• Holidays, Family & Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 16 comments

    Last week, a whole lot of you banded together to share the opening lines from your works-in-progress and give each other some encouragement. It made me happy. Like a warm, fuzzy community sort of feeling. Kind of like I (sometimes) feel during the holidays. Which … my oh my, will you look at the time.

    For the next few days, I’d like love for us all to help each other by sharing some tips and tricks for maintaining your writing momentum during the holidays.

    (To skip my stuff and learn how to get help and/or help others, scroll to the last paragraph.)

    Because on average, the holiday season annually waylays 93,591 writers. This is a scientific fact. We hit mid-December with the momentum of a runaway freight train, or at least a runaway butterfly, and then wake, groggy, on January 2nd, scratch our bellies and say “WTF happened to the past two weeks?”

    I’ve been among those 90,000+ souls. Come December 17th or so, I’ll start saying, “The holidays are coming; I’ve got to prepare! I don’t have time to write.” A few days later it’s “The holidays are here; my preparations will now be tested! I don’t have time to write.” Then it becomes, “The holidays are almost over; I must begin preparing my plan of attack for the new year! I don’t have time to write.”

    Fast forward to January 2, groggy, “WTF,” etc. You know how it goes.

    It does not have to be this way!

    And some of the solutions are so simple. We just manage, each year, conveniently, to forget them. Which probably means that the real reasons we don’t write during the holidays are psychological, and have little to do with time and family activity.

    But let’s forget about that, for now. Save it for analysis.

    This post is intended for those of you who travel and/or spend a great deal of time with a great deal of family. Those of you who (yoohoo!) spend the holidays alone and/or don’t observe any of them, well, what’s your excuse for losing writing momentum?

    Here are a handful of simple strategies that will help you be a productive writer during the holiday season. You already know them. This year, try not to conveniently forget them.


    Write During Travel

    This one sounds so hard, but it’s so easy. Travel sux, without a doubt. The preparation for travel — security, gate agents, whatever — might be even worse. Once you finally get stuffed into your tiny seat, not a shred of dignity remaining, the only thing you want to do is turn on that tiny TV and forget that you were ever born.

    Well, don’t. Suck it up. Use that time to your advantage. Use to your advantage the fact that it’s socially acceptable to ignore your traveling partner while you’re on the plane, train, or bus. If you have some elbow room, pull out your laptop. If you don’t, pull out your notebook and a pen. Leave that stupid tiny TV off.

    When you land or roll in, you’ll feel great at having already gotten some writing out of the way on this stupid trip. It sets the right tone for what’s to come.

    Your turn: Do you have any tips for writing during travel? (Including motion sickness relief?) Or any funny/interesting (i.e., non-Del Griffith-like) anecdotes to share? Let us know in the comments below. Tick “notify” to receive email alerts for replies.


    Get Up First

    People sleep in during the holidays. Let them. When the house is quiet and your family are all sleeping off eggnog hangovers, get up early and write. If your situation is anything like mine, the only peace you’ll find during the holidays are those early mornings when it’s just you.

    Spend a few minutes with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the serenity.

    Then write.

    Your turn: What is your typical holiday setting? Are early mornings a viable option?


    “Go to Bed” First

    Do you really need to watch all of It’s A Wonderful Life again? I don’t know, maybe you do. But do you really need to sit around with everyone afterwards and analyze it?

    What I’m saying is, at night, gathered around the fire stringing popcorn or whatever, be the first to excuse yourself from that silly Rockwell painting.

    If your family is like mine, you’ll be mocked for going to bed first. As if getting tired is treason and staying up late is a badge of honor. Who cares. Excuse yourself to “go to bed early,” hole up in whatever room or area you’re staying in, turn on only a reading lamp, and write.

    You’re not missing anything, anyway. Spoiler alert: the barneys of Bedford Falls turn out en masse to give their money to George, Uncle Billy gets a free pass because old, stupid Clarence gets his dumbass wings, Zuzu dies of consumption, then becomes an angel, but like a zombie angel, kills every Bedford Falls inhabitant, including every single Bailey (twice), and drinks their warm blood. Same thing every year.

    Your turn: What are some of your nighttime holiday traditions? Which if them can you stand to miss? What is your ideal It’s a Wonderful Life monster ending?


    Steal Away During Peak Hours

    On Christmas Day, an average of forty people pass through my parents’ house. They come and go in waves, but at any given time there are likely ten to fifteen people there. Many of you will find yourselves in similar situations.

    Here’s the harsh but freeing truth: If you slip away for a while to write, you will not be missed.

    That’s not a reflection on you. A couple of people may notice that you’re absent, but they’re unlikely to fret about it or go on a you-hunt. Probably they’ll just assume you’re in the farthest-away bathroom. Holidays.

