Distracted Writer: 6 Ways to Conquer a Holiday Break

Turkey on the Laptop
Oh, sorry. Am I interrupting you?

I’m writing this on a chilly Georgia morning, the Monday before Thanksgiving, with my peppermint mocha coffee in hand. Like many of my American counterparts, my kids are off school this week and we are gearing up for family and turkey and major indigestion.

I have a deadline next week, which is why my kids are enjoying day camp with their friends today and this post will be pretty short! But it got me thinking about how a holiday week can impact those of us who write — either for a living, or for a hobby we hope will one day be a living. Sometimes it’s a boon: extra time away from the day job or perhaps a chance to hammer out a few words on an airplane or in the passenger seat next to a very understanding spouse. Other times, all the family time and change in schedule can really snap us out of our routine.

In either case, here are some suggestions about how to make the most of your holiday to keep your writing on track:

  1. Write. Okay, I know this seems obvious, but if you can manage it, a holiday break can be a great time to squeeze in some extra words. Maybe it means getting up super early before the rest of your family to write, an/or taking full advantage of the post-turkey nap time. Maybe you’re just balancing your laptop on the counter while the turkey is roasting and everyone else is watching football. Maybe you offer to drive for the Black Friday shopping, and then sit in your car writing while your spouse wades into the shopping madness.
    If you have a daily writing habit (especially if you’re still plugging away at #NaNoWriMo), try to stick to it as much as you can over the holidays, even if the distractions make it challenging. Go with quantity over quality when your schedule is a challenge – staying in touch with the words is the most important thing. If you don’t have a daily writing habit, the break can be a good time to try one on for size, and a great excuse to sneak away from some of the family drama. Go ahead, you have my permission!
  2. Read, read, read. It’s true what they say that reading constantly is an important part of writing, and a book can sometimes fit into a holiday situation where a laptop isn’t convenient (e.g., under the table while your uncles are fighting about who knows better how to carve a turkey).
    A holiday break is a great time to try something totally new — read in a different genre, pick up a classic you’ve only been pretending that you’ve read on online quizzes, or choose a craft book to improve your writing.
    For craft, I recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Ursula K. LaGuin’s Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story or the perennial favorite On Writing by Stephen King.*
  3. Listen to a podcast. If you have a long drive or flight on the docket for this holiday, consider downloading a few episodes of a writing or publishing podcast to keep you aurally entertained (I almost wrote “aurally satisfied,” but that’s a bit much, even for me). Here’s a great list to choose from.
    Writing Excuses has long been one of my favorites. It’s fast paced and funny and comes in short episodes (15-20 minutes each) so you can disconnect easily whenever you need and not have to worry about losing your place.  Start at the beginning of Season 10 and download several episodes at a time.
  4. Talk to your family. What? Why? I’m becoming a writer so I can interact less with other humans! Well, of course, silly. I mean, talk to them about your writing.
    Seriously, if you have a book on the market, or you’re submitting to agents/editors, be ready to answer questions about it at holiday gatherings with cheerful modesty. Distant family or friends who haven’t been in the trenches with you during the process of writing are also a great opportunity to practice and refine your elevator pitch. I don’t mean you should walk around handing out business cards at the holiday cocktail hour (please, please don’t). But when Aunt Selma says, “I heard you wrote a book! What is it about?” you should be ready to answer her, succinctly. If she asks for more information, great. If not, be a dear and pass the sweet potatoes.
  5. Talk to your family, pre-published version. Maybe you don’t have a book coming out or in its final stages. Maybe you don’t have a book yet at all, but you’re just trying to figure out if this writing thing is something you want to pursue. Take the opportunity of having everyone together in one place to let your family know that writing is something you want to seriously explore. This is a tough gig — no matter how you slice it, and/or whether you stuff or dress it. If you want to get serious about being a writer, you’ll need full support from close friends and family: to give you time and space to write, to cheer you on when things are tough, to take you down a notch when things are going well and you’re becoming insufferable. The holidays are as good a time as any to express your love and gratitude to your people, and to let them know what they can do to support your writing career.
  6. RELAX. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves (and our writing) is to acknowledge that we need a break. So, yeah. You can follow my advice about squeezing in writing and keeping your eye on the ball. OR, if you’re happy with how your writing has been going, you don’t have deadlines, and/or you just know that need a break, take it. You’ve earned it. We only get one wild, wacky ride on this whole Life thing. Enjoy yours. Spend time with the people you love. Go for a walk amongst the fall leaves/December snow/sandy beach. Let your brain turn off, and know that all the ideas and rules and words will be there when you get back.

Happy Holidays!
MJ Signature
* PS – This may be a separate post for another day, but please note that while I strongly recommend all three of these books for their philosophies of writing and craft, I also suggest that any writer getting her start in today’s market take with a ginormous grain of salt any business- or publishing- related advice from long-established authors. They are geniuses, all three of them. But learning the business end of writing from someone whose success was fully established before 2010, is like taking city driving lessons from an 18th Century stagecoach driver. Many of the rules and realities that applied to their publishing journey are simply no longer in effect. They are still worth the read, though!

PPS – Want to get an update every time I post a writing-related blog? Simply visit mjpullen.com/newsletter/ and click “I’m a… Writer” and/or “Send me… Writing Tips.”

MJ Pullen

M.J. Pullen is a distracted writer and the mom of two boys in Roswell, Georgia, where she is absolutely late for something important right now. Her books include quirky romantic comedies and playful women's fiction. She blogs erratically with writing advice, random observations, and reflections on raising very loud kids and dogs. Join her Distracted Readers newsletter list for updates, free content, giveaways and more.

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