Craft,  Creativity

Take 5 Friday: 5 ways writing is like shoveling snow


We’re having a ridiculous winter here on the east coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. We’ve had over 350 centimeters (148 inches) of snow since winter began in November (we had almost 100 centimeters in one 24 hour period in late January) and we have more snow coming on the weekend.

Earlier this week, I doing some shoveling after the latest storm and it occurred to me that shoveling snow and writing have a lot in common.

Standing in a driveway looking at mounds of snow is not unlike looking at a blank page. You can’t know how long it will take but all you can do is dig in and get started.

Since I love transferable skills and I love a good analogy, here are 5 ways that writing is like shoveling snow.


A background image of books, a coffee, an antique clock and an antique typewriter with a foreground image of a yellow circle with the 10 Minute Novelists logo and text that reads 'Take 5 Friday: 5 Ways that writing is like shoveling snow by Christine Hennebury'

The job might be huge but find a place to start and work away until you’re done.

When I’m standing at the bottom of my steps looking at the mounds of snow between me and the road, the job feels huge. And, in fact, a lot of the time, it IS too much work to do all at once.

When it’s more than a few shovelfuls, I have to work strategically. 

If I have an immediate priority, I address that first. That might mean tromping to the end of the driveway to remove the snow from right behind the car so we can drive somewhere. Or it might mean clearing a path so we can take the dog into the yard.

Of course, once I have taken care of the priority areas, I still need to do the rest of the shoveling!

I work on that one shovelful at a time, taking breaks when I need to.

How is this like writing?

Creating something new (or revising something old) can feel like an enormous task but it can be done. If you have specific priorities in your writing, do those first. If not, take the rest word by word and take breaks when you need to. 

It can be a bit uncomfortable  but you build strength through practice.

Shoveling snow is extremely tiring. You are using the majority of your body to move heavy loads around, and you have to repeat the same set of motions over and over. 

The first few shovelling sessions of the season are going to leave you tired and sore, with all kinds of weird little muscle aches. However, once you’ve cleared the driveway a few times, you’ll find that you have built a little strength and that your body has gotten a bit more used to the effort required. 

You still get tired, of course, but you have a bit more endurance that you did when you started.

How is this like writing?

Every time you start something new, you are facing a challenge. You may have written other things but you have never written this specific thing before. That can be uncomfortable and weird. 

However, with some writing practice, you build a bit of literary strength. You get more used to the whole process and you have more endurance that you did when you started. 

Getting used to writing helps make at least some of the process easier.

There are all kinds of ways to do it but they all get it done.

When it comes to moving snow, you can use a shovel, you can use a scoop, or you can use a snowblower. Either way, the snow gets moved. 

You can start at either end or in the middle. You can shovel in circles or in sections. Either way, the driveway gets cleared.

People can argue all they want about the merits of one approach over another (and not everyone can afford a snowblower) but, at the end of the process, the goal is a clear driveway. Any method that gets you there is a useful method.

How is this like writing?

When you’re writing, your goal is to produce a story, a document, or a certain number of words. The method you use to get your words on paper is far less important than the fact that they get there. 

Take whatever approach you need to in order to get those words where you want them to be. Some approaches might be more efficient than others but that doesn’t make them more effective. 

You can write in the way that works best for you.

Friends make the process easier to bear.

Facing a driveway piled deep with snow is disheartening, especially when you are by yourself. Rounding up some friends, neighbours, or family members makes the job a little easier and a bit more fun. 

(Even though this post is about how I feel when shoveling, I am rarely shoveling alone. Our whole family works together to get the job done.)

How is this like writing?

Writing can be a lonely profession. 

Facing a writing project all by yourself can be as disheartening as facing that snowy driveway. 

Even though no one can literally write your project with you (unless you have a co-author), having friends and supporters makes the writing process feel easier. Other writers will understand your frustrations. Friends can cheer you on and encourage you. Some of your friends can even read (and provide feedback on) your work.

The help you get while writing is not quite as hands-on as the help you might get when shovelling but it can feel just as encouraging.

There’s always a bit more you *could* do but learn what is enough.

When you shovel out a driveway, there are a lot of variations on ‘done.’  

Some people clear down to the pavement, while others just create a smooth layer of snow. Some people have to square off the edges of the driveway, while others are happy with keeping a few bumpy edges. You can clear extra paths or dig out your shed or shovel off your patio if you feel inclined. 

You are the only person who gets to decide what ‘enough’ looks like for you, for today. 

How is this like writing?

Your writing project is YOURS. There are certain ideas that you want to share and a certain way that you want to share them. 

Only you will have a sense of how much you can write in a given session or on a given day.

It’s up to you to decide what’s important to you, what you are capable of, and how you want to proceed with your writing project. 

You get to decide what is enough. 

Writing and Snow Shoveling

With another 25-35cm on the way this weekend, I will be dividing my time between shoveling and writing. And I will be taking both things in small steps and making steady progress.

I hope you are sitting on a beach somewhere, laughing at my snow situation, but realizing that you, too, can write slowly and steadily and get the job done. 

Write On!