Deck the walls with red and green, fill the oven with cookies and turkey—the holiday season is upon us. And even though Christmas itself has practically come and gone, many of us still have several weeks of children at home, extended family visitations, and hours logged in cramped cars and stuffy airplanes. What’s a good writer to do?
As a homeschool mom, I deluded myself into thinking the holiday season wouldn’t be different from any other day. My kids are always crawling around, asking for a snack or even a sweet hug right when I hit a good part in my work in progress. But as it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The copious amount of consumed sugar and familiar specials of glee on television have turned my two darling princesses into miniature, crazed beasts. And I know I’m not alone.
So in the spirit of holiday giving, I present this guide to getting through the holidays with your work in progress—and blessed sanity—intact.
- Get Creative - Yes, I know. Writing, by its very essence, is creative. But I mean get creative carving out writing time. You may be used to a quiet, peaceful house when you sit down with your characters, but while school’s out, you’re going to have to kiss that dream goodbye. (Unless you’re some type of wizard, in which case please share your mojo!) So until things get back to normal, my suggestion is to work with what you’re given. Marilyn Almodovar, mother of two, challenges her older children to write a story in half an hour. Younger kids can tell stories into a tape recorder. Techniques like this give you thirty minutes to write in peace, and may even encourage a budding author!
- Live in the Moment - I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to feel guilty. When I write, I’m thinking I should be with my family or doing laundry, and when I am doing those things, I’m worrying about word count or the next scene I’m going to write. It’s like my brain is a laptop, and I have hundreds of screens minimized that can pop up at any given moment. NYT Bestselling author Bente Gallagher says the only way she survives the holidays is by living in the moment. “When you’re writing, give it 100% for whatever time you have. Even if it’s just twenty minutes while the kid is watching Rudolph. And when you shut off the manuscript and spend time with the kid(s), do that 100%. Nothing worse than half-hearted attention, guaranteed to make a kid feel crappy about their importance or lack thereof.” Ouch!
- Let them in on the Fun – When their stories are finished and Rudolph is over, but you still have a deadline to meet, give them a project. Author and editor Louisa Bacio suggests setting them up with a small craft like making holiday cards, or even wrapping simple presents. “I pre-cut the paper, and the new pop-up tape works well. Also, send them shopping with Daddy! They need to pick out Mom a gift, right?” Another solution is incorporating your family into the madness. NY Times and USA Today Bestseller Caridad Pineiro does this whenever possible. “Even when my daughter was younger, I would try to take her to book signings and/or let her help out with assembling promo things. It made her feel like she was part of my team and my success and that goes a long way to lessening the conflict.”
- Get Thyself Some Help - I don't know about you, but I have a hard time admitting I can’t do it all. I don’t know where my Super Woman complex came from, but one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to kick it to the curb. I have to accept that I don’t have magic powers, and can’t wiggle my nose and miraculously have the house sparkle and dinner cooked. That’s why I loved USA Today bestselling author Natalie Anderson’s simple advice for finding writing time during the holiday madness. “Get help with the housework, or simply ignore the less important parts of it. Don’t ever feel guilty for something that’s so important.” How, you may ask, do you get that help? Perhaps the easiest solution is to hire someone to clean for you, even if it’s just once. But if finances don’t allow that, this is where the children come back into play. Give them a washcloth and let them pretend to be Cinderella for the afternoon. Bribe them with more of that holiday sugar they’ve been consuming. Or bat your eyelashes at your significant other. Hey, whatever gets the job done, right?
- Start Those Resolutions Early - New beginnings rock, whether they’re shiny, new ideas and projects, or brand new years complete with blank slates. Typically at this time of year, I make all kinds of plans to focus more and blog surf less, to drink more water and not stay up so late. But much like that vow to wake at dawn and power walk three miles every day, those plans tend to fizzle a few months later. So what I’m saying is if that’s true for you, too, why not get a head start now? That’s what award-winning author Tracy March is doing. She doesn’t have kids, but she still battles finding time to write in the midst of holiday decorating, baking, shopping, and wrapping. So she’s instituted her New Year’s Resolution a month early, carving out “black-out” times in her schedule where she’s forbidden from getting online. “It’s so easy to get distracted by email and Twitter and . . .” (Yeah, I have a plethora of social media habits to fill that dot dot dot.)
And finally, when all else fails
- Look for the Positive – This one can be hard, and it probably goes back to the whole living in the moment thing. Mass media has fed us visions of what the holidays should look like since birth, and when reality doesn’t match, it can be frustrating. Equally so is having your house taken over by a bazillion relatives, and an uncle who can burp Jingle Bells. So my final piece of advice is to step back, take a deep breath, and people watch. Agent and author Lauren Hammond finds seeing family she hasn’t seen in a while actually inspires her writing. “Holidays in my neck of the woods is like the Griswolds—it makes for some pretty funny scenes.” And if humor doesn’t exactly fit your work in progress, I’m sure you can find something to use if you just look close enough.
YOUR TURN: Like I said above, I'd love to know your tips or suggestions! Add them in the comments below (and leave a link for us to find you on the web) and I'll shout them out next week! Until then, Happy New Year's y'all!