How to Keep Writing Over the Holidays
I know: it’s a little early to be posting this. When people write blog posts about the holidays this early it starts to feel like that guy in the neighborhood who put his Christmas lights up before Halloween…but bear with me.
One of the key points to keeping your writing up during the busy, hectic holiday season is to begin that season with a plan. That means thinking about it early, so that you can start strong as the days pass, the guests arrive, and school lets out.
The right plan differs from writer to writer and from situation to situation. Here are some elements that we’ve found work for a lot of people.
Top Tips to Write During the Holiday Busy Season
1. Shop Early, Shop Often
Few things sow chaos and put your plans off the rails like holiday shopping. There’s always somewhere between one and what feels like fifty last-minute runs to get that one perfect gift. And of course, the shopping itself is a nightmare. Stores are packed. Parking is sparse. The Christmas music is too loud.
Get your shopping done early as much as possible with a combination of online shopping and a few strategic runs before the season truly starts. Afterward, don’t make any more shopping trips. If you’re out and about for another thing, add a stop at one store if necessary. That helps extra shopping blend into your other errands, rather than taking up time of its own.
While you’re at it, define a finished status for your holiday gift shopping. After you’ve reached it, you’re done…no matter how much temptation or guilt suggests otherwise.
2. Practice the Writing One-Two Punch
One challenge of writing when you’re busy or stressed is getting those first words on the screen or page. You sit down to write, ask yourself “What will I write today?”, and have no idea how to answer.
A good solution for this is to schedule two writing times per day. Set your core writing time whenever works for you, for as long as you can manage. Also schedule ten to fifteen minutes during a slack time in your day. During that session, you plan what you’ll write during your core writing time. With those notes in hand, you’ll answer the “What will I write?” question more quickly and easily.
For example, if you write in the morning, do your notes session before bed.If you write in the evening, do your notes in the morning while you’re drinking your coffee.
3. Write When Everybody is Sleeping
Holidays are rough for a lot of reasons, one of which is how many extra people end up in your space. If you have kids, they’re home for vacation. If you host guests, there’s family underfoot. If you go see family, you’re with them and out of your element.
All of those people mean more folks interrupting your writing with requests and demands. Most are well-intentioned. Some are even reasonable. That doesn’t mean they don’t make it hard to get your writing done.
The solution: write while people are asleep. If you’re a morning person, get up an hour early and have your words written before folks begin to stir. If you’re a night owl, stay up after everybody goes to bed and get it done in the quiet, wee hours. Either way, that uninterrupted time is prime for writing.
For that matter, consider making this part of your regular routine after the holidays. It’s a good practice for folks who love their families but also want to finish a book.
4. Do Writing Sprints
In a writing sprint, you set a timer and you keep your hands on the keyboard. You write, without stopping for any reason. You don’t worry about quality. You don’t worry about nuance. On rough days, you don’t even worry about whether or not you’re writing for your work in progress. You just write.
Set the timer for 20 minutes to start. If time and your attention span cooperate, work your way up to 50 minutes. When your time is up, you have two options. If that’s all the time you have in the middle of your busy schedule, congratulations! You’re done. Move on in the knowledge you’ve got something written. If you have more time, take a 5 or 10 minute break and go again.
Writing sprints help you train your mind (and fingers) to write quickly in short spurts. Often during the holidays, short spurts is all the writing time you’ll get.
5. Find Your Oasis
People who can write in the middle of chaos have a super power. For the rest of us, we write best when we have a place we can go to write undisturbed. That’s fine and dandy during the regular year, but for the holiday season that place often gets compromised.
Guests end up sleeping in your office. Kids keep coming to your kitchen table wanting your time and attention. Your local coffee shop get filled with harried shoppers. Worse yet, your holiday visiting schedule might pull you away from all of your writing oases and leave you stranded in unfamiliar territory.
The solution to all of the above is the same: find a new oasis. Grab your laptop and head…somewhere. The home of a friend who doesn’t have family in town could work. So might your local library, or a restaurant that doesn’t get too busy and doesn’t mind you camping at a table. If your airport has comfortable facilities outside the secured area, it’s not a bad option. The details don’t matter: find your oasis, claim it, and work time spent there writing into your holiday routine.
6. Use the Buddy System
We’ve written here a lot of times about the power of having an accountability buddy for your writing. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works wonders for you both, and we won’t expound on the basics here.
But wait! There’s more.
