Surviving the Holidays as a Writer

I don’t know about you, but the holidays are a crazy time for us. We have 4 family birthdays between November and December, and our closest family members live an hour away. Lots of travel. Things get hectic. How do I survive all of that without losing my mind? Or my writing?

Here’s how I stay afloat when things get a little bonkers.
1. Prioritize
This is going to look different for everyone. Set aside some time when you can be alone with your thoughts and really think about what is most important to you this time of year. And focus on this year.

Maybe last year it was important for you to make Pinterest-worthy memories filled with sugar cookies and handmade paper mache decorations. This year, that might still be a top priority for you.

Or, maybe this year your nearly-finished novel is really important to you. It’s okay to scale back on holiday festivities. Those memories won’t be as joyful if you’re feeling resentment because all you can think about is how much time you’re losing on your writing project.

The important thing isn’t what your priorities are.

The important thing is knowing what your priorities are.

What if you want the best of both worlds? If you’ve got several time-intensive things in your top priority spots, take a deep breath. You’re not doomed. Yet. Tear your eyes away from the gems at the top of your priority list and focus on the bottom of your list. Better yet, think about things that didn’t even make it on the list.

Ask yourself if you can trim them back or let go of them entirely.

Obviously, you can’t cut out things like “Pay the Bills” or “Do laundry”. But what about decorating the house? If you really want to bake baskets full of cookies and you want to get a lot of writing done, maybe this can be a year when your decorations are scaled back a bit. Fewer things set out = fewer things to clean and fewer things to put away.

2. Plan & Prepare
Get out a calendar and make sure you have every non-negotiable obligation written down. Family gatherings, birthdays, obligatory office parties, school pageants, can’t-miss friend parties, etc. I call this “getting your brain on paper”, and it’s immensely helpful. You’re less likely to be caught off guard.

 calendar before it's been filled in with everything under the sun.a calendar in the process of being filled in with everything under the sun

Writing everything out on a calendar will help you see blocks of days that are especially busy and spaces when you can catch your breath. That’s important. If you see a busy block coming up, you can be proactive about trying to get caught up with things like meal planning and laundry before you’re in the thick of the craziness. Emphasis on trying. Laundry is the most Sisyphean task ever and I totally understand that it’s impossible for most people to be 100% caught up. To those who are capable of getting completely caught up on laundry, I salute you!

Where was I?

Planning ahead! Meal planning is one of my favorite survival tricks. Every few months, my husband and I set aside one weekend to make 30 freezer meals. It’s intense, but it’s always time well spent. Freezer meals aren’t for everyone, but even basic, once a week meal planning is helpful.

It frees up your brain cells so you can think about other things.

Along those same lines, consider having a default lunch or breakfast option during busy times. I love cooking and eating fun foods, but when life gets crazy I always default to having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. I should note that PBJs make me happy. Having a default meal isn’t about suffering through boring foods. Think of something you really like that’s super simple, and make that your default meal.

On a crazy day, it’ll be one less thing to think about.

Another plan-ahead trick is to ask yourself what things you can do w-a-y in advance. I am one of those people who daydreams about making holiday sugar cookies with my son. I’m also one of those people who has everything go wrong every time I actually try to make sugar cookies with my son. This year, I’ve taken part of the headache out of the equation: I’ve got a double batch of sugar cookie dough stashed in my freezer.

This also applies to your writing. If you have a daily word count goal, and you’ve got a busy couple of days coming up, see if you can frontload your writing by logging a few double word count days before things get busy.

That’s how I survived NaNoWriMo this year.

Early in the month, I logged a lot of double word count days. Later in the month, I got slammed with doctor appointments, parent-teacher conferences, birthdays, and Thanksgiving travel. But everything was okay because I had a “bank” of high word count days that kept me afloat.

3. Persevere
Maybe you’ve been staring at the same 126 words all day and your writing is going nowhere. Go for a walk, take a drive, do something to enjoy the things that can only be found this time of year (Sparkling lights! Peppermint mochas! Half-inflated yard snowmen dancing drunkenly in the evening breeze!) and let yourself breathe.

And then get back to your writing.

Still stuck? You might need a longer break. If you still want to do something related to writing, think about character profiles, backstories, or reading books about writing. All three things ultimately contribute to your writing, so you can give the creative side of your brain a break while still being productive.

Maybe your 4 year-old has been doing a candy-cane-fueled Hulk impersonation all day and you haven’t exactly been Mary Poppins in how you’ve dealt with everything. Pop in a kid friendly holiday movie to occupy your tiny terror, and go get lost in your writing for a while.

Or you might be at a family gathering that’s turned sour. That’s a perfect reason to keep a small writing notebook with you. You can either use it as a way to excuse yourself for a bit, “Just had an thought for my writing and need to write it down before I lose it!” or use the craziness to get story ideas. Regardless of what’s going down, I know I tend to handle life better when I’ve been able to spend some time writing.

 

The holidays can be a hectic time, and even if you plan and prepare, you might have a few bad days. That’s okay. You’re only human. Take a deep breath and give yourself permission to try again tomorrow. Even better: Give yourself permission to have a fresh start right now.

Whatever you do, don’t stop trying!

 

*Bonus – If you listen to music while you’re writing and you’re a holiday music fanatic, make sure you have some non-holiday music ready to go. It can be really hard to get yourself in the zone to write a summer scene in a scorching desert when you’re hearing, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.

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