155 – Thriving as a Writer During the Holidays

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Thriving as a Writer During the Holidays Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungSo many writers find themselves torn between writing during the holidays and spending time with family and friends. If they take time off, they feel guilty or like they’re being “unprofessional.” But it’s not only okay to take time off, it’s beneficial! We’ve got great ideas from other writers to help you thrive during the holidays in a way that refreshes your heart, spirit, and creativity.

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

We’re into early December now, in the midst of the holiday season. For some of us, we’re feeling frantic and hurried, perhaps with writing deadlines, or holiday parties, or chaotic households, or even just trying to buy a Christmas present with disrupted supply chains.

We don’t want this holiday season to be just another event you struggle to survive. Instead, we want you to thrive. So, let’s talk about some of the ways we can do that. We’ve asked for input from other writers and editors so we’ll be reading parts of their answers and adding some of our own thoughts.

Professionalism

First, let’s deal with the practical aspects of whether we even try to write during the holiday season. Is it unprofessional to say you’re a writer, or an editor, and then not write or edit during the holidays?

Author and editor Karin Beery has this to say:

“Skipping meetings and missing deadlines is unprofessional, but taking time off for the holidays isn’t inherently unprofessional. I choose to take two weeks off every year at Christmas because I travel to see family and spend time relaxing at home. I don’t take any clients during that time and I let my current ones know that I’ll be unavailable during that time period. I’ve never had a problem.”

It’s great that she lets people know she’s unavailable, that she’s out of the office! If we do that, we don’t have to feel bad if we don’t answer emails right away or whatever. We’ve already let people know what to expect.

Karin continues:

“That’s one of the joys of owning my own freelance business. I make my own hours. I plan ahead to make sure it will work. My husband works a “traditional” job, but he’s been able to take 10 days off at Christmas each year for several years now (with three different employers)…I know several editors, agents, and writers who work through the holidays. If that works for them, that’s great! It’s not my preference, though. That doesn’t mean they’re more professional than me. It just means we have different priorities.”

Hallee Bridgeman adds this:

“For some writers, children being home in unusual times means you can’t write. I never used to schedule writing time during children’s school vacations…I worked vacation time into their vacation times and didn’t even try. I had all the school holidays off of work and summer breaks to boot. And I’ve written 36 books in 9 years, so I think I’m doing pretty well maintaining a professional standard.”

Best-selling author Deborah Raney says:

“One of the reasons I chose writing as a career was because it would allow me to work from home, schedule my deadlines around my kids being home in the summer, and take vacation time as needed.”

She agrees that we should be professional in our conduct, and then she says:

“Many people choose jobs based on the flexibility of hours and free time, etc. That’s a perk of being a writer, so I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of it as long as I’m not delaying my publisher or failing to hold up my end of the financial income for my family.”

It’s interesting to me (Karen) that someone would even ask whether it’s unprofessional because most professions allow vacation time. For many of us, and I count myself in that group of professionals who take time off, family is our #2 priority (God, of course, is #1). We spend extra time during the holidays to focus on family and friends, to celebrate Christ and draw closer to Him and each other.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t professional in our job as writers. In fact, I’ve always found that taking that time off and focusing on other things refreshes my creative juices. So I do it first because I want to, and then also because it’s beneficial for my writing.

Gail Pallotta says:

“For me writing during the holidays means wrapping up my tasks at least two weeks before Christmas, so I can devote time to my family and the season…I usually put up a Christmas blog, which I write ahead and post right before Christmas. If I have a deadline to submit edits or a finished product by Christmas, I complete the work early, even though I might go over it right before the deadline. As for social media, during this time of year I limit my posts, and many of them pertain to Christmas. I send a Christmas newsletter but like to have it finished and emailed around the first week in December.”

What about those who can’t take time off? After all, sometimes you don’t have control over your deadline.

Best-selling author Cara Putnam says this:

“I learned this one the hard way. Be realistic about the family and holiday commitments. Then be relentless to write around that. Invariably I’ve had books due January 1 to 15th.”

I love the advice about being realistic. Sometimes we’re too much of an optimist, thinking we’ll get more done than normal, or that we’ll have more discipline than normal. But when the whole family is gathered around a cozy fire, or drinking hot cider and watching It’s a Wonderful Life, we’re not going to want to head off to our writing desk, so we have to plan ways to adjust our schedule. If we can, plan more writing before the holidays or get your family on board with what you need to do during the holidays so they can help you.

