In order to succeed, one thing writers need is stress-free time to work and think, which is why 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 write.
3 Tricks for Writing During the Holidays
Yes, writing can be particularly challenging during the holidays. But that’s no reason to quit trying altogether.
Instead of giving up and not writing for a month, here are three tricks I use to get me through the craziness of the holidays.
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, 90 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.
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 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.
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.
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. Sometimes that is all you will need to get your juices flowing again.
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.