Writer’s Insights: How the Weather Affects Writing
Summer is here, bringing with it hot temperatures and long hours of sunshine. I’m someone who very much looks forward to the hottest, longest days of the year. If I could, I’d stay in the warm weather all the time. Unfortunately, because I spend most of my time in Canada, I also have to live through some fairly dark and dreary days. Autumn can be dull and rainy, while the winter can be brutally cold. The long nights and short days don’t help me much either.
That got me to wondering. How much does weather affect writing? For me, it seems like the season can affect me quite a bit. In fact, I like to joke that I’m a “solar-powered” writer, doing most of my work and finding most of my inspiration during the long hours of sunshine in the late spring and early summer.
SAD and the Seasonality of Creativity
I’m probably far from alone in this respect. Many people around the world live with some version of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). In the most common variant, people living closer to the poles tend to experience lower mood and less energy during the winter months. This is associated with shorter days and longer periods of darkness. People with this form of SAD may experience an elevated mood and perceive themselves to have more energy during the summer, when there are the most hours of sunlight.
I certainly fit into this category. Before my first major depressive episode, we were exploring the possibility of me having SAD. I’ve always been affected by the seasons, but we reasoned that the busyness of the school year, which lasts during the fall and winter, had distracted me from most noticeable affects until I’d graduated. Once I left school, I found the fall and winter tended to turn me into a slug. The summer was a time of joy, of energy, and of increased creative output.
One Theory of SAD
One theory of SAD suggests it’s an adaptive function our ancestors evolved. In the fall and winter, when temperatures are colder and the days are shorter, lower levels of energy would have allowed our ancestors to rest and conserve. This would be important during the winter, when there was less food available as well. Resting and sleeping more would make evolutionary sense.
By contrast, having higher levels of energy and more motivation during the summer, when the days are longer and there are more hours of sunshine, would have allowed us to work harder. And that makes perfect sense as well, given that most of the work of gathering food happens during this time. From picking berries to planting and harvesting crops to hunting often take place during the summer and early fall.
For our ancestors, who lived with the rhythms of nature, SAD probably wasn’t an issue. In fact, it’s an adaptive feature that allowed them to live more efficiently in harsh environments.
The Modern Era Has No Use for SAD
Now that many people in the West no longer rely on agriculture for daily existence, any adaptive function SAD provided for our ancestors has become more of a hassle than anything. The modern knowledge economy expects us to be on, 24/7, all year round.
So when we start feeling less energized or less motivated, we see this not as a natural variation in response to changes in our natural environment, but as some kind of impediment.
Ultimately, I’d love to find a rhythm where I can turn SAD back into an adaptive feature for myself. Winters would be low-key, while summer would be a time of high-intensity.
Working for myself sometimes allows me to vary my workload a bit, but there’s almost always something on the go for me. Even when I want to take things slower, work or creative projects are often telling me to work harder and longer.
This is part and parcel of the modern era, to be perfectly honest. The modern economy has no use for workers who slow down or need breaks. This is true even for content creators. Take a look at the relentless pace of content creation for YouTube creators. SEO optimization demands constant content; businesses that blog on a daily basis do better than those who blog sporadically.
We live in an era of relentless work. We’re kept constantly hopping, so something like SAD is seen as a hindrance, a nuisance, or even a disease we need to treat.
The Link to Bipolar
There’s another interesting theory connected to SAD, and it’s that bipolar is actually an extreme (and more permanent) form of SAD. While the jury is still out on this, and current research doesn’t necessarily support the theory, it’s interesting to think about it.
People with bipolar tend to suffer from swings in mood, from depressed to manic. In their manic state, these people are highly energized. In some cases, mania gives them energy they put to “good” use by creating. Many of the world’s most famous creators seem to have exhibited traits of bipolar disorder.
Of course, the flipside of bipolar is a depressive state, which tends to reduce creative output. And even the manic state isn’t always benign. People in a manic state may suffer lapses of judgment and carry out crimes they might not otherwise, harm themselves, or suffering crippling anxiety.
Nonetheless, it’s the “flip” between two states that suggests the link between SAD and bipolar. Bipolar, of course, is a lifelong disorder, often with little rhyme or reason. Manic episodes are often unpredictable. Both episodes of mania and depression tend to last for variable amounts of time. Some people report manic episodes lasting weeks, breaking up depressive episodes that last for months or years on end.
Is Creativity Mental Illness?
The apparent “link” between creativity and mental illness has long been noted, and there’s a certain sort of mythos around creatives. The common perception is all great artists are mentally ill in one way or another.
The frenetic energy associated with SAD and bipolar disorders seem to lend some credence to the idea. Creativity becomes an outlet for the energy of “manic” episodes that occur in both conditions. Of course, not everyone who is a creative has one of these conditions, and not everyone who has one of these disorders is a creative.
But is there a link among these “high energy” states, the “artist’s eye,” and mental illness? It seems quite possible. The changes in brain chemistry that take place during these conditions often seem to be connected to creativity. Creatives often score high on tests for a variety of mental health conditions; these same traits also appear as a different “worldview,” which then opens the window onto creativity.
So What about the Weather?
All this to say the season, the amount of light, and the weather appears to make a different in my own creativity. But it does make me wonder—how natural is something like SAD? Is bipolar just an extreme form of what was originally a useful evolutionary adaptation? And how are those changes in mood, linked to the weather as they sometimes are, also linked into our individual creativity?
That’s something for researchers and other writers to answer. For me, I’m going to continue to experiment with my own process, trying to make the most of my ups and downs. My moods are as variable as the seasons, it seems, so I should make hay while the sun shines. I’m going to continue taking advantage of this summery burst of energy and we’ll see where it goes.