Celebration

Tamera Alexander, another best-selling author, says:

“I mark off the last two weeks of December. Always. Between Belmont and neighborhood parties, and annual ‘friends’ parties, and then cooking and baking and hosting everyone, from the middle of December through the first few days of January is ‘off’ for me…So basically, I write up until mid-December then totally surrender to the season. Then come back in January and start again.”

I love that phrase surrender to the season. For many, that includes parties and celebrating. And I love that God himself celebrates things. In fact in Zephaniah 3:17 there’s a picture of God celebrating:

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”

If God celebrates, then we, as his image bearers should also celebrate.

Psychologist Polly Campbell, in an online article for PsychologyToday.com, says:

“Any celebration, big or small, is really about taking a beat to notice the good stuff in your life. It can also be a reminder of our talents and abilities, skills and persistence. Drawing on those things can motivate us to keep working toward our goals.”

It’s so important to be purposeful about celebration. Campbell says doing so “boosts our well-being,” and who couldn’t use a good well-being boost? Social psychology researcher Fred Bryant is among those who say stopping to savor the good stuff helps create a buffer against the bad and build resilience.

Campbell stresses:

“Even mini-celebrations can plump up the positive emotions which make it easier to manage the daily challenges that cause major stress. When we have something to look forward to…we feel more optimistic.”

Refreshing our Spirit and our creativity

Gail Pallotta says:

“I see the Christmas season as a time to remember Christ’s coming and the great sacrifice He made for us and a time to do what I can to spread joy to others. Of course, we should always do that, but Christmas calls us to focus more intensely on Jesus and what our faith means to us and what we should do for others because we are blessed. I’m spiritually refreshed most especially at the Christmas Eve service and that in turn spills over into my writing.”

I love that she talks about being spiritually refreshed, that’s so important. I think there are ways we can be creatively refreshed during the holidays as well.

Laurie Sibley says:

“I try to remember that thinking about my story, reading lovely books, being in cozy Christmassy settings, reflecting on our Savior, and maybe squeezing in a romantic date(!), all count as ‘research and writing,’ even if they’re not actually the act of putting the story down on paper. So if there’s not time to scribe during the few weeks around Christmas or while family is in town, I can still be engaged in the process of writing. Then I’m refreshed and ready to get back to a more regular writing schedule when January arrives.”

I think it’s important, as creatives, as imitators of God, our Creator, that we stretch our creative muscles. In Todd Henry’s book The Accidental Creative (affiliate link), he talks about “unnecessary creativity,” which is basically doing creative things without any pressure of performance or judgment. Without any pressure that it has to lead to some amazing thing in and of itself. It’s just creating for the sake of creating, kind of like when I take pictures of birds just because I like to look at God’s handiwork. Giving ourselves permission, and even encouragement, to do these things because we’re inspired by the holiday season is a great way to nourish ourselves and thrive during the holiday season.

I (Karen) have a good friend, author Lori Benton, who loves to bake. She creates these remarkable things. One year she made these Christmas mice cookies. It’s an amazing outlet for her creativity. In the way we decorate we can refresh our creativity. In the way we even walk around and savor God’s creation, his beauty. Making gifts, giving gifts, singing, all of that is a way to express creativity in ways other than writing.

Dare I (Erin) say that even the housecleaning you do around the holidays can feel refreshing? I know for me, if I’m having company, it’s nice to have a cleaner house if possible. I might even be persuaded to clean the refrigerator so all my Christmas goodies will fit in it. Admittedly, cleaning can be tiring, but for me, it’s creating order out of chaos, and that gives me a sense of peace and calm.

Gratitude

Thanksgiving seems like the point where we start getting ready for Christmas holidays. We celebrate and savor Thanksgiving, but we need to carry that spirit of thanksgiving, of gratitude, throughout the entire season and into the new year.

One way to do that is to create a gratitude box. Everybody who’s going to be around for Thanksgiving or Christmas can write on a paper what they’re grateful for and put it in the box. Then you have a time to take those out and read them to each other. It’s amazing to share gratitude with each other.

I see people doing this online. They’re posting over the course of several days what they’re grateful for. Whatever it is, let’s extend that spirit of thanksgiving all the way through the next year.

Grieving, Remembering, and honoring

But we don’t want to forget that for some, the holiday season can be a painful reminder of loss, of friends and family they miss, of loneliness, of difficult health issues, or grief.

Gail Kittleson says:

“Years ago I read about Advent being the ‘season of darkness and possibility.’ With the increased awareness of losses in our lives that comes with the holidays, I make it a point to try to embrace both the darkness—part of being a whole human being—and the possibilities. With all kinds of things to detract from the true meaning of Jesus’ birth, I attempt to focus on how He’s WITH US—Emmanuel—regardless of our challenges any particular year. And of course, that brings us to the wonderful possibilities of growth, serenity, and peace, at least in our own spheres.”

