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The Writer's Solstice

solstice Dec 21, 2018


The Writer's Solstice.

Welcome to the Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere - the time when we experience the longest period of darkness and the shortest daylight hours before the rebirth of the sun as the daylight hours begin getting longer again. 

On the shortest day, the sun's daily maximum elevation in the sky is at its lowest. We experience the longest night. The shortest day of the year lasts for 7 hours 49 minutes and 41 seconds in Britain (8 hours, 49 minutes shorter than the summer solstice.)

Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC and it is thought that the winter solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the Summer solstice. The winter solstice was a time when cattle was slaughtered (so the animals would not have to be fed during the winter) and the majority of wine and beer was finally fermented. (Newgrange in County Meath, Ireland and Maeshowe situated on Mainland, Orkney, Scotland both face the winter solstice sunrise.) Although the day symbolises the death of the old year, this is by no means a solemn occasion, with druids celebrating the renewal of life and rejoicing in a moment of seasonal rebirth.  In Germany and Scandinavia, a 12-day solstice (“Yule”) is observed from mid-December, to which the rest of Europe and North America owes many of its Christmas customs. Like the Celtic druids in the UK, these traditions emphasise the natural world and its capacity for self-renewal.

I love the sense of waiting (and wallowing) and the drama of 'longest night' which seems to suggest - something will happen. We abide. We endure. We wait. If you've experienced a difficult year or are feeling low, I highly recommend sitting with that feeling and for one day of the year or more NOT trying to correct to the standard operating system of good cheer. Try reading the wonderful Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore.

You have the right to remain silent.

Get some good chocolate in, and simply sit with yourself.

Keep your notebook close by and write to yourself. For you, by you. Go deep within and hibernate properly to nourish yourself psychologically for the coming year. Do nothing but think, write, read in a non-scripted, undirected way. Be with yourself. Sit.

One New Year's Eve, short on offers, and after a particularly dreadful year with the loss of loved ones,  my son and I sat together and wrote on pieces of paper what we'd be glad to see the back of, then we set fire to those papers before midnight. It felt really healing.

This is an extremely powerful time of year. You don't need to be spiritually inclined to consider what's afoot here. One of the Earth's poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun, then it gets a signal to change its direction. But the precise moment of that signal or impulse is mysterious. While the solstice more often than not falls on December 21st, the exact time of the solstice varies each year.

The sun appears to stand still - this is the meaning of the word sol-stice.

Writers - stand still!

If you start with what troubles you, what's been awry while the hours are short, then when the energy of the planet changes and we begin to tilt to the light you can start to make note of changes you can make and harness that shift of energy.

It's a time to take stock too, consider what you have achieved in the time you've been given since the last winter solstice.

Set your face to longer days ready to use them. Make a plan, a bold plan, and see how with a year of 365 days with a small change daily you can achieve something big. We cannot say whether the world is turning for better or worse. We cannot control what happens in the world, only the world we build in our fiction.

Because this time of year was seen as the reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures which used cyclic calendars based on the winter solstice, the "year as reborn" was celebrated with reference to life-death-rebirth deities. Reversal is the theme of Saturnalia's slave and master reversals.

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of the god Saturn. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving,  partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves.  The poet Catullus called it "the best of days".

Reflection. Renewal. Reversal.

This is an extraordinary moment for you to look at where you've been, take stock of ideas, feel the feelings you normally reserve for others in your fiction, allow yourself to be the source of your work, the author with a story in his or her right, then as the earth turns again, consider how you separate yourself from your art, for I do most earnestly believe that we must be apart from the art that we make for it to be art.

So don't regret, relist this time with yourself, healing and restoring yourself, give yourself your due (feed yourself) then start the walk into the light again and create work. Not great work, not yet, but the footings, then the footfall, the steps to great work. Walk with baby steps into the New Year, adding to a new idea just a line here of there daily.

Wishing you a silent night or two with time set aside just for you to be you.

Happy writing.

Further reading for science-challenged writers here.

Get ready to write the book of your life with our Book in a Year plan.

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