And so it begins. The holidays.
Here in the U.S., Thanksgiving kind of kicks things off with gatherings and feasts and shopping and decorating. Over the weekend, lights blink on in neighborhood yards and Bing Crosby will croon Christmas tunes from the stereo most nights.
It’s hard to know how much writing we can actually produce in the middle of the holidays. Do we write, or take a break?
If we write, how much and how often?
If we take a break, for how long?
Writing and Not Writing on Breaks
During Christmas break, my husband usually arranges for time off work between Christmas and New Year’s Day so he can coordinate with the kids’ break from school. When the children were little, 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. We avoided ambitious plans and stayed low key. We’d sleep in, work on a big puzzle, and watch movies.
But in more recent years, I’ve been known to keep work hours during the holidays, finishing up a long project during the break because the kids sleep in and the house is quiet.
In fact, 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 offer developmental input.
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 Pro 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.
So I’ve done both. I’ve written, and not written during the holidays.
Deciding How to Write in the Middle of the Holidays
When I grapple with how to handle my writing during 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.
And that can change from year to year.
Will I be hosting Thanksgiving for just my immediate family? Will others join us? Or will we be 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 myself or could I write for small stretches when others are sleeping or occupied?
You may have other traditions or events to celebrate with a different set of expectations for participation.
Each writer has to take into account his own personality, traditions, 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, like my client did that one year? 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 even 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, maybe you could 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 writing routine? Given the momentum you may have gained from that discipline, think about how you might continue with that sort of “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 to kickstart a project.
- 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 of her own while you’re gone.
- Stress levels: Your level of stress heading into the holiday season may affect your decision to squeeze in some writing—or not. 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.
- Social needs: Your personality type often impacts social needs, especially if you’re an introvert. So 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 might love to play with your kids so you can write.
- Get a life: Darren Rowse of Problogger offered 20 quick tips on writing great blog posts, and number 14 was…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. You may not have your fingers on the keyboard during that time, but consider the in-person conversation “research” for your next novel or memoir.
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.
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, that kind of thing. You can still have plenty of time to rest and play.
Option 3: You may have more writing time available than normal during a holiday break. 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 particular 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
- All podcast episodes