Thursday, December 1, 2011

Do You Write During the Holidays?

I didn't used to keep a calendar or weekly schedule as regularly as I do now, except for the period between Thanksgiving and December 24th. When my kids were young, cleaning up after the Thanksgiving turkey feast was always accompanied by digging out a calendar on which I'd plot out the entire forthcoming four weeks. Those weeks of course contained the kids' school concerts and Christmas pageants and accompanying prep. (One of the more interesting projects involved scribbling on a wicker basket with markers for a costume accessory. Well, at least I didn't have to figure out how to clothe a shepherd.) Those weeks contained what I considered the requisite number of cookie- and candy-making sessions, each assigned a time slot to be sure they'd all fit. And need I mention tree-buying and trimming, decorating, and shopping, none of which could be done in my jammies in front of a screen in those days? And the parties and gatherings held in the workplace, the church, at family members' homes. By the time my calendar was completed, every morning, afternoon, and evening was filled. But were any of them filled with writing? Not so much.

I'm not much for a packed schedule; never have been. I am a writer, a reader, a contemplator, and a pray-er, and you can't do any of that when every minute, or even just every half-day, is jammed with activity. So, one year, I said to myself, "I am no longer willing to give up writing for the month of December. I mean, actual employed people actually work during December, don't they? So shall I."

But I had to make room in the schedule, and I actually found that pretty easy. What went out the window? The cookie-baking! I'm still good for a couple of batches of fudge and some chocolate-covered caramels, but I love making those, and I do it when a desire to putz quietly in the kitchen comes over me. I've also streamlined the shopping and simplified the decorating, but the big difference came with dumping the cookie-baking, which was more a chore than anything else. I guess the bottom line is that I do only the prep I enjoy doing for itself.

And I write during December. Yeah, it probably helped that I was on deadline when I made the "I will write in December" vow. But my new, good habits lasted, and I enjoy the entire holiday season more now.

Of course, it's not only Thanksgiving through New Year's that can derail one's writing. Summer is another time that can speed by with little to show for it, literarily speaking. Do you have periods during the year when your writing gets crowded out? Have you found a solution? Care to share?

30 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I don't write over christmas week b/c I'm away. Summer is actually the hardest b/c the kids are home and family comes to visit, so by the end of the day, I'm exhausted! I try to use that time to let my wip sit and I read.

Vijaya said...

Wow -- you are organized! We always have a family calendar where all the activities go in and for us fall and spring are busiest with sports. We take a break in the winter and I love being at home with the kids. I've never been big on all the Christmas extras having grown up poor, but I love baking breads and cookies with my kids for us and as gifts. Shoppping is minimal and although I slow down with the writing during holidays, I began writing when the kids were toddlers, so have always managed to do some writing with them. I work on short projects mainly.

cleemckenzie said...

Sometimes I have to give myself permission to think about something other than writing--especially when I start tucking WRITING around baking cookies or going with friends to gatherings instead of tucking those cookies and gatherings around my WRITING. Does that make sense? :You can tell the holidays have started at my house when my words come down to the page, but aren't expressing what's in my head.

On to the cookie bake!

Ann Herrick said...

I sort of follow the school calendar (except that I do write during the summer). I feel it's less stressful that way, and recharges my writing batteries.

Marcia said...

Laura -- I also do related writing things when I can't write, such as reading novels or craft books, or visiting blogs or websites that don't get visited often enough. It's great if we can schedule needed "WIP cooling" for those times.

Vijaya -- I think organization is relative. I can't say I'm NOT organized, but just today I saw a blog post that would put me to shame. Our Christmas is pretty stripped down. For example, I only send about 8 cards. I store-shop twice and online shop once, and that's it. I wrote with small kids, too, though it really helped when the youngest got into preschool. I got to write during the DAY then!

Lee -- I guess I balance better than I multitask. I need to tuck the extras around my writing, too, but not try to be simultaneous with them. Although two things -- walking and showers -- are good for working out plot knots!

Marcia said...

Ann -- Hi, we cross-posted! I think that following the school calendar can make a lot of sense. We may not have that same freedom with a day job or other activities, but with writing we do!

