This blog was featured on 09/01/2016
Don't Let The Holidays Hijack Your Writing

Tayari Jones helps you -- and your draft-- survive the holiday season.

If you have stepped foot in a retail establishment anywhere in the United States, then you know that the holiday season is in full effect. All of the fitness websites are offering bullet point lists about how to stay on your diet during the holidays, but what about sticking with your writing goals?

It’s hard to stay with your goals during any random week or month--putting yourself first can be a challenge for all of us--but this dynamic gets even deeper when it’s time to deck the halls.

One of the most important things is to set a reasonable goal. I am not recommending a scorched policy where you blow off your great grandma who wants you to go caroling with her. But you should carve out a designated amount of time for your writing. A nice range is about 50-70% of the time that you normally spend writing.

I am going to aim for three hours a week spent working on my new work. I'll probably divide the time into two 90 minute sessions. No, it’s not a LOT of time, but it adds up and will keep your project moving forward. (When I was participating in a diet program, the group leader told us that during the holidays, the goal was not to lose weight, but just to maintain.)

The key word in all this is reasonable. You want to set goals you can actually meet. Although setting a high goal can give you a rush for a couple of days, failing to meet that goal can be extremely discouraging and lead you to say “oh just forget it” and not write anything else until New Year’s Day. But even with reasonable, doable goals, it can still be difficult to carve out your own time. Tell the people in your life what you’re up to and let them know how important it is.

Once your friends and family know that on two mornings a week (and tell them WHICH mornings !) you will not be available to wrap presents, give free therapy, knead dough, or clean house, they will stop trying to pull you away—either because they are really supportive people, or because they realize that you won’t budge. Or if you are Minnie Multitasker, use the 90 minutes while that pound cake is baking. All that good smell from the kitchen will make everyone think you're busy being wifely, motherly, or otherwise girly. (Yes, I believe in secret-agent tactics, is that's what it takes. And, you can always pretend to run errands and plunk yourself down in a café or library and get some scribbling in.)

A couple of weeks ago, in the comments on my no-NaNo post, we talked a little bit about process acceptance. I plan to write another post about this later, but during the holiday time, this is a crucial dynamic. Nurture yourself and your project this month. For many people, the holidays are a fraught time. Do not make yourself more anxious/worried/stressed by feeling that you are letting yourself down by not writing enough. Do not fret over word count. Use your three hours a week however you want, as long as you are getting closer to your finishing your project. If it’s journaling, that’s fine. Character sketches? Cool. Google research on your topic counts, too. During this time, we just want you to keep the project alive in your head and heart.

Lastly, buy yourself a writerly gift. It could be a nice journal, maybe some ink for your fountain pen. I once bought myself some cashmere feet-pajamas. (Don’t laugh, my muse loves them!). Don’t let the year end without giving yourself some and your book some love.

Tell me, SheWriters--how do you survive the holidays? And what will be your writerly gift-to-self this year?

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  • Evelyn N. Alfred

    The holidays are totally hijacking my writing, but I have been getting in some reading in, a bit of revising, and I even submit to two places. Unfortunately, no new writing.

  • Surviving the Draft

    One thing that really taught me how to make time for myself is to think this way-- What would I do if I had promised someone else that I would write something? I would totally do it. When it's for someone else, there is always enough time. I even trick myself into going to the gym by imagining I had promised someone that I would meet them there. I'll admit that it's a little kooky, but it was a way that I trained myself to think differently.

  • Ruby E. Angulo

    Loved this post! Very Inspiring...always gotta give ourselves a lot of LOVE.

  • I like your emphasis on reasonable goals and expectations. I have trouble with that, especially this time of year. Thanks for the post.

  • Christina Baker Kline

    Tayari, I love your posts -- so inspiring. Yes, this time of year is crazy. I find getting OUT of my domicile and away from all the to-do lists is crucial. Secret-agent tactics, yes!

  • Kelly Gooltz

    Since I am still a "newbie" making time and investing in my writing with 3 kids, full time school, work, home & hubby is really a challenge ESPECIALLY at this time of the year. I am finding however that my creative side is flowing, but the tick tock of the clock is not always cooperative. I must take your advice and find a way to carve out time for me, my writing and maybe even some time on that darn treadmill in an effort to maintain my writing and my weight!

  • Nonqaba waka Msimang

    I must try and set the doable goals you are talking about otherwise it will be difficult getting back on track on 2 January 2011. Writing is not like a tap, turn it off 20 December and turn it on after the last New Year's Day firecracker. I find the holidays very hard when all around you are in a festive mood. It's even more difficult when they keep asking you about finding a job. "I'm a writer."

    "Yes dear i know, but what do you do exactly?"