Seven ways writers can stay sane during the holidays

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Do you fear you’ve ever been somewhat dysfunctional about Christmas? Here are seven tips to keep writers sane during the holidays….

The ghosts of Christmases past still haunt me.

There was the frustrating Christmas when my family’s struggling weekly newspaper had its typesetting machine break down just before our largest issue of the year was due to hit the streets. This made it impossible to finish the paper on time and it put our biggest money-making issue of the year at risk. (Stress +++).

Then there were many lonely Christmases when I was a senior editor at a daily newspaper, spending long hours in a nearly vacant newsroom. I may have had a senior job, but I had no length of service, so I was always forced to work when most of my colleagues were enjoying two weeks of parties.

Now, however, I love Christmas — partly because it’s a holiday my husband and children adore and they have reformed my spirit. I also love the way the season gives me plenty of “bonus time.” My phone usually stops ringing by about Dec. 15 and my usual total of 300+ emails-per-day tails off to a mere trickle. This reduction in work gives me a chance to catch up and to prepare for the next year with peace and blissful quiet.

For those of you who haven’t yet achieved serenity with the holiday season, let me offer seven tips that I’ve picked up over the past 40 or so years:

  1. Check your calendar and plan your work. When you do this checking, be sure to eyeball the calendar until the end of January so that you’re well prepared for the seasonal slump that affects most people. If you’re a freelance writer, consider whether you can send out some Christmas-related pitches or check with regular clients to see if they might have any extra work for you. While many editors go on holiday, some, like me, use the holidays as a chance to plan. Making a pitch to them — while all the other writers are busy partying —may give you just the edge you need.
  2. Figure out your plan for parties, too. But don’t over-commit yourself. Instead, resolve to do only those activities that make you feel great. If you’re an ultra-extrovert and that means a party every day, yahoo, go celebrate. But it’s also perfectly okay to stay home and read a book every night (or work on writing one) if that’s what pleases you most.
  3. Work ahead and anticipate delays. I never expect to be able to reach anyone after Dec. 15, so I try to make all my appointments for the holidays by no later than the end of the second week of December. Sure, some of the people I need to speak with may be willing to be interviewed Dec. 28, but I won’t know that for sure until I check with them. Book well ahead!
  4. Plan your money as well as your time. Holidays are often expensive. It’s not just the presents; it’s also the food and travel and unexpected costs such as “Secret Santas” at your office, household decorations and — depending on where you live — higher than usual heating and electric bills. Plan how much you’re able to spend and stick to your budget like a fly to sticky tape.
  5. Communicate your plans to your boss or clients. I update my voicemail message daily all year. You don’t have to be as neurotic as I am about being an exemplary communicator, but, please, if you’re going to be away from your desk for more than a day, change your voicemail to let everyone know when you’re going to return. I consider this type of message a basic courtesy.
  6. Schedule plenty of body breaks. I start every day by meditating for just five minutes. Even though I know it’d be better to meditate for 20, I’ve never let that thought stop me from doing what’s realistic for my schedule. I find the meditation helps calm and centre me. If meditating doesn’t work for you, consider taking regular breaks for deep belly breathing. Deep breathing will slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, making you better able to cope with stress. And if you’re tired, take a nap! Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need to fall asleep. Lying down in a quiet room with a towel or facecloth over your eyes (and a timer set) is enough to help you feel more rested. Finally, get some exercise. If you’re not a gym-rat (or a treadmill-desk fiend like me), get yourself out of the house and go for a walk around the block, or, even better, to a nearby park.
  7. If you’ve taken some time off from writing, don’t expect to resume your old productivity immediately. Writing is like exercise. If you regularly run 10-k and then take a break for two weeks, you wouldn’t expect to resume 10-k right away! Fourteen days of inactivity will cause your muscles to atrophy a bit. This situation is not a crisis. It’s just something that calls for a plan. Similarly, for writing, if you used to be able to knock off 500 words in 30 minutes before your break, cut yourself some slack when you return to work. It will take several weeks to reacclimatize yourself to the rigours of writing. This type of decline is normal and doesn’t mean you’re inept. Nor does it mean you’ve made a mistake in taking time off.

When I was a kid, society imposed so many obligations on us; it was hard to feel that we had any options about how to celebrate the holidays. That’s no longer true. If you’d rather work, you can work. If you’d rather party, knock yourself out! If Christmas means a quiet drink with a loved one, cheers to you.

As for me, I will be taking a break from my blog from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2 so I can enjoy some time with my friends and family.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Dec. 12/17.

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Planning your New Year’s resolutions? If you want some accountability for developing a writing routine, consider applying to my Get It Done program. Deadline for the Jan. 1/20 start is Dec. 27/19. To apply, go here and scroll down to the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.

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My video podcast last week addressed how many words you should write each day if you want to produce a book. Or, see the transcript and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How do you stay sane during the holidays? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Dec. 31/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!