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The Writing Life: Give Yourself A Break

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It’s that most wonderful time of the year. Anticipation is high. For many writers, there’s feasting to prepare and consume and various celebrations to attend. Increased shopping. Increased cleaning. Increased family time. And a couple of extra days off your day job for the winter holidays means increased writing time. Yay! Right?

It always seems like fitting in more writing time during the holidays is feasible, but is it? For most of us, time to write is sparing at best. Holidays make it even harder. We already know we need to sit our butts in the chair and write. We’ve set our boundaries for our family and scheduled our writing time. But there are pumpkin pies to be made and someone has to collect Great-uncle Bob from the airport and the kids want us to play board games and the grown kids need to vent and, and, and…

Alas, the cliché is true. There are only so many hours in a day. And despite our best efforts, sometimes we need more sleep or more time to talk or more time to cook. For much of the year, we can justify being adamant about our schedule. Should we make ourselves and our families miserable or guilty or sorry over interruptions to our writing time over the holidays? I vote no.

Writing is hard work. Like any other kind of work, writers need time away from it, whatever our writing schedule might normally be. But so-and-so famous writer writes every day of the year, you might say to yourself. So? Some lawyers or interior designers or janitors work every day, too. Being a writer does not mean you have to be a workaholic. That said, it’s kind of hard to get away from. We’re writers! While we may not be putting words on paper, we’re still doing the work of writing when we actively throw ourselves into experiencing the holidays.

Dad’s brownie recipe might the perfect one to poison in a cozy mystery. That Oregon Trail card game could become the plot basis of a middle grade novel. Getting curious about Aunt Carol’s experience as a dental tech at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany could fill in that missing background on your military character or inspire a magazine article. Didn’t know Aunt Carol was a military dental tech? You may be in for a huge surprise when you take the time to sit down and ask your second cousin exactly what it is he does for a living. What’s your grandmother’s best memory from college? Have you ever asked your sister why, exactly, that stuffed unicorn was her favorite toy?

Even if family isn’t a holiday given, there are an infinite number of great ways to soak in the holiday experiences that will feed our writing. Focus on the textures of your surroundings, accounting for every sense, whether you’re out in a snowy field or sitting on a wooden bench at the bus station. Strike up a conversation with a stranger while you volunteer in your community or buy lights at the hardware store. Discover how someone of a different faith celebrates. Or doesn’t.

If your writing time is scarce over the holidays, take heart, and try immersing yourself in the turmoil to enrich your stories, bring realism to your characters, and inspire your creativity throughout the coming year. Share your thoughts with us or tell us what works for you! Join me on the first Friday of each month for exploration, discovery, and discussion of the writing life.

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Elle Andrews Patt's speculative and literary short fiction has appeared in markets such as The Rag, Saw Palm, and DarkFuse, among others. She has earned RPLA awards for her published short fiction, a published novella, Manteo, and an unpublished mystery novel. Her short story, "Prelude To A Murder Conviction" won an Honorable Mention from Writers Of The Future. She'd love to hear from you! Website

6 Responses

  1. anonymous-but a writer
    | Reply

    So you want a little rest. Don’t we all. I’ve seen more writing schedules than I can count and few are worth little. Schedules! What is our goal to be on the best seller list by the time your 30. Not likely. I love to write and its hard that is a fact only a fool would deny. I write but have no schedule, no goal, no set number of words and I do not lock my family out of my life. I think too many writers subconsciously do just that and not know it. Yes, I read craft books but attend few meetings again its family. I am never without my story and hopefully it is not without me. Thanks

  2. Elle Andrews Patt
    | Reply

    The Writing Life series of blogs is intended to help writers accomplish their writing goals within their regular, everyday, sometimes chaotic lives in a conscious way so that they don’t lock out or butt heads with their families over their writing subconsciously, as you point out. Like you, many writers find that an unconstructed approach works best for them. Others find that they love seeking writing challenges that include future publication or word counts or posting online. Everybody has their own process. It’s great that you won’t be stressed over word counts during the holidays. Hopefully this post will help someone who’s stressing over it! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Mary Jo McKeon
      | Reply

      Especially rings true: I just published my first book and am both basking in the warm glow of accomplishment and drowning in the guilt of not yet scribing #2. But there’s writing and gestation: even as you make that pie or listen to holiday angst, you are performing necessary literary research. Even if it’s on a subliminal level.

  3. Ken Pelham
    | Reply

    Thanks for these timely thoughts, Elle! Holiday season is important and valuable to ourselves and to our families and friends. I still write during this fun time, but I must admit my writing output drops perhaps 20 percent. Oh well. It’s worth it and I can feel the good stuff starting to bubble to the surface, ready to burst forth. Or maybe that’s just all the sugar talking.

    • Elle Andrews Patt
      | Reply

      Lolol, Ken. Sugar is a great idea! I’ll be depending on it during the writing time I can squeeze in once the wii games get started in earnest :-)))

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