Anne M Leone said...

I love how you were able to resort your priorities to make time for something that was important to you.

I'm a bit all over the place writing during the holidays. I'm usually traveling and staying with family, so I don't write as much, and some days I don't write at all. But I've found that the occasional hour here and there, in the early morning struggling with jet lag, or late at night when my parents have gone to bed, it's so refreshing to lose myself in my work for a bit. It's a good break for me, and a reminder that writing can be fun. But of course, not so helpful on deadline!

J.A. Palermo said...

Marcia - that is such a good point about people with day jobs continuing to work during December.

I sometimes need to remind myself that it's okay to save my errands and other stuff for after dinner and write during the day when I'm more energized. After all, I used to do it that way when I worked full-time!

Mirka Breen said...

My writing-holidays are not ‘the Holidays.’ But if the kids are bouncing about, writing has to wait. Thus, writing-breaks and major holidays often overlap.

Miranda "Sibo" Paul said...

I find that I get more writing time in around the holidays, actually! No classes to teach or sub for, and since all of my inlaws live abroad, we don't have the four-family rush of Christmases that all of our friends seem to have.

I will definitely be writing from now through New Year's!

Faith E. Hough said...

I had to give up cookies, too! They were definitely getting in the way of writing--not to mention the peaceful preparation that should be at the heart of Advent and Christmas.
I hope your writing goes very well and that your Advent is full of blessings and peace!

Mary Witzl said...

In the past, I've written right up through the third week of December, quite shamelessly. I'm so busy at work now that I have had to do some serious thinking about how to make more writing time, especially now that it's the holiday season. I find it so frustrating when relatively unimportant things conspire to take me away from writing, but the busier I've gotten, the better I've gotten at using my writing time wisely.

The only cookies I'm going to do this year are gingerbread men, oatmeal cranberry cookies, and snowballs. And I have every intention of brow-beating some kids into washing up.

annebingham said...

I both dread and relish the Christmas season. We still have traditions my two grown sons enjoy and I love being in the middle of them, but if I let myself think ahead of time about all the work involved (setting up the manger scene, putting up the needlepoint stockings, buying/transporting/setting up/watering/taking down/cleaning up after the Christmas tree, I would have a meltdown.

Sigh. This morning I went looking for a pre-lit artificial tree that was advertised at the neighborhood hardware store, but the minute I saw it, I knew it wouldn't fly in our house. Not big enough, no colored lights.

Back to Home Depot for a Fraser fir for one more year!

annebingham said...

I both dread and relish the Christmas season. We still have traditions my two grown sons enjoy and I love being in the middle of them, but if I let myself think ahead of time about all the work involved (setting up the manger scene, putting up the needlepoint stockings, buying/transporting/setting up/watering/taking down/cleaning up after the Christmas tree, I would have a meltdown.

Sigh. This morning I went looking for a pre-lit artificial tree that was advertised at the neighborhood hardware store, but the minute I saw it, I knew it wouldn't fly in our house. Not big enough, no colored lights.

Back to Home Depot for a Fraser fir for one more year!

Andrea Mack said...

One of the reasons I'm looking forward to the Christmas holidays is because I hope to have more time to write. I'll have a break from teaching, and I won't be driving my kids a zillion places (or maybe I will, but there will be less pressure). I do go away for a few days to my Mom's but then she does the cooking (yay!).

Kelly Hashway said...

This is strange but I just noticed GFC said I wasn't following you. I know I was. Google keeps dropping me from blogs I follow. Very frustrating. Well, I'm following again now. I hope it sticks!

Okay, I always write during holidays. I feel incomplete if I don't write. I think it's because to me it's not just a job. It's something I love to do.

Bish Denham said...

Being without kids I can write whenever/wherever I want. But I'm terribly lazy!

Anna Staniszewski said...

It's odd, but I find the busier I get, the more writing I do. Not sure why that is! But you're right that certain things need to slide if you're going to make writing a priority.

Medeia Sharif said...

I find the best time to write is during holidays. I see it as my catch-up time.

It's good to find a balance and make priorities. I sometimes cancel activities to create writing time.