She goes on to say:

“Remembering, gratitude, depths and heights of the year gone by, topics like these seem to come naturally during this time. Memoir-like—or creative nonfiction,  if you like—snippets or essays that surface and beg to be written down.”

You can journal, you can write these things down so you don’t forget them. You can never tell when these nuggets will end up in a book or whether God just wants them to be for you, for your own heart and spirit.

In my (Karen’s) family, the holidays, any holiday but especially Thanksgiving through New Years, overflowed with fun and laughter and worship. My mother was the queen of celebration, and she instilled in me a love of celebration as well. When my mom died and those holidays came around that year, it was so painful to realize how different everything was without her.

But because she’d instilled that love of celebrating in me, I made a conscious effort to make new traditions, new ways to celebrate. I had to do the same thing in 2016 when my dad died. When you lose people who are an integral part of your celebrations, it’s important to give yourself time to grieve, however long that is. But a time will come when the memories of them bring smiles and gratitude. That’s a great time to reevaluate your holiday celebrations and make them both an honoring of those who are gone, and a celebration of all we still have.

Reflecting and Refocusing

One last thing we want to mention to help us thrive during the holiday season is to use this season to reflect, recenter, and refocus for next year.

Writer Christy Bass Adams says:

“What I typically do as a writer over the Christmas holidays, is pick a book that is deep and has a thought provoking theme. Something that will lead me to a place of reflection about the year behind and towards a place of anticipation and planning for the year to come. As I read the book, I make time to journal about what I’m learning and pick out the pieces I want to focus on in the new year. Lots of self reflection about successes and failures and future directions. A great time to recenter.”

I think this is a great idea. Especially in that time between Christmas and New Year’s Day when our schedule may be more relaxed. We’ve enjoyed time with friends or family, we’ve eaten good food, (and for me, we have leftovers and I don’t need to cook), and so it feels like a good time to open ourselves to new ideas for the new year. To pray and ponder our focus and what we want the coming year to look like.

One other thing you can do over the holidays is read. All those books on your TBR pile? Those books loading down your e-reader? Take time over the holidays to read and highlight what you like or love in the books. Make notes that will help you in your writing. Reading is an excellent way to refresh your creativity. And since reading is a part of your job as a writer, you can even feel good about doing that!

Taking time to savor and celebrate during the holidays is imperative to writers. We’ve got to give ourselves time to refresh, to let our creativity spark again, to recenter our focus. God calls us to celebrate, to come and worship, to enter into the wonder of the holidays. Let’s do that with an open heart, knowing that God is in control of what we write and when we write it. If he gives us freedom to take time off, then we need to do that, and come out of that time with a renewed sense of anticipation of what we’ll write. What we’ll have to share with a weary world that desperately needs it.

Worried about striking the right balance between writing and family over the holidays? Check out these ideas to help you not just survive, but thrive! #amwriting #Christianwriter Share on X
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

What are some of your favorite things to do during the holiday season? In what ways do those things refresh you?

THE NOVEL MARKETING PODCAST

We’re grateful for a sponsorship from the Novel Marketing Podcast, with host Thomas Umstattd Jr. It’s the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. We know and trust Thomas, and his podcast is full of great information and advice—like Novel Marketing’s 10 Commandments of Book Marketing, which we’ve been bringing you.

This week we’re talking about Commandment #5: Thou shalt not dig thy well whilst thou art thirsty.

It takes time and money to develop your craft and build your platform. A successful writing journey isn’t an overnight trip, so don’t fall prey to anyone who promises that it is. You have to plan ahead and work at a pace you can sustain over the long haul.

Be leery of anyone who offers you an instant audience for a price, or who offers instant sales. They’re typically better at taking your money than anything else. They’re taking advantage of your desire to make a quick profit from your writing.

Instead, create a budget for both your time and money, no matter how small the amount, and stick to it. Don’t go into debt, and don’t bet the farm. Your goal is steady growth over the long term.

For more book promotion and platform help listen to Novel Marketing in your favorite podcast app or at NovelMarketing.com.

THANK YOU!

Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

Thanks so much to our December sponsor of the month, K.D. Aster. She’s hard at work on her novel: Kingdom of Azur, and we’re excited to see how it turns out!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!

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2 comments

    • Erin Taylor Young says:

      I’m so glad this was helpful, Kristi! May your Christmas season be filled with new wonder and joy in our Lord Jesus Christ!

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