Reading time: About 3 minutes
When the mercury starts to climb you might appreciate an icy drink — and some advice about how to write when it’s too damn hot….
If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, according to an old adage.
But those of us living in certain parts of the West Coast had no choice last week. Temperatures in my own city of Vancouver hit as high as 104 degrees F (40 C) for four days running and didn’t cool off much at night, leading to more than a hundred sudden deaths.
We weren’t just in the kitchen — we felt as though we were sitting directly in the oven. With a hot water bath to account for the steam/humidity.
In fact, the Canadian record for high temperatures — since temperatures were first recorded — was hit by the town of Lytton, (three hours northeast of Vancouver) on June 28 at just over 118 degrees F (47.9 C). Tragically, the town burned to the ground last Wednesday night.
In Portland, OR, it was almost as bad. One of my clients reported temperatures of 112 (44.4 C) and I saw news clips of Portland roads that had buckled in the hot weather.
I was lucky enough to be on holiday for part of the heatwave. It wasn’t any cooler where I was, but at least I had easy access to swimming, which made life more bearable. But then I returned home last Monday evening and discovered my office was 96 degrees F (35.5 F) — at 8:30 pm — and just as hot the next morning.
What can you do if you have to write in such temperatures? If you’re ever facing a heatwave, here’s what I suggest:
- Go somewhere cooler. Most people in my part of the West Coast don’t have air conditioning at home but elsewhere in the developed world, many folk do. And, if not, public buildings are usually air conditioned. Wear a mask and take your laptop (or notebook) to a public library, shopping mall, coffee shop or community centre. I’m lucky enough to have an air-conditioned bedroom now, so this became our all-purpose room (office/dining room/family room/family bedroom) during the heatwave. But in the days before air conditioning, I used to position myself in front of a fan and periodically squirt ice-water from a mister into it so I’d be covered with cooling droplets.
- Consider working earlier in the day. Often, temperatures decline at night and if you’re able to get up earlier than usual (say, 5 or 6 am) you can beat the heat by working at that time of day. And, by the way, open your windows wide and try to cool off your house or apartment at the same time.
- Drink plenty of water. I always keep a big insulated mug filled with ice adjacent to my keyboard and I top it off with water, which I glug, during the day. This not only helps keep me hydrated — it helps me stay cooler, as well.
- Lower your standards. While it’s useful to write every day, especially if you’re working on a long-form project like a book or dissertation, a heatwave is not a time to be a demanding taskmaster. If you typically write for 60 minutes, reduce that time to 30; if it’s already 30, cut it to 15. And ditto if you’re writing to a word count. If your typical goal is 500 words, slash it to 250. You will still stay in touch with your project this way, and your chances of reaching your goal will be much higher.
- If editing, stick with the easy stuff. A heatwave is not the time to embark on a challenging substantive edit. Instead, stick with the time-consuming but (relatively) mindless tasks associated with copy editing. For example, you might be able to spend 20 minutes shortening sentences (if your sentence-length average is too long) or reducing your use of passive voice.
- Do writing-related work that isn’t writing. If it’s way too hot to write, it might be a good time to relax into mindmapping. This fun and easy-to-use technique can help you explore ideas and concepts that will lead to better writing later. And because mindmapping is so easy to do, you’re unlikely to feel the sort of reluctance you may associate with other types of work.
One perhaps unexpected bonus of an event like a heatwave is its all-consuming nature. Your brain will have a hard time focusing on any subject that isn’t related to heat and you’ll stop caring about the quality of your work and instead become grateful for any little task that you’re able to accomplish.
It’s always been ironic to me that focusing on the quality of writing is usually what holds people back from actually achieving it. Instead, try to remind yourself that your only job when writing is to accumulate a quantity of words.
Writing is simply about getting the ideas/concepts out of your head and onto the page or the screen. The less you care, the more you’ll be able to do. Once they’re there, you’ll be able to take plenty of time to edit them, later.
As businessman Arnold H. Glasow put it: “Heat is required to forge anything. Every great accomplishment is the story of a flaming heart.”
Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.
My video podcast last week addressed how to use more transitions. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Have you figured out how to write when it’s too damn hot? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to G. Kelly, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a June 23/21 comment. (Please send me your email address, G!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!