A Writer's Holiday Survival Guide, Part Two

As the calendar inches close to Thanksgiving, writing time can become as scarce as a flat-screen on black Friday. If you want to not take the next six weeks off from writing, but do still want to make time for family, friends and celebrating, Ihave a holiday survival guide to help you tackle the shortened writing time and still thrive.

First, if you haven’t already, check out the first article in this series right here. I talk about the need to keep writing even when you’re busy, envisioning where you want to be on January 1st, and making a set of achievable, rather than ambitious goals for the next six weeks. Do you have your goals all set? Here’s a few ways to make sure you stick to them.

Set A Schedule

This is always a good habit to form, but it’s especially helpful during the holidays, when your schedule is fuller than usual. The act of putting something on a calendar makes it feel more “official” and permanent. You are much more likely to write if you’ve planned on it. Just the way that you would write down “Office Sweater Party — 5:00,” write down “Revise Chapter Six — 7:00.”

I’d advise looking at the entire month of December ahead of time. You’ll already know your travel plans, most party dates and family events. You also know your goals. So you can see the blank spots in your calendar, and make a game plan. Just remember–go for achievable, not ambitious goals–you’re much more likely to stick to your schedule if it’s a feasible one!

Plan to Plan

Okay. So you have your ideal schedule. But on Tuesday, your friends want to go ice-skating. You planned to outline the short story, but hot chocolate and cute pictures called! You couldn’t say no. Nor could you cut out early when tree decorating took longer than you anticipated. That knocked out the dialogue you were going to revise. But what were you going to? Leave your brother to do all the popcorn stringing alone?

Of course not. This is a time when family and friends might take a higher priority than writing. It’s a short season, and you don’t want to miss it. But you still need to write. So stick to your schedule, as much as you can, and, on the weekend, plan a time to revise it.

The key here is flexibility. Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t keep all your goals and all your dates. Instead, set aside fifteen minutes to revise them. Look at what you did accomplish, and look forward to what you can accomplish. Then have some eggnog. There’s plenty of time to make massive goals come January!

Bring a Buddy

One of the best ways to stay on track is to have someone beside you. The only people who really understand what it’s like to be a writer are other writers. So, find a buddy. There are plenty of meet-up groups online. Did you make a friend during NaNoWriMo? Exchange goals. Do you have a writer friend in your hometown or family? Let them know what you plan to do, and ask them to let you know the same. The mental check of having someone check up on you can help keep you on track.

You can also plan a holiday writing meet-up. Make it a festive occasion. I write with the same group weekly. We rarely get together except to write. So, on the nights when we do go out to dinner or do something fun, it feels like a real treat. We’ll write for an hour, then put it aside and do something fun. Even if it’s just going for a walk to look at decorations, you’ve combined festive cheer with writing time.

You can also use each other as sounding boards, critique partners and goal-keepers. I have told my writing friends I’ll be giving them a revised version of my book on January 15th. Having a due date is helpful; having people waiting on that due date makes it imperative.

Reward Yourself Often

This is my favorite part. Normally, I try to plan on giving myself small rewards for achieving small goals, and big rewards for big goals. Check out this article for a few ideas. But for the holidays, I step it up a notch. I’m planning to pull back. I’m planning to set small, achievable goals. But since ’tis the season for celebration, I don’t skimp on the rewards.

These can be simple things — when you go write at a coffee shop, get a peppermint mocha instead of a coffee. If you meet a weekly word-count goal, buy that new book that you could have got from the library. If you get a bonus, use some of it to buy new sharpies or post-its or that notebook that’s a little too expensive, but you really want. Tell yourself it’s because you’re writing and you deserve it. Because, you know what? You do. It’s December. This is the time when people get lazy and happy. And maybe you’re getting lazy and happy, but you’re also writing, and that’s quite the accomplishment. Which brings me to my last piece of advice.

Look Back

If you plan on nothing else, plan on this. Sometime toward the end of December, carve out an hour to look back over the previous year. And don’t make this a flexible activity you can skip to play another game of checkers with your mom. Tell yourself that this is your hour to take stock of where you’ve been.

This can be a great New Year’s Eve activity. In the morning, when it’s still quiet and everyone’s sleeping in, get your favorite morning drink–be it tea or coffee or a giant mug of hot chocolate. Shut the door. Turn off the internet. And try to remember where you were this time last year. Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished. It’s tempting, at this time of year, to look forward. To set new goals. To plan all the things you’re going to do. You should do this; goal-setting is healthy and helpful. But don’t forget to look back, too.

I’m moving out of my apartment this week, which has caused me to take a look back at the past three and a half years that I’ve spent here. I can’t believe, now, how quickly the time has gone. Sometimes, it feels like I’m still  stepping through the door for the first time. The other night, I was standing in our living room, surrounded by boxes. My sister was helping me pack up my desk. She remarked, “Bess, you have a lot of papers!”

“Yeah,” I replied, looking up at the wall I’ve looked at for three years. It’s all tack and nail-holes now, but it was covered in magazine clippings, outlines, maps and quotes. Then I looked back to my little sister, holding a stack of binders.

“Yeah,” I repeated, “I wrote two books here.”

I knew that. Of course, I knew that. But it hadn’t occurred to me that this, too, was something to celebrate. It was a milestone every bit as important as signing my new lease. As moving to New York. As the turning of one year to another.

Our writing is part of our lives. Just like our family and our friends. So, when you’re celebrating this December, celebrate that, too.

A version of this article was originally posted on DIYMFA.com on November 26, 2013.