Many of us are in the thick of the winter holidays. Between the big dinners, the mulled wine, the out-of-town guests, and the last-minute travel planning, we might lose hope of getting any writing done before January.
I loved this time as a kid. First came Thanksgiving, then my birthday, then Christmas and New Year’s. For two solid months, I had cozy celebrations to look forward to.
As a writer, this season brings fears of my word count goals slipping farther into the new year. I still love the holidays, but I don’t want them to become a two-month excuse for not finishing my next novel. And they don’t have to be. Here are four tips to keep writing without losing your holiday spirit.
Set your expectations lower than you think you need to.
Now is not the time for lofty goals. Any daily progress warrants celebration.
You might feel tempted to raise your word count goals when you aren’t making headway on a project. Most of the time, you need to do the opposite. When we think we can’t meet our daily goal, we don’t want to try. If we’re going to fall short anyway, why bother?
A low goal doesn’t limit your efforts, either. When I edited my last novel, I set a daily goal to open the document. Not to spend 30 minutes editing or to get through 20 pages. If I opened the file, I felt successful. No matter what kind of day I was having, I could always manage to double-click a file. Right now I’m closing in on 30,000 words on a new novel. I started in September with a goal of 100 words per day. Setting the bar low makes it easier for you to convince yourself to try. Once you get there, you may surprise yourself (or not, and that’s okay too).
Find a space to work on the road.
If you travel for major holidays, make space for your writing. Maybe there’s a quiet room in the house where you’re staying, or a little table near a power outlet in the hotel lobby. You may want to sneak away to a local coffee shop or library. In a pinch, you can pop on a pair of noise-canceling headphones. However you do it, carve out a writing space that feels separate from family and social time.
While this serves your writing — it’s very hard to work when you’re surrounded by noise and social activity — it will also make for a better visit. Everything takes exponentially longer when I try to work during family visits. I lose my train of thought every 30 seconds because people keep talking to me. All the while, I feel like That Person who can’t put the laptop away. Separating writing time from family time makes both activities more productive and enjoyable.
If you expect people to accommodate your work, share it with them.
I’m not talking about letting people read your writing in progress. That’s most writers’ worst nightmare! But you should be prepared to talk about what you’re doing.
This is a great opportunity to practice your elevator speech. When people ask what you’re writing, give them a 30-second-or-less overview. It can be super simple. Here are a couple of mine:
I’m writing a guide to getting organized for people with adult ADHD. It’s all about getting to know yourself and figuring out what strategies are actually going to work for you.
I’m writing a novel about two sisters. They’re cleaning out their recently deceased mother’s beach house to prepare it for sale, but neither one of them is sure she actually wants to sell the house.
When you speak confidently and professionally about your writing, you tell others it’s something worthy of respect. Knowing a little bit about it also gives your loved ones a reason to root for your success. If you’re cagey about your writing and act like a teenager guarding a diary, people may start to resent your demands for them to take it seriously. They may even suspect you of using it as an excuse to avoid them.
Be assertive about taking time for yourself.
Now that you’ve practiced talking about your writing work and finding space to do it, don’t get shy. It won’t always feel easy to excuse yourself, but it’s your job to make sure the writing happens.
Find a balance between being present for others and showing up for your writing. Don’t skip out on planned social events. Help to prepare Christmas dinner. But whether you’re traveling or hosting, you’ll almost always find little bits of down time when everyone’s just hanging out. Use these times to say “I’m going to get some work done upstairs, I’ll be back in a bit” or “I’m thinking I’ll head over to Starbucks this afternoon to knock out my writing for the day.”
Here’s where it helps to get your family on your team. Telling people about your project in advance makes it feel less awkward to reference it in the present. Your writing becomes an expected part of the group’s rhythm and routine.
Even if you can only spare 20 minutes, you’ll be surprised how many words you can fit in if you’re intentional about that time. During a busy season like this, it’s not about quantity, it’s about consistency. At the very least, maintaining a daily writing habit will keep you ready to get back to work in earnest this January.