Marcia said...

Anne -- In general, I like bigger chunks rather than small periods here and there, but I've also found that grabbing an hour or so when you didn't think you could is like a lifeline to the story and really makes me feel good.

Judy -- That's just what I do -- schedule stuff like that for evenings. Mostly, it works!

Mirka -- Yeah, "bouncing about" isn't very conducive to writing. And they're only young once...

Miranda -- I would imagine that Christmas break helps teachers, although that does mean kids at home. Glad this time works for you!

Faith -- Yeah, the cookies were the proverbial last straw. Take them out, and suddenly the rest was very manageable. Prep is fine, frenzy/dread is not!

Mary -- I know, the tyranny of the urgent sometimes has to happen in every life, even when we usually control it. I think lots of writers have found that busier is sometimes better for production. Oooh, gingerbread men! Those are my favorites.

Anne -- Yup, I've known that combo of dread and relish too. We also get a real tree. Enjoy that fir!

Andrea -- That sounds perfect!

Kelly -- Thanks for following. There was a period where Blogger didn't let me comment on some blogs. And at first Twitter seemed to unfollow me from people. So I know what you mean. I too feel far more complete when I'm writing.

Bish -- Just goes to show that there are pros and cons to everything, doesn't it? Even when we choose our own schedules.

Anna -- Yes, there's a balance there somewhere. If you really want to write, some things have to give. Yet plenty of writers have said that they get more done if they have other responsibilities.

Medeia -- Ah, you're also a teacher, right? The holidays must be a nice little oasis for you. :)

Kelly Polark said...

I find that the mid November to end of December schedule makes it very hard to write. This month, I'm going to try to just write a few poems and get back to my mg manuscript in January.
I just don't want writing to feel like a chore because I enjoy it so much!

inluvwithwords said...

Oh, I definitely write through the holidays. It's sometimes my most favorite part of the day, so I just can't give it up. I have learned to streamline the schedule as well. But it helps that my daughters are old enough to do many of the things I used to do. They have taken over the cookie baking in my house, as well as taking their little nieces and nephews to tree lightings and parades.

Joanne said...

I definitely write through December. I keep a yearlong journal filled with weekly to-do writing lists. And those lists get written right through December. It helps to have that visual, to see on the page what must get done. I do take downtime during the year, but it's usually scheduled blog hiatuses, vacations, that sort of thing. Otherwise, I write on ...

Marcia said...

Kelly -- I too think that shorter things, and also nonfiction, are easier to write when your time or attention is broken up.

inluv -- Your daughters bake the cookies! I love it!

Joanne -- I like your system. I keep a weekly schedule also, although the writing time is designated as "write" rather than borken down more specificslly, which would require a second, more targeted schedule. Great tip!

Marcia said...

Good heavens, that's "broken down more specifically." :)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

It's definitely a tough time of year for me to be productive--so much Christmas stuff to do, and then guests arrive for a week. Still, I do what I can to keep writing and reading. I go through withdrawal otherwise. ; )

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I need to make a sign for myself saying "I will write in December."

Marcia you won my English goodie bag give away. Please email me your address. :D

Sharon k mayhew at gmail dot com

Jemi Fraser said...

I don't have a schedule like that (which is super impressive, btw!!), but I do try to squeeze in the writing! :)

Susan Fields said...

I usually go on blog breaks when my kids are on school vacations, and those usually coincide with the busy times, like Christmas, so that helps. I think online shopping is another big help. I've also cut back on cookies, but we still make a batch of Christmas sugar cookies and a batch of Snickerdoodles every December. When my kids were younger, one of them wrote to Santa and asked what his favorite cookie is. His answer: Snickerdoodles! So we have to have Snickerdoodles to leave out for Santa every Christmas Eve.

Marcia said...

Cynthia -- I have to second the withdrawal symptoms. Life just works better when I write, busy or not.

Sharon -- Thanks again!

Jemi -- If squeezing it in works, that's great!

Susan -- Yes, online shopping is another huge help. I've really noticed that this year and last, especially. It's sweet how snickerdoodles have become a family tradition for you.