10 Ways to Maintain a Writing Routine During the Holidays

Filed in The Writing Life by on December 30, 2014 • views: 2054

write holidaysWe’re knee-deep in holiday season this week.
Are you still getting your writing done?

It’s probably one of the most difficult times of the year to stick with a daily writing practice. Most of our routines are completely upended, and routine is the writer’s friend when it comes to getting in a daily number of words.

“One thing every writer knows,” says New York University Professor Marilyn Horowitz, “is that, while we may love the holidays, they often interfere with our writing schedule.”

I have a few things that help keep me moving forward despite all the changes that occur during the holidays. If you have others, please share!

Family/Vacation Time Pushes Writing Aside

At the end of December, I usually spend about two weeks with family in Colorado. Everything about those two weeks runs counter to my usual writing routine. During the rest of the year, I work on my fiction projects first thing in the morning, before doing anything else. During the two holiday weeks, however, that becomes increasingly more difficult.

As the house fills up with siblings and their families visiting from various locations across the country, the morning tradition is to have breakfast together. For the first few days, I do just fine getting up early enough to write before breakfast happens, but as the days wear on, we tend to stay up later and later visiting, and it gets harder and harder to roll out of bed early the next morning. Trying to write once things get going in the day is near impossible.

In fact, the whole atmosphere of relaxation, good food, and visiting is not easily conducive to going off by myself to focus on a blank screen for an hour. On the days I do succeed, I’m likely to have a family member come in to chat right in the middle of it, which can throw off the whole rhythm of where I was going, leaving me starting over again once the conversation is through.

10 Ways to Keep Writing During the Holidays

Some writers can make it through a couple weeks without writing and feel no effects. I’m not one of them. Whatever project I’m working on, I always do much better if I keep at it on a regular basis. Otherwise, the next time I open the file, I feel like I’m starting over again.

Of course I enjoy spending time with family, too, and certainly don’t want to miss any opportunities to share when our time together is so limited. Here are some tactics that help me manage both.

  1. Write first thing in the morning. I find this, by far, is the best way to get in some writing no matter where you are. That time before everyone else is out of bed is the time when we’re most likely to be able to work undisturbed.
  2. Find a new writing place. When we’re not in our own homes, it can be more difficult to find a place where we can really relax and sink into that other world. If we don’t have a “writing corner,” it’s also easier to avoid writing. Make it a point each time you’re in a new place to find a spot you can call your own. It may be yours for only thirty minutes, but that’s enough.
  3. Plan the day before. After a few days of visiting, if you find yourself dragging (little sleep, frequent awakenings), you are probably less likely to get up early the next day. Look over your agenda and make plans to write at a different time. Setting your intention the day before makes it easier to follow through.
  4. Stay flexible. We’re likely to have more interruptions during the holidays. It’s hard to get away from them, so it’s important to remain flexible. If the morning writing doesn’t work, maybe you can fit in a few minutes in the afternoon, or even at night after everyone’s gone to bed. If your intention to write for an hour is interrupted after thirty minutes, try to fit in the other thirty minutes later on.
  5. Let up on your expectations. I’d love to get more done over the holidays—especially because I have some rare time off my freelance work—but I know that I’m likely to be doing good just to keep some semblance of a writing routine going. Lowering my expectations helps me avoid frustration and continue making some progress.
  6. Refuse to feel guilty. This one can be particularly difficult. Writers usually spend quite a bit of time alone, which can make family time even more precious. How can we justify walking away from those we love to stare at the blank screen? I get around this one by realizing that I’m a happier person if I get my writing in, and I’d like to be at my best when spending time with those that are important to me. A half-hour to an hour is a small price to pay to fully enjoy the rest of the time.
  7. Make space for writing. Holidays are busy. There’s a lot going on, usually accompanied by a lot of noise. All this activity can take us away from that quiet, reflective place we need to be to write. I use a pair of earplugs to get away from it all. The silence, along with the sound of my own heartbeat, helps me sink into the writing space. I know some other writers who find that yoga, meditation, music, and other methods help them step away from the bustle and into the imagination.
  8. Take care of yourself. We all know that the holidays can be stressful. Yet we think we can avoid exercising and indulge in extra food without paying the price. I have yet to experience a holiday where I didn’t eat more than was good for me! But I know I’ll pay for it the next day, so I try to be sure I’m getting some exercise, sticking with my yoga routine, and stealing a nap where needed to keep my system going strong. Supplements like zinc, vitamin C, fish oil, and vitamin B are also great for getting through stressful times.
  9. Carry a notebook. I usually write fiction on a laptop, but I also have a leather-bound notebook I take with me when traveling that works great in a pinch. If you have days where it’s impossible to sit down with a machine, don’t be afraid to try a piece of paper and pen. You can transcribe what you wrote at a later time.
  10. Let your imagination take you where it will. I often find it easiest to stay with the project I’m working on, but if you discover your brain is not cooperating on your work in progress, be willing to sit silently and ask your imagination where it wants to go. Maybe a poem is more what you feel like writing, or a short story, or a scene far ahead of where you are in your novel. The important thing is to keep writing—it matters less exactly what you write.

Do you have other tips for continuing a writing practice during the holidays?

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Comments (2)

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  1. Anita Stout says:

    Reading your posts are like hanging around in the office supply store for me. They both fill me with wonder and make me believe in things like organization and successful planning. Ah…one day!

    • Colleen says:

      Ha ha. Thanks, Anita! Wish I had some chocolate on the “shelves” for you. I’ll work on that. :O)