I’m happy to have debut author Erika Marks as my guest here this week. Her post is a timely one; whether you’re a published author, or an aspiring one, fitting writing in during the holidays can be a challenge!
All I Want for Christmas is 200 More Words: Making Progress On One’s WIP During the Holidays, And Other Urban Legends.
by Erika Marks
For those of us who are accustomed to having chunks of our work day (and nights) to write, the holiday season can mean a bit of a schedule shake-up. With out of town guests arriving, priorities change (as well they should!) and with that change means having less time to write—or maybe putting the WIP away completely.
Now we all know that stepping away from a manuscript can be a good thing–but most of us will go kicking-and-screaming, especially when we are in deep in a WIP. There’s no question that shutting off our writer’s brain is about as easy as shutting off the I-want-another-glass-of-egg-nog switch. But writing during the busy holidays need not be feast or famine. There are a few ways in which a writer can maintain their cheer and their word count.
Here are a few things I try to remember when the muse doesn’t want to take a holiday.
Carve out a temporary workspace. Part of what can be hard during the holidays is that lack of routine and structure. Now don’t get me wrong: normally, I LOVE to mix things up. But when it comes to writing, it’s a tough adjustment to make—even temporarily. If you have guests staying in a space you might usually use to write (my office is our dining table so that’s definitely out), try making a temporary workspace in another room with a door you can close (Yes, that includes closets. I’m not kidding. I’ve lived in NYC—I require very little space). Just knowing you can still have access to your work in a private setting does wonders to quell those stress bubbles that can boil up.
Leave things on a good note. As Rita Coolidge sang, “I’d rather leave while I’m in love,” and nowhere does this apply than when it comes to having to leave my manuscript for a while. I don’t know about you all, but I can’t stand to walk away from a WIP if it’s going badly. Which is why if I know things will be getting busy and writing time will be scarce, I try my best to leave my manuscript in a good place. And by good place, I mean in the middle of a scene that’s really rolling—like-mac-truck-without-breaks rolling. You’re thinking, No! How can I do that? I have to finish it! But let me ask you something: Would you rather step away with excitement knowing you are going back to a scene that is working—or finish it off in the heat of the moment only to hate where that runaway truck has gone off the road and know you have to let it sit there in flames for days? Yeah, me neither.
Keep scrap paper nearby. You never know when inspiration will strike and free moments in the thick of a busy holiday are few and far between, which means seizing them when you can. Waiting to pick up a relative, standing in line at the store, washing dishes! Keep something to write on and with nearby so you can take advantage of those fleeting moments of writing/plotting time. (I speak from experience—my purse is filled with note-covered receipts that I sift through weekly).
Make your goal for broad strokes, not polished scenes. See this “break” as an opportunity to look at the larger issues within your novel. Don’t focus on trying to work through certain scenes (you won’t be able to dedicate the time to it most likely and will just end up frustrated) but rather use the time to flesh out bigger themes in your novel. Have fifteen minutes of quiet? Thumbnail-sketch several chapters. Or take a character and consider their motivation, their emotional impact—do you need to raise the stakes for them? Think outline, not fine line.
Give yourself permission to bow out of the festivities for a few minutes here and there. The holiday season won’t come to a roaring halt if you excuse yourself from your guests for a few minutes. It doesn’t make you a lousy host/parent/spouse/friend/child if you tune out and tune in to your writing in that private space we discussed earlier.
But along those same lines, give yourself permission to take a break. As important as it is to feel that you have the freedom to pursue ideas when they strike (and rest assured, there’s a very good chance that elusive solution to your problematic ninth chapter will arrive to you the instant you sit down for your holiday feast!), it’s also important to let yourself let go for a few days. In my experience, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder—except when it comes to putting away a manuscript for a break.
BIO: Erika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, cake decorator, and carpenter. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, a native New Orleanian, their two daughters, and their dog. LITTLE GALE GUMBO is her first novel.