Conspire with your accountability buddy about how you can help each other in other ways during the holiday season. Can you batch errands with one another so you’re each making half as many trips? Can you take turns hosting play dates to give each other writing time? Can you meet at an appointed place and do writing sprints across the table from one another? The options are myriad, so get together and get creative.
7. Reward Yourself
If you manage to get your writing time in despite the challenges of the season, you deserve a gold star. Literally. A for-real, gold star you bought at the Dollar Store that you put in your planner, or even on the family calendar in the den. Rewards work, and you should reward yourself.
Think about the kind of rewards that motivate you most. Is it a treat? Some booze? Time to yourself? Time with a friend? Whatever it is, identify two kinds.
The first kind take little time or money. Things like a ten minute power nap, a plate of cookies, or putting five dollars in a spoil yourself fund. These are your rewards for finishing your writing goals for a given day. Set your goal, meet it, and reap the benefits.
The second kind can eat up some meaningful resources. A night out with friends, a new outfit, or a massage are good examples. This is a reward you get for finishing your writing goals for a set number of days in a row.
Using both kinds of rewards keeps you motivated and on track. Only you know what will help you best, but once you identify them you’ll be surprised how well it works.
8. Write “Part Time”
This is pretty simple to describe, but sometimes hard to implement.
If your holiday season is too full of commitments and responsibilities, cut back on your writing time. There’s nothing wrong with scaling back your writing goals during these crazy weeks, and it’s better to meet reduced goals than to fail at larger ones.
The trick here is giving yourself permission. So here I am, giving you permission. If it’s too hard to write X words or Y hours, commit to writing a lesser amount. Pick up in the new year, less exhausted and frustrated than you would have been if you’d tried to keep the faster pace.
9. Set an Early Year Book Launch
Some writers, myself included to tell the truth, do better with external deadlines than with their own. We always keep our promises to our family, employer, client, even the UPS pickup guy, but we let our commitments to ourselves fly blithely over our heads time and time again.
If that’s you, the holidays can be particularly rough from a writing productivity standpoint. You collect so many additional promises and responsibilities for others that there’s little room for your writing.
The solution: schedule your next book to launch in January or February. That creates an external deadline you’ve publicly committed to meet. This can add a lot of stress to your holiday season, but it will help a certain kind of writer stay on track.
10. Put it On the Schedule
There’s something about writing an appointment or commitment into your daily planner that makes it more official. It’s there in ink or pencil, so it has to be respected. That applies both to when you’re planning other things (the slot is no longer available), and when the time comes and you’re wondering what to do.
As you plan your holiday season, make room for your writing time. Put it on the calendar right there with the errands, parties, pageants, and other things you’re not going to miss.
While you’re at it, put some you time on the calendar as well…
11. Take Care of Yourself
Remember a couple lines ago where I suggested putting some you time on the calendar? It’s that important.
If all you do during the holiday season is work for your people and find time to write, you will run out of energy and passion long before you run out of holiday commitments. Identify the ways you recharge and block out time for them. If you can do them while also spending time with loved ones, that’s great. If you need time alone to recharge, that’s equally great. The key thing is to be honest with yourself about what you need, then make sure you get it.
This is another piece of advice you can and should make part of your regular routine all year long. It makes you a better writer because you have more energy and focus when you sit down to write.
12. Learn to Say “No, Thank You”
Invitations and requests to fill your calendar and spend your energy are part of the holiday season. Almost all of them are meant well. People love you and rely on you, and want you to feel included in their end of year celebrations. That feels good, but can quickly overwhelm all but the most reclusive writers during this festive time of year.
During the holidays I recommend the “Heck yeah, or heck no” approach. When asked or invited to do anything, see if your immediate emotional response is “Heck, yeah!” (Or some other, less appropriate word. You do you.) If that’s not your gut feeling, the answer is “Heck, no!” (Or some other, probably appropriate word. How dare they?)
Commit only to the things that really excite you. For the others, learn to give yourself permission to say no, and how to put that permission into practice.
It’s Okay to Take Time Off
For some writers, the holiday season is so demanding that even the best laid plans leave little time to write, and no energy when they do find the time. That’s not ideal, but if it’s your reality you should accept it. Give yourself permission not to write for the rest of the year. Put some notes in a little book when ideas come. Enjoy the season, your family, and all the festivities that come with it. Then, as soon as the last guest leaves and the kids get back to school, jump back into your writing.
It’s always better to intentionally take some time off, than to promise yourself you’ll write then not get around to it. There’s a psychological difference between the two that really makes or breaks your relationship with writing.