The holidays are some of my favorite times of the year. I love Thanksgiving food so much that I served it at my wedding. I love to cook, and I love hanging out with my family while they cook. And nothing stirs my cynical dystopian writer soul quite as much as the She and Him Christmas album playing while snow drifts quietly outside the window. (In my world, Christmas carols are fully acceptable to play by the second week of November.)
But let’s get real: The holidays can be incredibly busy. They’re full of family drama over where your dogs are staying (true story), long bouts of traveling, and days spent trapped in a house with many more people than usual. There are board games, travel delays, pullout couches, and tiny sharp Barbie shoes everywhere to test your mental toughness. And no matter how much you love pumpkin pie and stuffing, the holidays don’t create an environment that’s very conducive to writing.
Usually, I take a week off around Thanksgiving to just be with the family, but some years (like this one), I have a big deadline looming. And if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you still need to find a way to get some writing in over Thanksgiving weekend. Here’s how to do it:
1. Bring a notebook. I do most of my first-drafting on my laptop, but when I’m traveling, I find that sometimes it’s easier just to write longhand. When I’m staying with my in-laws, my computer never seems to be charged, and I hate to have cords draped all over the kitchen with dogs and children running around. Plus, pulling out your laptop broadcasts to everyone I am working.
A notebook is simple, portable, and covert. You can write easily in planes, trains, and automobiles, and you don’t even have to put it in Airplane Mode.
2. Try dictation. I know many writers who swear by dictation. You can use this to get words in if you have a long drive ahead of you (particularly if you’re traveling alone). Every writer who uses dictation regularly has his or her own system, but it works well to speak into a voice recorder and then use software like Dragon Naturally Speaking to automatically transcribe the writing into your word processor.
3. Find lulls in the day. Nothing disrupts a schedule like traveling, and when you’re staying with family, you’re on someone else’s schedule entirely. You may not be able to write in the mornings or evenings as you prefer, but often you can find little lulls throughout the day. Maybe everyone gathers to watch the game after the big meal. Or maybe everyone crashes out for a nap around four o’clock in the evening. If you stay alert and wait for an opportunity, you will find some time to write.
4. Identify your work ally. Nobody likes to be the stick in the mud who “has to work” around the holidays. But usually there’s at least one other person in your family who’s itching to pull out his laptop to answer emails or sneak off to Panera to take a call.
There’s strength in numbers, and it can be easier to say you need to write if you have another family member for backup. (You’re still having “family time” — even if you’re working.) If you have a work ally, it’s easier to opt out of the fifth game of Charades or the first showing of It’s a Wonderful Life. And offering to swing by the grocery store on your way home always softens the blow.
5. Find a writing oasis. Often it’s impossible to get work done at Thanksgiving headquarters during the holiday weekend. Generally, the house is at full capacity, and there are lots of tempting distractions to pull you away. I like to sneak off to a nearby coffee shop to get a few hours of writing done. It has the double benefit of being a distraction-free environment and gives my introvert self a little “alone time” recharge.
All these tips aside, I think the secret to surviving the holidays is just to stay flexible. Keep your notebook handy, sneak away when you can, but don’t get married to any idea of what your writing time (or Thanksgiving) will be like.
You may not get as much writing done as you would like, and the turkey may not be completely thawed at 7 on the dot. What’s important to remember about Thanksgiving and writing is that it’s supposed to be fun. Take a deep breath, and enjoy the company. And remember to be grateful for everything you have.
Photo by Element5 Digital