the cold can be enjoyable but there is a recovery time needed afterwards. You might need to allow extra time when you come back inside to warm up. This could be making a warm drink or putting on extra indoor layers. 

These extra additions to our routines can take time away from writing. But they can also make it harder to sit down and write. If you do not like colder weather then life will already feel hard before you start pushing yourself to write. I have no problem with the colder weather and I love wrapping up in cosy blankets. But, I still find that it can be hard to move from the warm, cosy blanket to sit at the desk and write.

Why is it harder to stay focused on writing during the winter?

Even after you have managed to warm up enough to sit down at your desk and write it can also be psychologically harder to stay focused on writing during the winter.

This is an interesting study that was done that shows that we do find it harder to concentrate during the winter months. So even before we look at any variation between how our mood is affected by winter most humans just find it more difficult to concentrate. 

The darker evenings and darker mornings can affect our mood and state of mind too. It can take more of an effort to get out of bed and get moving in the morning. It is easier to stay sitting in front of the telly in the evening where it is warm and comfortable. Especially when a lot of the must-watch shows are shown during the autumn and winter. These distractions can make it difficult to stay focused on writing during the winter.

SAD is a consideration if you find your energy levels are low during the winter months. The reduced sunlight can affect people who do not have SAD also. Serotonin is the hormone that stabilises our moods and is stimulated by exposure to sunlight. If you do not have much opportunity to be outside during daylight or even if you don’t spend time beside a window your serotonin levels could be low. This could be a factor if you are feeling it hard to be optimistic.

When the weather gets colder it is normal for humans to crave sugary, high-calorie foods. But in our diet culture, the desire for high-calorie foods is demonised. So when we find ourselves eating them or even just wanting to eat them we criticise our craving which can set off a spiral of negativity. This will absolutely affect our writing.

It can be hard to maintain our writing routine during the busy winter season

In addition to all of the other reasons, there are a lot of celebrations during the winter. Which is a great way to break up the long, dark evenings but they all require time. Much as I love Halloween and Christmas, decorating the house and planning events and meetups still takes time and energy. And all of these celebrations can make it very hard to maintain our writing routine during the winter.

There can be a lot of external pressures from the people around you and even from advertisers and social media about what your celebrations and holidays should look like. If you are already finding it difficult to maintain your writing routine then you might need to prepare for how you will handle these external expectations.

I often find New Year’s Eve harder than Christmas. This is the time of year when we look back at the year that is ending. And there have been many years when I had not achieved as much writing as I wanted to. Of course, everything being easier in hindsight, I can always see where I could have spent more time writing. I have less hustle and bustle around New Year’s Eve so there is less to distract me from the critical thoughts. These negative thoughts always make it harder to be motivated to write during the holidays.

I have only included the 3 celebrations that affect me directly. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza are just some of the many celebrations that also happen during the winter months. It is lovely to celebrate with our families and friends but it does make it hard to maintain our writing routine during the winter.

Why do all of these changes make it hard to keep writing during winter?

As writers, we spend time in our heads so anything that takes up headspace affects our writing. When we are going through our day and carrying out the activities that are automatic to us our brain is less involved. So, when we are in the shower, cleaning the house or travelling to work it has time to spend thinking about plot problems and character motivations. But during the holidays, we have events coming up that are going to need planning. 

Even when it is something relatively straightforward like my children getting to wear Halloween costumes to school instead of their uniforms. First of all, they need to decide what they are going to wear. Then it needs to be sourced or made depending on that year’s requirements. I need to spend time getting all the bits of the costume ready to be put on in the morning. 

I love costumes and helping my children decide on what they are going to dress up as. But it still takes a level of creativity and planning. I believe strongly that you can’t use up creativity but the day I spend helping my son realise that just because he has dragon wings does not mean he will be able to fly is not going to be the day I can spend being creative about a plot problem. It is a better day for free writing or research.

