Seven Tips on How to Write During the Holidays

             Writing at any time of the year is not a piece of cake. Sure, a lot of people think that writing is so easy that anyone can do it, but the truth of the matter is that writing requires specific skills and training (better pay attention in English class, kids!), a knowledge of the craft itself, an understanding of the nuances of your audience and the market, and a high degree of dedication and perseverance. When I first started writing, back when I was in grade school, I read a suggestion by an accomplished writer: if you want to write a novel, keep writing at least one thousand words a day, and you will get there.

               Of course, at that young age, I thought that was all it took. So I wrote a thousand words a day for many a day, but I didn’t produce any novels, and certainly nothing that other people would want to read. That was fortunate, since I didn’t particularly want others to read my work. I did have a sense of values, after all.

               But now, I do regard myself as a successful author. I have published more than thirty books in the past ten years, and some of them are good enough for people to spend money on them. But over the years, I have noticed an important trend to my writing progress.

               It drops significantly during the holidays. Not just drops…it often results in no progress at all. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of shopping, socializing, watching holiday movies, playing with children or grandchildren, attending parties, cooking, wrapping presents, or just succumbing to distractions that seem too important to ignore.

               So, in order to help budding writers everywhere get through the holiday doldrums, here are seven suggestions that will help you keep writing during the holiday season.

          1.    Set a realistic goal for each day you plan on writing.

               If your normal goal is 1,000 words per day, consider raising it to 1,500 words per day. Raising it too much higher than your normal range might backfire on you.

               Goals direct effort. The purpose of a goal is to give you something to strive for, a means of measuring the unmeasurable. No goal will ever tell you how good your writing is; that is measured by feedback from your readers, fans, and the marketplace. But a writing goal will help inform you whether you are putting out the effort to eventually succeed in what is often described as the loneliest but most rewarding of all jobs.

               Make sure your goals are reasonable, attainable, and worthy of your effort. One technique I use to set goals is to track how much I do write on a daily basis, then set my goal a little higher than my average performance. Every once in a while, I re-evaluate my performance, and re-set the goal accordingly.

             2.     Set time aside for family and holiday activities; at the  same time, set time aside to write.

               You need to have a defined time to write, but you also need to have a defined time for all the activities that will come up during the holiday period. Block out time for these activities. But just as importantly, block out time for your writing activities. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that “I can write when there’s free time.” I don’t know if you’ve discovered this fact of nature yet, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and there is no such thing as free time. Every minute you spend doing one thing is a minute you can’t do something else. Value your time!

            3.     Let family members and friends know that you plan on writing during the holidays. Give them times to contact you that does not interfere with your writing schedule.

               Although writing is a solitary venture, being a writer should not be. You need to get your family involved in your writing efforts. Tell them your goals, tell them how well you met your goals. Get their input on what to do if you don’t achieve your goals. Get them to nag you when you’re not writing.

               Writing is the most conspiratorial legal job in the universe. And conspiracies work best when there are others involved in the conspiracy.

            4.   Try changing the time you normally write to  accommodate holiday scheduled events.

               If you have set up a fixed time to write, but you discover that you’re not as productive as you’d like to be, try changing the time of day you set aside for writing. Experimentation is often necessary to find the right set of circumstances to encourage your productivity. However, don’t fall into the trap of changing your schedule so often you confuse your friends, family…or yourself.

            5.     Set up a system of rewards for meeting your writing  schedule and reaching your targets.

               I am a firm believer in providing rewards for good performance. If your goal is to write 500 words a day for an entire week, and you do just that, then celebrate with something special. Make cookies. Prepare a special meal. Take the family to a movie. Throw yourself and your family a “success” party on the weekend. Be sure to let them know that they are sharing in the reward you have earned. I guarantee that they will continue to support you.

            6.     Don’t use bursts of writing success to interfere with  your holiday plans.

               Sometimes, I experience remarkable bursts of creative energy. I normally write for about four hours a day and proof and edit for another four hours. But sometimes I am really fortunate to write three or four thousand words in one sitting, and I simply don’t want to quit.

               Most of the year, this is a welcome bit of luck. I feel really good about my explosion of creativity. But during the holidays, this can backfire. You start interfering with other scheduled events. You start to lose the support that you’ve built up with your family and friends. Especially during the holidays, follow the advice of Aesop’s fable in the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race. And saves the holiday.

            7.     Don’t use holiday events as an excuse not to write  during your scheduled writing times.

               By the same token, it is way too easy to use holiday events as a reason not to write. Writing, despite what everyone who is not a writer thinks, is hard work. It often requires determination to stare at a blank screen or a poorly constructed sentence and resolve not to leave your chair until you have corrected the sentence or filled the screen with prose.

               The holidays present the best set of excuses to procrastinate and ignore your writing routine. But trust me, you won’t appreciate the holiday event if you’re also fretting about that paragraph you didn’t write, that character you left in the lurch, or that chapter you didn’t finish.

                The holidays are a great time for enjoying friends and family. But they can also be a great time to get some writing done. And enjoying the holiday celebrations can often inspire you to write more inspired stories than you’ve been able to write the rest of the year.

            For those of you who have no interest in writing, perhaps you’d like to read a story instead. Might I suggest one of my new series of Crystal Cove novels, the Ghost on the Stairs.

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