3 Tricks for Getting Unstuck During the Holidays

by Jeff Elkins | 11 comments

If you want to succeed as a writer, you need a stress-free time to work and think. Writing sessions during the holidays can be hard for us. With all the added parties and present buying and family events, it can be easy to feel stuck and unable to work on your latest writing project.

But that doesn't mean it's impossible to find time for writing.

Holiday Writing: 3 Tricks for Getting Unstuck During the Holidays

In this article, you can learn three tricks to keeping your holiday spirit, and also working on your writing skills.

Let this holiday season be one you enjoy, while also working in those meaningful writing sessions.

3 Tricks for Writing During the Holidays

Yes, writing can be particularly challenging during the holiday season. But that's no reason to quit trying altogether.

Instead of giving up and not writing for the  winter holidays, try these three writing project tricks. I use them to get me through the craziness of the holiday season.

1. Try Using a Different Medium

Typically, I write on my laptop in Microsoft Word. When I sit down to write, I like to give myself a solid hour of productivity, and that doesn’t include the thirty minutes I know I’m going to need to ramp myself up.

During the holidays, ninety minutes of free time is rare. Between family activities, work, and my children’s social calendars, I’m lucky if I get thirty uninterrupted minutes in front of my laptop.

Not having enough time can make me feel trapped. When I do find time to sit down and write, I spend large portions of it watching the clock and worrying that my few precious minutes will run out before I can really get going.

Like all great self-fulling prophecies, my anxiety comes to pass and I spend so much time worrying that I never actually get a great writing flow going.

To combat this anxiety, I hack my own system. During the holidays, I make sure I have a journal with me wherever I go. Whenever I have five minutes to myself, I start writing in my journal.

This is an exercise that even experienced authors recommend. And it works!

I may only get a fragment of an idea out or half of a conversation. That’s okay, because when I do get thirty minutes to sit down at my laptop, I’m not starting from scratch. I can pick up my journal and jump in where I left off.

Changing the medium you work in can be a great way to keep things fresh. If you are feeling stuck, try taking one of your initial ideas and writing in a different way. If you usually do your work long hand, go straight to the keyboard. If you think and type like I do, try some dictation with your phone.

You might just find this method of writing an amazing experience.

2. Try Writing Something Else

When I played sports in high school, if the team wasn’t doing well, often our coach would try to re-center us by switching things up. In basketball, we would move from a fast-paced full-court press to a slower zone defense. In football, we would shift from our passing game to our running game. In baseball, the coach would switch out the pitcher, hoping a new arm would bring different results.

Writing can be a lot like playing sports. If you are losing, sometimes it helps to try something different. Different can prove to be a restorative experience!

Right now I’m in the midst of finishing my third novel. Finishing this one has been difficult. Often I find that I don’t like the scene I’m writing, which makes the work go painfully slow. More than once, I’ve found myself getting up and walking away from the laptop.

This frustration with my writing is exacerbated by the holidays. When I sit down to write, I’m already tired from all the activity, and stressed about the money we are spending on presents, and worried about creating a great experience for my kids. The holiday stress coupled with not enjoying me writing can completely paralyze me.

When that happens, I put the novel away and work on something completely different. I’ll try journaling my feelings about the holidays, or I’ll start a short story. If I was stuck in prose, I’ll try only writing dialogue. If I was banging my head trying to make dialogue sound real, I’ll try writing a story in which no one speaks.

Last year at Christmas, when I was jammed up in a particularly frustrating short story, I tried to write a Seussian children’s tale about a mouse who brought home a cat as a pet. After the children’s story, I was so energized the short story just flowed out of me.

3. Take That Holiday Moment and Blow It Up

Ever have that moment when a song starts playing in your head and it won’t go away? At first it seems fun, but after a while it starts to drive you crazy. When that happens, the only way I can ditch the song and return to sanity is to sing it all the way to the end.

Sometimes when I’m stuck, what I need to write about is the last thing that happened to me. I need to take the conversation I just had, or the party I just attended, or the meal I just ate and I need to write it out.

If I don’t, that last event will play on repeat in my head and block me from writing anything else.

Unfortunately, my life is too mundane for someone to enjoy reading. For example:

This morning I got up at five. Then I made coffee. Then I checked my email. There wasn’t anything exciting in my email, so I toasted a bagel for breakfast. While the bagel toasted, I thought about what Christmas presents we still needed to buy.

See? Completely boring. No fun at all.

In order to make the event something that might be entertaining to read, I try to add a fantastic element that wasn’t there in real life.

Maybe, as I was making breakfast, I saw an elf in the front yard?

Maybe, when I was thinking about the Christmas presents, I wasn’t thinking about books and toys, but I was thinking about all the zoo animals I was planning to give my children and pondering the effect the animals would have on our apartment?

Maybe, instead of thinking about Christmas presents, I was devising ways to kill the mouse that lives under our refrigerator?

