Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Writing and Holidays

Here in the West, we stress ourselves out around our holiday season. I know I do. I'm an introvert, like many writers, who would rather spend my time with the familiar and comfortable, including the interior world of my writing. Writing does a
lot of things for me, including earning income. But it's also something I love.

I've already had the crisis point when I realized that even if I never published another word, I would still write stories. That fierce love of words and story keeps me going when the business aspects get me down.
One thing I've tried to do over the years is recognize and eliminate pain points that put me off my writing game, and, therefore, my general-happiness game. There are some things I can do little to control but there's a lot I can do to to reduce or eliminate stress.

Holiday spending, for example. Used to be, I spent too much at the holidays: I love finding the right gifts. I'd end up stressed about the budget busting and stressing about the credit card bills afterward. Then, along with the local-shopping movement a few years ago, I decided I would be an all cash holiday affair. And so, for the last several years, every payday, I take all the cash left in my wallet and put it in my secret holiday spending pot. And by the end of the year I have a darn decent amount of money. But more to the point, I have ALL the money I am allowed to spend for the holidays.

I take that money downtown and spend it. Because that's what it's for. If there are presents that can only be bought online (and there are a few) I deposit that cash into my checking account so it's covered.

I look forward to asking clerks "Do you mind if I pay you in ones?" Store clerks are generally delighted to get a lot of one dollar bills. The stress of shopping is just about nil.

Family. Hoo Boy. Family can stress you out. Mine does. But I've come to recognize that with two exceptions, my immediate family does not support my writing; extended family not at all. This was not an easy or happy realization, but it's accurate. They aren't deliberately undermining me. It's more that I can't seem to get them to understand that writing is a job, and it's a hard one. I sign contracts that obligate me to turn in my work on time. With self-publishing in there, it's plain and simple fact that I need to put out high-quality content on a regular schedule.

Now that I've come to terms with the reality of family forces that work against my writing, it's actually easier for me to carve out the time I need for writing and not feel guilty. I'm also far less resentful. Of course I want to spend time with extended family, but that comes when I know my writing life is in a safe place.

It's no fun for anyone if I am at a family holiday event stressing because I have word count to make and will it EVER be time to leave? When I have paid my dues, as it were, I say, "I have work to do, so I am leaving now. Thank you so much, it was lovely to see you."  And then I leave. And that means I am far more relaxed when I am at that event.

A writer needs to carve out time, space and mental peace for her writing. What's within that space belongs to you. Do not share it with people who are destructive to the peace and safety of your writing. YOU draw the lines. Do not invite others to cross that line when you know they are not safe. Now, if I'm asked, I say things are going well, and then I change the subject. Do not volunteer your good writing news, (or any news) to people you know do not support your writing. DO share that news with those who do.

Other people may find the best solution is to schedule their projects so that time off at the holidays is a welcome break. That does mean telling your editor, no, you cannot deliver a book on December 31. Negotiate a due date that allows you to take that time off.

The time you spend writing does not need to be vast. It doesn't matter if your writing time is 5 minutes whenever you can, or 5 hours every evening. Over time, the words add up, and before long, your goal-per-day adds up to a novel. Keeping the writer part of you safe makes that happen.


  1. Good advice, Carolyn. Thanks for sharing and happy holidays!

  2. Great advice, Carolyn! Happy holidays!!

  3. Wonderful advice, Carolyn...I'm finally making writing a priority again, and it does feel good! :)

  4. I love the frank practicality of this piece. Sounds like you know exactly what you're doing.

  5. Some of the advice is (pretty obviously I guess) based on personal experience. I do know a lot of writers whose families really don't support them. I exclude young children, of course. Young children simply need more time and energy.

  6. I can't believe the tone of requirement so many people use when they talk about their holiday stresses: like it's ordained somewhere that they construct that wreath, unfurl the bunting, chop/whip/blanch by hand that 49-step dessert or the season is ruined! RUINED! for all the future psychotherapy patients you're related to. Love this approach of figuring out what works and what creates stress and then adapting those bits so they will work better.

  7. Anne Marie: yes! If we don't have x things are ruined when really, the best holidays are when we relax and just go with how things turn out.

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