Friday, 3 December 2010

Making Time to Write During the Holidays

When we think about the holidays, it's usually the time around Christmas. But really, and especially in America, it's the last three months of the year. Halloween begins with kids wanting the perfect costume for school events, and maybe a different costume for trick or treating with their friends. And while we might have a short lull before Thanksgiving, we're still consciously thinking about all the dishes needing preparation before the big day. Never mind the decorating!

Come Black Friday — that day after Thanksgiving Day when we all realize there's just four weeks until Christmas — utter panic sets in. We have to shop for gifts, post holiday cards, put up decorations, make sure the dinner invites have been sent, and we can't forget to order The Bird, shop for food, then start cooking.

There's no time to sit on our laurels, as the after-Christmas sales start on the 26th. Then comes New Years Eve and Day — another day of too much food and drink, and if you like to go out that night, add in all-night dancing.

By January, once all the holiday excitement has passed, we're left wondering why our current work in progress is still on the same page where we left it before the holidays. I won't even mention NaNoWriMo — the November month long writing burst to write a novel in a month. Anyone who can complete that in the middle of the holidays is a saint in my eyes! But for the rest of us who just want to get in some writing when we have time, how do we make the time?

It's called DELEGATION. A lot of writers are control freaks. If we weren't, we wouldn't love creating characters and new worlds where WE controlled everything. We can write tales of men who listen to us when we talk and really understand what's in our hearts. We can write tales of children who keep their rooms tidy and get good grades. We can write about dogs with incredible intelligence, cars that drive themselves, and anything else that allows us to exhibit our controlling nature.

In reality, control isn't so easy. The pressure of the holidays can really weigh us down. As control freaks, we want to do everything so the end result is exactly how we want it. We're afraid if we let someone else do something that it won't be perfect. But what's perfect anyway? Is perfection 'our way'? As in, it won't be perfect unless *I* do it?

Get over it. The holidays are about being together with family and friends, not how much food you've made, how many decorations you've put up, how many people you got around your table...

Delegation is the only way to survive the holidays.

If you have kids, give them chores. My husband's family did that, and their holidays, while pressured, created many happy memories. There are four siblings, and when they all lived at home, they each had a chore. My husband's was to ferry the grandparents between their homes to his home for the big day. His brother's chore was to help clear up after dinner. Of the two sisters, one was to decorate the tree, and the other set the table. Four really important jobs that mother would have had to do without the help. The father's job? Stay out of mother's way! Seriously, he did most of the job-jobs, such as pulling the tree out of the attic and setting it up, making sure there were enough chairs brought down from spare rooms upstairs for everyone to sit on, fixing the odd things that are bound to break just when you need them, or even run to the shops for something forgotten on a shopping list. All that was left to do was the cooking — mother's domain.

When I came into the household I'd come from a family who, to some extent, all chipped in with cooking duties. After asking if there was anything I could do to help, my mother-in-law laughed and said, "Yes, you can get out of my kitchen." And it's been that way ever since. However, my 'job' soon became to supply the 'afters'... dessert.

For my first Christmas in Ireland I brought with me three pies — deep dish apple, pecan and pumpkin. Apple tarts and pies are a staple on most dessert menus all over the country, so mine was nothing new. The pecan was intriguing though, but it was the pumpkin pie that's been the one demanded every year. Forget that pumpkin puree is almost impossible to get in Ireland and I import it via wonderful family members. But it's nice that I have something to contribute to the day that makes my mother-in-law's cooking job lighter.

By everyone chipping in, it makes the control freaks . . . I mean the cooks . . . job easier. By allowing people to help with holiday preparation you shold find some spare time to get in some writing.

And if it doesn't, you can always get devious! This takes a little prep, too, but the results will be rewarding. The essential thing to remember is that you must have either a pad of paper and pencil, a recording device, or a small laptop which is easily concealable.

1) First, hide your evaporated milk in the back of the cupboard, and under the pretense of going to the supermarket, head out with your purse (with your essential writing aids, as above) to the local coffee shop. You're not stopping longer then to grab a cup. If you stay in the shop you run the risk of running into someone you know and will lose your time talking rather than writing. So, take yourself somewhere scenic and quiet. And write. Give yourself a time limit. It can be anything from 30 minutes to an hour. Remember, you only went to the supermarket.

2) If your family is savvy to this antic, take frequent potty breaks. It's an unwritten rule in our house that when you're in the bathroom, people leave you alone. There's almost nothing worse than someone trying to carry on a conversation with you through the door. They might as well be in there with you, right? And who can do their business with someone watching! Take a pad of paper and a pencil with you. If you have to, stuff it in the middle of a magazine and tell your family you'll be a while. Hey, we all read in the bathroom. There's no use denying it. Swap reading time for writing time.

3) Take a bath. We all need 'down time' from the holidays or when we're stressed. A bath is always relaxing. You can use this personal time for plotting. Have a pad of paper nearby you can jot down a few notes.

4) Can't get peace in the bathroom? Go for a walk. Use a tape recorder or the recording option on your cell phone and do some plotting. Or if you prefer, keep a pocket-size notebook in your jacket with a pencil. Use a retractable pencil so you don't mark up the fabric.

5) There's always the option to get up earlier in the morning, when the rest of the house is still sleeping, or stay up a little later. I'm not a morning person, but for people who are, an extra half hour in the morning could be just the thing you need. Or if you're a night owl, the nighttime peace and quiet could be your Rx.

6) Alternatively, schedule your day. Set aside a block of time and tell your family you're going to write, and unless someone is bleeding or unconscious, you don't want to be disturbed for that block of time. Put and 'out of order' sign on the door, close it behind you, and flip on your computer. Watch the clock though, because your family will be, too.

And frankly, taking chunks of time off, especially around Christmas, is wholly acceptable, so don't feel guilty if you decide to do this. January isn't too far off and I have no doubt that all the ideas and notes you may have had or made will flow out so quickly it will give you the energy you need to let the words fly through your fingers. I love it when that happens. It's as if my characters have taken over and are channeling their stories through my hands.

The main thing is to not let trying to find writing time stress you out, too. Whatever you do to make time to write, have fun with it.

Happy holidays!!

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