    When attendance is at its peak, disappear. You’ll feel like you’re playing hooky (because you are), which adds a layer of intrigue. Write for half an hour. Then rejoin the group. Then disappear again. Repeat.

    And really, what are you missing? How much chit-chat do you need in one day? Taking breaks to write will not only help your WIP, it’ll help you keep your sanity as well.

    And if stealing away isn’t a thing for you — if you have a particularly clingy significant other or sibling or something — play sick. It almost never fails to keep people away from you.

    Your turn: Is stealing away an option for you? If not, why not?


    Help Me Help You

    In fact, let’s wrap up on that note and turn this over to y’all.

    Are you looking for advice on how to write more, or at all, during the holidays? If so, describe your situation below: setting, typical schedule, number of people around you, free time, etc. Whatever you feel we need to know.

    Are you looking to help others because, holidays? If so, thanks! Scroll through some of the comments/questions/cries for help below, see if any of them align with your expertise. Or feel free to leave your tips and suggestions as general comments rather than specific responses.

    Come on, writers: let’s help each other get through this thing!



    David LinkedFULLWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


    0 0 votes
    Article Rating
    Notify of

    Newest Most Voted
    Inline Feedbacks
    View all comments
    Mark H.

    Travel for me is out. I drive from Denver up into the mountains to see my family, and I try not to write while I drive. The house can get crowded, but it’s hard for me to slip away. Even in its furthest reaches, it’s impossible to find real quiet and solitude, which unfortunately I need when I write. Getting up early is an option. Going to bed early, not so much. My MAIN problem, and maybe someone can help, is that when I’m with my family celebrating holidays….. I just don’t CARE about writing. I’m having fun, catching up… Read more »


    Rich food makes me sleep in, too much wine isn’t my problem, but unlike Bukowski who’d say not enough wine or drink more will solve it – I’m not a drinker. Family tension is always a big one during the holidays, all the old wounds open up and I find my mind swimming in the muck the worst quicksand of karmic curses. And rich food will only throw me in deeper, so I try to keep up with the veggies. And this year, I think many of us are overwhelmed with impending darkness upon us with the daily realization of… Read more »

    Amber M

    Family tension usually kills me. Or my creativity at least. I get there, and for a minute it’s fun and pleasant, but then my sister says some shit to my mom, my mom says some shit back at her, and before long everyone is at everyone else’s throat. It’s so disheartening and — annoying, I’d say — that at the end of the day I don’t have any emotional energy leftover to write. I’m just like empty. Can’t really avoid the family drama, but maybe there’s a way I can use it. I’m not like writing a novel with family… Read more »


    I’m sorry, David–I don’t agree this time. Guess what? I’m not going to write. I host Christmas, so I can’t slip away. I have very little family left, and I want to have special family time and good memories made with my kids before they have their own families and are gone. I give myself permission to take a writing break just as a person gives himself/herself permission to get a day off for a fishing trip. No one is going to slip away from his fishing buddies for 15 minutes of writing time. “Excuse me, would you mind hauling… Read more »


    Ha! I guess this is what an innocent joke gets me. Writers, like elephants, never forget, I suppose. I’d better watch what I write from now on, Eagle Eye.

    These were hypothetical people, BTW, not my real family. Family tension gets me, too, but I try to take the high road because most of it is so short-sighted and petty, and I don’t have time for that. Life is too short.

    Yes, I promise to write on Dec. 27. Thank you for continuing to support us.

    Barbara Mealer

    I can relate to the comments above. If you and your family are close and you don’t get to see each other much, then I would encourage you to take that vacation and enjoy being with them. Just remember, vacations are a set number of days where you aren’t working. Like any job, when those days are done, it’s time to return to work no matter if you are still with the family or not. If you don’t want to return to work, why not? You might want to analyze that reluctance because it will show in your writing just… Read more »

    Marcia Drut-Davis

    I am an emergency “doctor” on call every day. My specialty is in making sure my writing is alive a well. I have to place it in ICU. I must check to be sure it’s improving. No other doc or nurse can help it! I keep it alive and well by using my computer and feeding it words for my next book. No excuses such as holidays can stop me.

    […] week we had a fun conversation about getting work done during your holiday travels. Now, for many of us, those travels are here. Report in, let us know how you’re doing! […]

    […] If you’re worried about getting derailed because of Thanksgiving travel plans, maybe you’ll find something helpful in this post that offers strategies for getting your writing done when surrounded by family: “Holidays, Family & Writing.” […]

    […] If you’re hoping to write during your time away from home, or during your time at home that will include family/friends buzzing around (hopefully not like angry wasps), this post from 2016 offers strategies for writing on the go: “Holidays, Family & Writing.” […]

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x