When you are stuck, try taking a real life event and adding an element of the fantastic to it. These writing exercises can really get your juices flowing.

Get Writing

The holidays might be exciting, busy, and a little bit crazy. But you don't have to lose a month of writing. Your holiday writing might just look a little different, and that's okay.

If you are feeling stuck, don't give up! Just try something new.

Are there other ways you get unstuck? Share them with us in the comments.

PRACTICE

Take fifteen minutes to try out one of the three ideas suggested above: switch out your writing medium, write something different, or write about something that just happened to you. Once you've finished, post your work in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

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Jeff Elkins is a writer who lives Baltimore with his wife and five kids. If you enjoy his writing, he'd be honored if you would subscribe to his free monthly newsletter. All subscribers receive a free copy of Jeff's urban fantasy novella "The Window Washing Boy."

11 Comments

  1. EndlessExposition

    I answered the 2nd prompt. I’ve been in a historical fiction mood lately, and this came out. Sorry for the length. Reviews are always appreciated!

    London, 1925

    She supposed one could call it Fate, if one believed in such a thing. Not that she did, of course. Eve Thorley prided herself on being a rational, scientifically minded person. A modern woman. Her twenty-eight years of life had been adventurous enough to set her all manner of peculiar coincidences and concurrences, lucky and unlucky both. But those ominous specters of Fate, Destiny, and Providence so sought after by spiritualists, well – they simply didn’t enter into the business. Of this Eve was certain. And a good thing she was too. Because if in fact there was such thing as Providence orchestrating her current distasteful situation, she would be very cross indeed. Burdens are easier to bear when there is no one to blame for them.

    At present, however, Eve was much more concerned with the burden of her suitcases, which bounced annoyingly against her legs as she hurried through King’s Cross Station. She was never late for anything as a rule, but traffic that morning had been beastly. So now she wove through the sea of travelers going to and from the platforms, looking for her own, clutching suitcases and purse and silently imploring her cloche to stay affixed to her head.

    For the last few years, Eve’s existence had been dominated by a single tyrant: money. When the War ended, Eve had been twenty one, naturally clever but with no formal education beyond her girlhood boarding school. She returned from the battlefields of France penniless, very much alone in a strange, new England. She spent the next few years tending to – family matters. When those endeavors proved fruitless, she did what every young woman in the country was doing: she cut off her hair, learned to type, and moved to the city seeking gainful employment. She had found it at a typist-for-hire agency. She had spent the last five years quite content, living out of a boarding house for working girls. And then, a month ago, a letter arrived from someone Eve had never thought to see again.

    Lady Felicity Cavendish had been a dear friend of Eve’s mother before the War. Their families’ respective Yorkshire estates were a few miles distant from one another, and Eve had spent many holiday dinners at Lady Felicity’s table. Now, Lord Cavendish was dead (old age) and Lady’s Cavendish’s only son was also gone (land mine) and so the dowager had been sitting abandoned in the ancestral hall. But now she wrote to say she had a new purpose – the Yorkshire Spiritualist Society. It was little wonder spiritualism caught on in the aftermath of the war. Mediums could take their pick of bereaved widows and mothers to swindle, and Lady Cavendish was no exception. It seemed she had given over her home and funds to the society’s biweekly meetings. She contacted Eve’s agency in London looking for a girl to type a booklet and was astounded to hear Eve’s name recommended for the job. So she wrote to Eve personally to say that the society had been thinking of hiring a permanent secretary, and wouldn’t she please come to Yorkshire and take the job.

    Eve had grown accustomed to her freedom in recent years, and had rather come to enjoy city living. But the siren song of higher pay proved to be irresistible. And that was how Eve Thorley, rational modern woman extraordinaire, found herself rushing to Yorkshire to hobnob with woolly minded spiritualists. In fact, she was in such a rush to catch her train that she didn’t notice the man in her path until she crashed into him.

    Eve felt rather than saw the solid back she collided with. She stumbled but managed to hold onto her suitcases. Her victim was not so lucky. His suitcase, his hat, and his person went flying, in that order. The suitcase burst open upon landing – as did its owner. “What the hell?” On hands and knees, the man snatched up his hat and jammed it back in place. “Why dontcha watch where you’re going?”

    “I am so sorry!” Eve set down her own bags and hurried around, dropping to her knees herself and scooping up spilled luggage. “Are you hurt?” She and the man reached for a tie at the same time and finally made eye contact. And Eve stopped. And stared. Because the man was, in fact – a woman. A very attractive woman, with a man’s haircut in a man’s bespoke suit. Eve prided herself on impeccable manners; an inner voice that sounded rather like her old headmistress scolded her to stop staring, but she couldn’t. The woman was staring back, Eve realized. And kindly, with a soft smile.

    “I’m fine. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to lose my temper. It’s ah – it’s been a rough week.” She was American. Small wonder. Eve willed herself to find her voice as she continued to gather up the woman’s belongings.