There are also many competing interests (I love making my own decorations) that can make it hard to stay focused on writing during the winter. The time I spend making decorations is also the time I could be writing. But it does help me with the stress of the season because it is something that I enjoy. The experience can also feed your creative well and contribute to your writing in less tangible ways too.

So, those are the reason why maintaining a writing routine during the winter can be difficult. Keep reading for the solutions to those problems.

Planning ahead to maintain your writing routine during the holidays

I love Christmas nights out. They are a great way to spend time with coworkers away from work. I also love going out for food and dancing. But, even if there is no alcohol involved I do not have a lot of energy left over for the next day. The older I am getting the longer the recovery time is. So now, if I know there is a night out I plan ahead. The day after the night before is often when I put up the decorations or do any of the other items on my to-do list. Then when I am recovered with energy for writing I don’t feel guilty that I should be cleaning the house or decorating.

I also pick and choose which nights I am going to stay out late. We don’t need to go to everything. Or, maybe you want to do all of the Christmas events and activities so you could decide to not do any writing for December and take the month off. 

When it is a conscious decision then the guilt is removed. You can enjoy your time with friends and family, or even time on your own for your yearly rewatch of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But you won’t have that nagging feeling of needing to write if you have made the decision to take a break.

Planning ahead is the biggest reason I am able to maintain my writing routine during the winter. I am getting better at being realistic about what I am able to achieve. I match my energy levels to the item on my to-do list.

How to stay sane and stay focused on writing during the holidays

Looking after our mental health always helps our writing. During the holidays keep an eye on your stress levels if you are maintaining a writing routine during the winter. High-stress levels will not help your writing. Or even your motivation for writing during winter. Do you know what part of winter causes you the most stress? 

For me, it is the idea of dragging myself around the shops trying to buy presents. I like giving presents but just thinking of the fuss and bother of battling my way in and out of shops that are too hot with bags that keep ripping brings me out in hives. So, I do most of my shopping online and early. This also helps me with staying in control of my budget. It is a lot easier to make logical decisions when I am sitting on the couch with a cup of tea instead of in an overheated shop where I can’t remember who I have yet to buy for and end up buying 3 things for one person and nothing for somebody else. So, I don’t do shops around Christmas.

Do you have extra deadlines in work that increase the pressure? These can require a lot of extra energy which could mean that you have less energy to give to writing. But if you know that in advance you can be gentle with yourself. Consider making the decision that you will only write the ‘easy’ stuff. If you want to try a new idea then do it. If you want to free write in a rage about someone not pulling their weight in work and increasing your workload then do that.

Your easy could even be immersing yourself in worldbuilding for your current work in progress. Or fan fiction. Or your first attempt at poetry inspired by the frost on your car window. 

Maybe you don’t put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and read about the craft of writing instead. I have written more here about writing adjacent activities. These are the activities that are about writing or that feed our writing but we don’t need to be sitting down at a desk to do them.

Focus on why you want to write to stay motivated to write during the holidays

Your reason for wanting to write during the winter does not need to be a grand vision. It could be as simple as wanting to tell stories. Or even as materialistic as wanting to make extra money so that you can spend more on Christmas decorations.

But, ultimately, writing should help you to feel better. When I am feeling stressed I remind myself that getting to write is my reward. This helps me stay focused on writing during the holidays. It is my treat to myself. It is also what keeps me motivated to write during the holidays.

Action steps for maintaining a writing routine during the winter

Spend time evaluating your winter. Even though this could be time away from your writing, in the long term your writing will benefit. 

List your writing goals and compare them to the events and requirements of the season. (Taking a break from writing to recharge counts as a writing goal.) 

Now create a timeline for your goals and where the time pressures will be. 

More reading on Building a Writing Routine

Building a consistent writing habit for beginners. Start your writing today

How to use other writer’s routines as inspiration for your own

The comprehensive guide to finding time to write

12 quotes to inspire you to write

Writing during the summer

How to build your writing routine in 5 days

How to find the time to write: 4 steps to help you write more often

Setting up your productive and inspiring writing space