Surviving the 2020 Holidays by Writing

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It’s been a weird year, but the holidays just highlight the confusion. It’s time for gathering, family, and generosity. But gathering with your family isn’t generous or thoughtful this year. Major holiday attractions are not opening this December, rushing out to major sales days invites unexpected consequences, and everyone’s trying to figure out how to celebrate when their emotional, mental, and financial lives are less than healthy.

Add writing to the mess, and – well – it’s hard to say if creating stories right now is encouraging or defeating. It may be more important than ever to hold onto the habit, though, in one form or another. Even if you just journal your way through the holiday season, write a fanfic, or send long letters to friends and family, here are a few ways writing can keep you sane (or at least process some of the madness).

Holding Something Real

In the beginning, we baked sourdough and tried to crochet. Then we grew plants. We set records for mass pet adoptions. All these activities have one thing in common: they gave us a tangible goal, and no matter how our efforts turned out, we had something to show for them at the end.

Writing is a mental exercise with physical results. You can print out a book, and even if you just stick computer paper in a three-ring binder, you can look at the mass of words and know you stuck each tricky little phrase to the page. Even an unfathomably long Word document is a demonstrable result of hard work.

This year dragged on forever and disappeared in a blink because we had so few benchmarks to refer back to. When was your coworker’s birthday? Can’t remember? Well, it wasn’t like there was cake in the office. You may not have even been in the office. You can’t reflect on cookouts, trips to the amusement park, vacation, or even a big family dinner because those things didn’t happen. It makes the year feel even more like a bad dream.

But written stories and questionably-baked loaves of sourdough are physical testaments to our existence over the past year, and while hopefully that sourdough is long gone, your written work will stay with you.

Power of Escapism

Escapism has a bad reputation for no good reason. Just because some of us eat too many fries doesn’t mean the potato is evil, and escapism is a much healthier alternative to fast food. It may be so healthy it’s even on par with broccoli.

Stories that swallow you up in exchange for some secondhand fantasies offer a space to process emotions. They are an escape from the real world that we all need from time to time, and writers slip deeper into stories than anyone else. It’s a second life, and it’s entirely yours to control.

Don’t worry about writing something that reflects the dark times we’ve lived. Meaningful things often grow where we aren’t looking, anyway. Just have fun, do the thing on the page that you can’t do in reality and embrace the power of escapism. Some people might just need to escape by reading the finished novel, too.

Unfinished Gifts

The biggest thing my family worries about during the holiday is finishing things. Finishing the cookies, the tree, the traditions, the gift list, etc. Writing doesn’t belong on that list. Try not to finish anything in December. If you’re near the end of a draft, you can say you’ve “finished” that draft, but don’t try to complete final edits or push to write an entire novella. Give yourself the gift of “in-progress.” Be with it. Work on it. Don’t worry about finishing.

How can writing help you survive the holidays this year? It’s a great time to bring back old traditions, like letter writing, and an even better time to make the “I’m busy writing” excuse to dodge the office party. Relax, escape, and don’t worry about endings.

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