    “It’s quite alright. I was the one who barged into you willy nilly, and now I’ve gone and knocked your things all over the station – ”

    The woman laughed, interrupting. “Take it easy, doll. I’ll live.”

    “Still, this platform is filthy. I’d hate for your clothes to get dirty…” Eve trailed off as she realized the item she’d picked up off the ground was a brassiere. She felt herself blush, and immediately the burn turned from embarrassment to irritation. She was behaving like a ninny! She was out of sorts from her hectic morning. That must be it.

    Grinning, the woman took the brassiere from her and began tucking her rumpled wardrobe into the case. “They’re only clothes. It all comes out in the wash.” She lifted a shirt and beneath it metal glinted in the lights of the station. Again Eve was compelled to stare and this time the hairs on her arms also stood at attention. The woman noticed and raised an eyebrow. “You okay, doll? You got pale all of a sudden.”

    Eve swallowed and stood. “I’m sorry, I – I’d stay and help you, but I can’t miss my train.”

    The woman waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t you worry about me, doll. I’ll take care of it. You got lucky.”

    Eve stopped as she walked to her bags, curiosity getting the better of her. “Why’s that?”

    The woman tossed the last item in the case, snapped it shut, and stood. “I’ve got a soft spot for blondes.” And then, the woman had the audacity to wink at her. Eve gaped like a fish, but before she could respond to this strange bit of impertinence, the woman touched the brim of her hat and walked away, vanishing into the crowd.

    Eve gave herself a little shake, as if to physically cast off the encounter. She picked up her bags and glanced at her wrist watch. Good heavens, was that the time? She would have to hurry. Eve set off rapidly in the direction of her platform, determined to put the morning behind her – the traffic, the train station, and the odd woman with a gun in her suitcase.

    Reply
    • Jeff Elkins

      Really enchanting meet-cute. I liked Eve’s reactions to the stranger. I thought the play between the two characters was good. I think you can lose the first paragraph and start the story with “Eve’s suitcases bounced annoyingly against her legs as she hurried through King’s Cross Station…” Great story. Thanks for sharing!

    • Julie Mayerson Brown

      I can’t tell you how often I click on some random link, read a few lines, and move on to the next thing. Not this time – Your “story” pleased me very much! Excellent writing, believable character, interesting setting (the historical period and the train station, specifically), and a great hook. One teeny question – why had Eve been in France during the war? Is it important to your story? If not, it’s a distraction. Anyway, EndlessExposition, thanks for posting this and best of luck to you!
      Julie (juliemayersonbrown.com)

    • EndlessExposition

      Hi Julie! Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked it. To answer your question – Eve was an ambulance driver in France during World War I (interestingly, England was the only Allied country to sponsor an all-female ambulance unit during the war). The skills she acquired doing that work, as well as how going to war affected her, will become relevant later on if I continue this story. Since it’s not that important yet though I tried not to digress into it too much. Thank you for your input!

  2. Debra johnson

    Recently I tried #2 and started writing something different than what I was working on. I began taking a free online class and during the assignments I began to see another story idea emerging. So I am going to start outlining the story and see where it goes. Since I am stuck with the stories I currently am writing, I might just put them in a folder and save them on my desktop. Thanks to the prompts I am getting several ideas which seem to be working for me, so I am going to stay with them and see where they lead..

    And I have begun using my phone to write on since we have only one computer at the moment. After all isn’t the goal to get the words down by any way possible?

    Reply
  3. TerriblyTerrific

    Good article. I don’t let the “Holidays” stop my writing passion. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Aspholessaria

    I love your idea of making the mundane fantastical. I think I’ll try that.

    Reply
  5. sherpeace

    Hey, why’s it saying there’s nothing “pinnable” on this page? Sure there is! 😉 <3

    Reply
    • sherpeace

      Now, the picture came up, but it says I have to block my pop-up blocker! It’s never said that before! Auuurrgghh! PCs make me crazy!

  6. Ingrid Senger-Perkins

    I am so grateful for this! I thought I was the only one afflicted! I particularly like your last tip about writing out the thing stuck in your head, and adding something fantastical to it. I often find this is my biggest barrier – unable to switch off from a certain event. Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Diane Cecilia de la Cruz

    Thanks for this post, Jeff!

    Trick #1 often works for me. Whenever I catch myself facing the dreaded blank screen for more than 10 minutes, I grab my journal and write my heart out. Perhaps I’ve associated pounding the keyboard with work; most of my most creative pieces are handwritten.

    Trick #2 also works. Whenever I feel unstuck, I write something else, but I always go back to my unfinished pieces later. I have some article fragments and outlines gestating in my hard drive. I believe in giving every single one of my “brainchildren” the chance to see the light of day.

    Trick #3 is something that I should try. It’s a brilliant idea! I think it will help my creative juices flowing.

    Reply

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