Let’s face it, your writing production takes a hit this time of year. Your inner word-crafter feels a little neglected whilst you run around judo-chopping other last minute shoppers and traveling by sled-and-dog team to reach your far off relatives.
But if you can eke out a measly thirty minutes for yourself somewhere in all the holiday madness, there’s no reason you can’t keep the writing coals warm, and even stoked a wee bit so you begin the New Year with a blaze.
Here’s a few ways to do that this holiday season:
1. Read one or two of those books you’ve been putting off
Within every writer lurks a reader, and if you’re like most of us, you’ve neglected him or her over the past year. What better time than the holidays to change that? Even if you don’t finish a book, you just might rekindle that romance with the written word that started you off on this silly creative journey in the first place. You might stumble across a story or character idea, or freshen up a current one that had been a little blasé. Reading, even a little, can liven up your usual bag of tricks with some new ones, and remind you what it’s all about: connecting with the reader. (How on earth will you know how to do that if you’re never a reader yourself?)
2. Get back in the habit of morning pages
Before or after your reading session, consider doing fifteen or thirty minutes of morning pages. If you’ve never read The Artist’s Way (and I highly recommend you do) “morning pages” is just free-writing, by hand, whatever the brain wants to spit out for three whole pages. This is not necessarily creative time (though it could be, if that’s where the old grey noodle takes you). The main value I’ve found in morning pages, though, is the venting of the frustrations, anxieties, worries, and self-criticisms that plague every artist. Morning pages is where you give all those things a voice, and thereby de-clutter the head, leaving nothing but a nice, calm, wide-eyed, creative child ready to play in the sandbox of words.
I was resistant to morning pages at first (“Why shouldn’t I use the time to write consciously instead of venting my stupid unconscious!”), but after two or three sessions I was sold. Here’s why it works: if you don’t give those things a voice, they hang with you throughout the creation process and do their damndest to drag you to a creative halt every chance they get. It’s the difference between sprinting up a mountain and climbing on your hands and knees. On rocks. With someone riding on your back, criticizing your crawling technique, and reminding you how it would be so much easier to quit and go do something more comfortable like watch “The top ten celebrity meltdowns” on Youtube.
Let that inner critic rant onto the page and he shuts up for a while.
Try it if you don’t believe me.
3. Connect with people
Yes the travel is stressful and horrible, and people are stupid and mean and selfish. Yes there’s horrible stuff on the news. Yes your family are overly critical and annoying and can’t shut up about the election. But leave judgmental and angry you aside for now. You can always come back to him or her later.
For now, just for the next few days, try listening and being empathetic and understanding. Try being thankful for your fleeting time together. Try telling people how much you love them and miss them. Just give it a whirl. If nothing else connecting empathically with people helps you get inside your characters heads a little more when it comes time to write them.
By the way, I’m NOT suggesting doing complete psychological workups on your family and loved ones in order to pilfer their personalities for your writing. That’s not the same as connecting with them. (And also a good way to not be invited back for the holidays next year.)
Connect with some folks. Maybe even a stranger or two. Understand where they’re coming from. Wish them well and mean it.
When it comes time to write again, you just might find you’re doing so from a deeper, more empathic place.
4. Disconnect with the devices and the constant kibble machine of data
This one is a bit of a no-brainer, so I’m not going to spend much time defending it. Just use this time to disconnect and nurture the creative self. You know it works. You already know the constant data bombardment hurts the brain. We all do. Whenever we do manage to disconnect for a few hours we feel wonderful and refreshed. Make this holiday a time to do it on purpose.
While you’re at it, turn off the news. It’s all just made-up nonsense designed to sell pharmaceuticals, anyway.
5. Reconnect with the body and the outdoors
Go for walks. Your body will thank you. Your brain will thank you. You will get away from the noise and the blaring TV and the screaming kids for a while and just be.
I don’t mean “exercise”. I don’t mean trying to elevate your heart rate to 120 bpm, or whatever the hell.
Just go outside and stretch the legs and throw some snowballs and feel the wind and the snowflakes on your tongue and smell the pine trees and notice the colors and the sensations and just absorb it all. Not only will you be adding data to the old creative hopper for later, but you’ll also be elevating your serotonin (the feel good juice) levels, boosting your immunity, and fighting off stress and cancer.
All of this helps you be around longer to write more masterpieces, okay?
6. Draft up some big picture goals for the coming year
You know you’ve gotta look at the forest every now and then, and what better time than when you’re sitting around on your keister on vacation?
What worked for you this year? What didn’t? Can you make some improvements to your work flow? What about your prioritization strategies? Did you get lost in the weeds at some point and lose sight of the big targets altogether? (We all do.) What targets should you really be aiming at in the coming year, if you’re really being honest with yourself?
Maybe it’s trying to land some better paying clients. Maybe it’s cutting out some clients (even giving yourself a bit of a pay cut if necessary) so you can focus more on your own stuff. Maybe it’s starting the querying process on that masterpiece you’ve been endlessly tinkering with. Or maybe it’s finding a writing partner or critiquing buddy (one of the best things I did this last year! Cheers, Rick). Or starting the next masterpiece. (Always scary… but exciting, too). Maybe it’s being more engaged with your blog or audience. Maybe it’s all of the above, and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, and this is the year you figure out a method of prioritizing that makes intuitive sense to you.
Even if you don’t dead-center your targets in the coming year, you’ll come closer than if you didn’t select any targets at all.
7. REST, ffs!
One of the most harmful myths, especially in the West, is that we have to be in constant go, go, work harder, work faster mode in order to be good human beings. We brag about (and praise one another for) how “busy” we are, how little free time we have, how little sleep we get, and how run down we feel.
It’s ludicrous, if you think about it. Not to mention the fast road to emotional burnout, disease, and ruin. We ought to be bragging about creating free time, rest, and wellness. Aren’t those the real accomplishments?
The truth (and finally science is getting around to proving this) is that the highest functioning producers are also masters at resting and replenishing. They allow themselves to get deep, restful sleep, uninterrupted by blaring alarm clocks and reminders. They become masters at taking strategic, energizing breaks. They shut down the devices, and quit taking work calls and emails at some point during the day. They realize that the body is not just a horse to be whipped until it’s dead – it has to rest, and it has to refuel, or it’s no good to anyone.
My suggestion: use your vacation to learn how to be a lazy bum again.
Sleep late, take naps after every meal, go lay on the couch with your feet up, watch Christmas Vacation on TV and don’t move a muscle until it’s over. Mimic the family dog’s behavior. That thing sleeps all the livelong day until fun or food comes along. I call that a good model. This is vacation, for Pete’s sake. Sure, the family might make a few snide remarks and muttered comments, but you will show them all when they drag their sorry, exhausted rears back into the office in January and you come out of the gate flying.
Well, that’s about all I’ve got. What are some of the things you do over the holidays to recharge? (We’ll preemptively just assume hitting the egg nog a little too hard is on everyone’s list, okay?) Let us know, and everyone have a safe and happy holiday, and a creative New Year!