Staying In It by Sean Ulman

An awesome Autumn tumbles on auspiciously in Seward.

I am on the verge of climbing back into a novel.

Nesting up the desk. Preparing to start most days there. Begin whittling away.

I’m thinking about how we play the seasons up here. And the day-to-day.

Flat water – go kayaking. Clear skies – backcountry multi-peak link. Lakes freezing – lace up ice skates. Spring’s unbreakable crust – superhero skate skis.

Jiving with habitat brings rejuvenation, jubilation. Berry picking. Mushroom foraging. Salmon runs. Hunting seasons. These activities have windows.

What about the windows of writing?

They may not close. Not the way snow drapes down the mountainside, peak to hemlocks, altering Mt. Alice trail for months. Or how, any day now, Exit Glacier gate will snap shut like a film clapper, severing hikers from Harding Icefield trail. End credits.

Writing windows are always open. But the aperture adjusts, doesn’t it? Depending on our lives, schedules; our drive, hunger… And the seasons play a role. Alaska’s mercurial meteorology.

It rained enough this summer. When the sun shone, we all felt the pull to call out of work as we do on powder-dump days. After or before jobs we hit the trails. Headed up or got to the water, hands morphed into oarlocks. We stayed out as long as we could. Stayed in it.

My friend and editor, Jeff Helminiak years ago advised me – ‘the wise northern recreator will stretch summer and winter activities as long as they can’. Flat ski into May. Bike and run after the snow flies. I’m paraphrasing. And I think he was given this advice by another sage exerciser/scribbler. Nevertheless I pass on this clue often. And I strive to embody these recreative  extensions.

I think I do something similar with writing.

I wait tables. My sentence production decreases in the summer.

This past June I made it a goal to extend my writing season. Alter it from novel-writing to shorter jousts and jabs, collaborations.

A regular open mic at our local Farmer’s Market fed the stoke. Me and friends made sure we had a fresh AK Bird Trading Card release for every market*.  The assignments and deadlines did me good.

I helped get a project with KMTA off the ground – Trail Mix Journal. Portraits of choice trails. I kept the Radio show going – Seward Sound Words. One a month. Good enough.  I wrote a bunch of emails, a few letters. Counted them as writing work. I got coffee with writers.

I didn’t work on my novel at all. That’s winter work.

Is it winter now?

Depends where you draw the line. I’m eying that line. Procrastinating – sure. I don’t know a writer who doesn’t prorate idling.

There’s more to it though. Because I’ve been scrabbling for more mini writes. 2 page bites. This essay. A wintry entry to perform at a Nordic Ski club event. I’ve been putting energy into Radio shows. Cobbling double word scores before I return to the puzzle of the novel.

I’ve also started doing jigsaw puzzles. Seems like a good pastime for a writer. Maybe I’ll write a short about that parallel next. How I get drawn to the table. Stick with it. Chisel to develop the picture. But with novels we don’t have that finished picture on the box to follow. Or do we?

Do I have that now? As I psyche myself up for the rewrite?

Or is that part of why I keep hiking. It’s not just clear days and comfy temps. Or why, this week, when the wind came in, I pivoted to splitting wood.

It’s a familiar mystery. This waiting to get going writing regularly again. Biding time. Has it always been like this?

Summer is time for fun, working for $, making note of creative ideas. September and October are the months to feel. Transition. Ride the swells within the deep well of golden Fall.

It’s no coincidence November is NaNoWriMo.

I must be training to get in shape for writing season.

I’ve never taken the 50,000 word challenge. Yet I do pick it up every November. But the morning after my favorite holiday is never my official opening day.

I’ll start back in on the novel by my own (cuckoo) clock. When it feels right.

Weather will continue to be a factor. If it stays cold and clear I will choose mountain biking and ice skating over the desk. The sandpaper of frosty trails and glass of just-frozen lakes calling for my tracks more than edits on a page.

I’ll take the plunge in time. And stay in it.

When the curtain closes on Fall there is no encore.


Sean Ulman hosts a radio show that is taped in Seward. Seward Sound Words – local writers reading their work live on the air. Please get in touch if you are interested in being a guest on the show. Archived episodes are available here

*if interested in learning more about AK Bird Trading Cards (or possibly contributing) please leave a comment or email –

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