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Q&A: What Strategies Do You Use to Keep Focused on Writing During the Holiday Season?

By C.V. Lee
October 21, 2022

Since I have taken on the challenge of becoming a serious writer, I have discovered how easy it is to allow outside distractions to pull me away from putting pen to paper, or hands to a keyboard. Before you know it, one day turns into weeks. In the past, I’ve returned to my writing only to discover more than a month has passed since I last typed words into the screen. Yikes!

Now, with the winter rapidly approaching, there are more demands on our time with holiday preparations, parties, travel, and entertaining house guests. As our calendars fill up, it requires more discipline to fit everything into the schedule.

So how do we keep ourselves writing when everything around us is striving to pull our attention elsewhere? Some of our lanterns share their secrets.

Keeping it real.

C.V. Lee gives us a look at how she is able to push forward. “Long ago, I had a personality test done. When the results came back, I was told I am an artistic engineer. Isn’t that an oxymoron? Artists are so free thinking and engineers are so linear, mathematical, and scientific. How does a person even live with that kind of inner conflict? At times, it is a blessing. At others, it’s a curse. Sometimes I am quite disciplined. Others times, not so much. Sometimes I have to let the engineer take over.”

Her strategy includes:

1. Set goals. Whether it is a certain amount of time or a set number of words.

2. Set deadlines. When I have set dates, I can parse out the amount of writing that needs to be done each day. I even have hard deadlines, such as when my manuscript needs to be to my editor. Sometimes it is easier when you know there is another person who will hold me accountable.

3. Be realistic. You may not be able to devote as much time to your writing as during other times of the year. And with the weather turning colder, wouldn’t we all prefer to snuggle up in warm clothes with a hot beverage and a book? So plan accordingly. The important thing is to keep consistent and make progress. If the plan is not realistic, you are much more likely to abandon it. Even if the plan is only fifteen minutes a day, it is better than nothing.

4. Set expectations. If I have guests and they tell me they need to work, I respect that. I can set the same expectations for my guests. If they know I need to write for an hour or more, they can plan around my schedule.

5. Take days off. Like any job, you can take vacation days and holidays. Take them.

6. Be kind to yourself. Things happen. When you cheat on a diet, you are only one meal away from being back on course. The same is true with writing. It’s about choices. Get back on track as quickly as possible.

However, if you decide to take the holiday season off and find you are struggling to get back into the groove of writing again, I suggest a 30-day challenge. Write every single day, even if it is only for ten or fifteen minutes. After the thirty days are up, you should be back in the habit of writing.

 

Writing Through the Holidays… Or Not

Michal Strutin shares her secret. “I loved my job as a research librarian at Santa Clara University, but I was trying to finish my first draft of Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus and getting next to nowhere. Most days, I returned home from the library exhausted. Making dinner was about as much as I could handle. Writing? If I wrote a couple of paragraphs, that was a lot.”

One evening, talking to my son, I whined, “How am I ever going to finish this book? I’m too tired to write at night.”
“Mom,” he said, “You’re an early riser, right?”
“Right.”
“Just get up an hour or more earlier. One page after another. It’ll get done.”
It worked. I went to sleep earlier and woke up earlier: fresh, ready-to-go. Page by page, the novel got done.

Now I have much more time to write, but when events such as holidays start to crowd me, I return to the “wake up an hour early” regimen. Since this emergency write-time occurs before breakfast, it doesn’t even feel like the same day. It’s like “an island in time.”

I also have started regular attendance at Sisters in Crime – NorCal’s dedicated Zoom write-time, the 1 p.m. edition. Many writing groups have regular Zoom writing meet-ups. We mute our audio, but leave our screens on. Some call it surveillance writing. It, too, works.

A fortnight’s worth of major Jewish holidays recently ended. One of the rabbi’s sermons included the term tikkun olam, an ethical concept meaning “repairing the world.” In the same sermon was the concept that we, each of us, is on “a journey of becoming.” I was having trouble with a brief scene in the historical mystery I’m working on. My 16th-century sleuths were on a journey, walking from a city to a port town, talking about how to right a particular wrong. Great timing. Attend a sermon for one good line? Absolutely! Writers: don’t you find you can crib from so many things you find incidentally in daily life. Love it!

If, however, the holidays mean lots of family, friends, and food over several days, you can take unpaid leave. No one’s going to fire you. And you may even pick up some great ideas or dialog for whatever you are writing.

Here’s a post on this subject from the Writers Write website: 9 Reasons Holidays Are Great for Writers.

 

How to strategize during the holidaze.

Anne Beggs, author of Archer’s Grace, gives us some great ideas that work for her.

Writing requires discipline all year. We must schedule time. Many of us fight to carve out time for our need to write. We might plot our lives as carefully as we plot our books. Even if you are a “panster,” like I tend to be, I must organize my time, do my job and chores, and commit myself to sitting and writing when I can.

The Holidaze add even more to our busy lives.

If you have small children and/or a large family, especially a family depending on you to make all the holiday magic happen from October through December, that is a lot of pressure, responsibility, and high expectations to live up to. The holidaze schedule does NOT make any allowance for emergencies, illness, a car in the shop, or faulty appliances. Every year creates more and more distractions and “must dos”. Even for people who do not celebrate the holidaze and wish to escape, much of the western world is wrapped up tight as a foil package with gagging ribbons. How does anyone get anything done?

This simple Q &A is beginning to feel more like life coaching, rather than strategies for writing. Then again, it really is all the same, isn’t it? Every day we must be disciplined to write. Every day we must prioritize our responsibilities and do our best to complete those things, whether we are single or have twelve kids and our aging parents under our roof. We must carve out time for ourselves, even it is only minutes here and there. Like our characters in our books, we must face our challenges and navigate our way through.

There has never been more pressure from so many sources telling us what we must do to enjoy the holiday: What is required for joy?

It just happens I have written a short story, The Dragon Lord, (part of the Unlocked Anthology by Paper Lantern Writers). It revolves around winter solstice. My protagonist, Eloise, has great expectations for the ancient celebration and the longest night of the year. The glory of unusual snow treats her, and she longs to ride in the beauty. Many of her aspirations and hopes are dashed by life’s “lifey” moments. She wanted so much for so many. What compromise, what sacrifice will she be called upon to make?

But back to strategies for writing –

1) Be good to yourself – whatever self-care you require to endure. That often means writing.

2) Just say “No”. Hard as it may be for some of us.

3) Consider all the holiday hoopla as research. Take notes. If you hate holidays, then view this as an antagonist and study the villain.

4) Edit your life and holidays as you do your writing – you may have to kill some darlings – at least this season.

5) Maybe you can’t have it all, but you may find you have more.

Here are some additional articles if you need further strategies and motivation: 10 Tips to Keep Writing Through the Holidays, 4 Tips to Boost Writing Productivity this Holiday Season, and 10 Ways to Maintain a Writing Routine During the Holidays

May you find the strength to prevail. You are a writer.

C.V. Lee

Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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