Most years, my husband has arranged for time off work during the holidays, taking PTO between Christmas and New Year’s so he can coordinate with the kids’ break from school. When the children were little, we avoided ambitious plans and stayed low key. We’d sleep in and play Christmas music, work on a big puzzle and watch movies. Throughout a day, we’d drift in and out of different rooms to shift from spending some time alone to coming together again for meals and games. I’d keep work hours to a minimum or put my writing and editing on pause during that time, to rest and focus on family.
But in more recent years, I’ve been known to keep work hours during the holidays, finishing up a long project during the break while the kids sleep in and the house is quiet. One year we decided to travel to visit family during that break. We left town the day after Christmas, and on the long drive south I spent hours poring over a client’s book manuscript to provide recommendations at the developmental level. I remember phoning my client about the project, chatting about various chapters while looking out the windshield of our RV, wipers swishing away the rain. After days of balancing my Macbook on my lap, making notes and recommendations, shooting emails back and forth, reviewing changes, and finalizing chapters, the author and I celebrated. We met the deadline.
Deciding How to Write in the Middle of the Holidays
When I grapple with how to write in the middle of the holidays—or when I consider totally unplugging—I think through my family’s expectations and needs as well as my deadlines and work responsibilities in light of the overall plans. Will we be hosting Thanksgiving for just my immediate family? Will others join us? Or were we invited to someone else’s house for the day? During Christmas break, have the kids made a lot of plans with friends, or will they be relaxing at home? Do I feel a more urgent need to take a significant break or could I write for small stretches when others are sleeping or occupied?
Each writer has to take into account his own personality, traditions, expectations, and obligations when deciding how much to work, or whether to work at all during the holidays.
- Deadlines: Consider your writing deadlines. Do you have something due before the end of the year or in early January? You might have to squeeze in a few minutes most days or a chunk of time on a couple of days. If you’re flexible, however, without any hard deadlines, you might have the option of a longer break.
- Work feels like play: For a lot of writers, projects feel less like work and more like play. If that’s you, taking time to write in the middle of the holidays may not feel like work; instead, your writing may offer a healthy mental and emotional break.
- Non-writing activities: What kinds of non-writing tasks related to your writing could you tackle? While everyone else is watching football, could you grab a notebook and brainstorm ideas for an upcoming assignment or generate an outline? What about creating a detailed to-do list, breaking a major project into smaller actionable steps? Could that be done in the midst of holidays, without distracting you too much or disrupting the fun?
- Routines: Have you established a rut to run in, a writing routine? Given the momentum you may have gained from that discipline, think about how you might continue with that “automation” during the holidays, as well as how you might deal with the consequences of suspending it.
- A break from full-time work: Do you write in addition to a full-time job? You might use some of your vacation to write, taking advantage of time off your primary work.
- The host versus the guest: How responsible are you for hosting or contributing to various events over the holidays? If you’re the main cook for the Thanksgiving meal or the mastermind behind Christmas traditions, you may have to limit the time you slip away to write. If you’re a guest for a few days, you might wake up earlier or stay up later than others, or find a little place to retreat to for a 30-minute break, so you can stay on track with word count goals. The host might even appreciate a little break while you’re gone.
- Stress levels: Your level of stress heading into the holiday season may affect your decision to squeeze in some writing—you may need an extended break to regain energy and vision even if you technically have free time when you could pull out your laptop and work on a project.
- Upholder personality type: Gretchen Rubin is a self-described “Upholder,” a personality tendency that easily accepts rules and meets expectations, whether from the inside or outside. During Gretchen’s first year at Yale Law School, she learned she would have to write two big papers throughout her three years of study. So Gretchen decided to stay at school for Thanksgiving break that first year instead of coming home so she could write one of the papers. Because she did the work over the holiday break, she was able to submit that paper to the law journal. It was accepted, and she attributes her later success of becoming editor-in-chief of The Yale Law Journal to having the paper done early her first year. This “upholder” personality type may need to commit time to a project if they have an external deadline or they’ve made an internal decision to complete it on a certain schedule. Each personality tendency may have to think through how they’ll approach the holiday schedule (or lack of one).
- Social needs: Your personality type often impacts social needs, especially if you’re an introvert. If you need to escape big gatherings for a short time, you may want a reason to take a break, and hiding out in the basement or a nearby coffee shop for an hour to write is a perfect excuse. On the other hand, whether you’re an introvert or not, if you’ve been waiting all year to see extended family, you may want and need to set everything aside to make the most of time together.
- Built-in babysitters: Sometimes a writer-mom or writer-dad with young children can escape to write for a few hours during the holiday break because more babysitters are available (extended family, visiting friends, teenagers on break from school).
- Get a life: Darren Rowse of Problogger offers 20 quick tips on writing great blog posts, and number 14 is…Get a life! Maybe during the holidays, you’ll decide to step away from the keyboard and gain some real life interaction, create some memories, and collect material to write about simply by living a little.
- Setting apart the holidays: The word “holiday” finds its word origins in “holy day,” and holy days were set-apart days, intended to focus people on something bigger than their work, for a day if not for an entire season. Advent, for example, extends the Christmas experience to include weeks of anticipation with various rituals and readings. People who embrace the idea of holy days may prefer to suspend their writing or find a writing focus related to the topics and themes of that celebration. For example, you might process your experiences in a journal and share insights in an article or blog.
Once you’ve thought through your situation for this particular year, you’ve got three major options, with plenty of variation within them:
Option 1: Stop everything. Put the writing away. Press pause. Take a break. Get outside, play with the kids, rest. Psychologist Francine Lederer says, “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound…Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”
Option 2: Modify your existing writing plan to accommodate your situation, lowering word count goals or adapting your normal two-hour writing time to 30 minutes. You can still have plenty of time to rest and play.
Option 3: You may have more time than normal during a holiday break and can get even more writing done than you would if you were at home. If so, take advantage of this opportunity and knock out more than you would during your everyday obligations and distractions.
Decide and Plan
Will you write—or not write—in the middle of the holidays? Or will you do a little of both?
Take time now to decide what option will work best for your holiday season, prioritizing what you feel is most important this time of year. Then decide and plan ahead what your writing will look like, knowing you’ll face some schedule surprises along the way.
Regardless how much or how little you write during the holidays, make sure you find some time to enjoy yourself. Have some fun. It’ll make life—and your writing—richer.
Write in the Middle Series:
- Write in the Middle: How to Write in the Midst of Motherhood
- Write in the Middle of Everyday Distractions: 7 Strategies for Getting Back on Track
- Write in the Middle: Yes, You Can Maximize Distraction-Free Writing
- Write in the Middle of Chaos
- Stuck in the Middle (podcast)
- Write in the Middle of Traveling
- Rest: A Gift from the Sea
- Podcast Episode #12: Rest and Productivity
- Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime
- The Case for Vacation: Why Science Says Breaks are Good for Productivity
Is your writing life all it can be?
Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.
“A genial marriage of practice and theory. For writers new and seasoned. This book is a winner.”
—Phil Gulley, author of Front Porch Tales