Writing During the Holidays? Are You Kidding?
With the stress of the holidays upon us, it is hard to focus on writing. You are most likely overwhelmed with plans for family gatherings, getting gifts together, et cetera. So, how do we keep writing in such a maelstrom? It has always been hard for me to focus during the holidays as well. There is a lot going on. But, isn’t it necessary? I think some would argue that if you don’t exercise your writing muscles, they will atrophy.
So, what keeps you focused? An impending deadline? I’m sure that helps. It has for me before. Sometimes the threat of failure is incredibly motivating. LOL. I wonder, though, if that is apropos in every case. With the prevalence of indie publishing and one book contracts, some writers have self-imposed deadlines rather than official ones. Then, how do you stay accountable to yourself? Maybe you have a project or two in the works. Maybe you don’t, and they’ve sat on the back-burner for awhile. How do you make yourself move forward, especially during the holidays? Maybe a few basic techniques would help to keep you focused.
1. Freewriting. If you’ve never done any freewriting, you’re about to be surprised. Freewriting isn’t brainstorming or anything like that. True freewriting is writing whatever comes into your head, however crazy or mundane, without the use of your internal editor. Forget grammar. Forget punctuation. Just write for ten or twenty minutes. If none of it is useful, that’s fine. The idea is to get past all of the jumble of thoughts and worries we have every day, to dig deep in order to find something substantial. It may take a few tries before you see something interesting form there. It may read like a journal or diary entry at first. It may sound like a crazy person wrote it because it probably won’t make any sense. I usually leave the freewriting exercises alone for awhile and come back to them later, much later in fact. Occasionally, I’ll see a tidbit I can use. Maybe it’s just a piece of imagery, a metaphor that could really work. I have used some of them in poems before. I have also used them in fiction. Mostly, it’s nice to see what I was thinking then. Heck, even if you start with “I don’t know what to write” and follow that train of thought into uncharted territory, that works too. Remember: freewriting isn’t supposed to make sense. It’s just supposed to wipe away your mental cobwebs so that you can get down to something that you can work with.
2. Brainstorming. Everyone knows what brainstorming is. You create a list of random ideas. I suppose they could be related to a topic as well. I always found bubbles kind of interesting and effective. You take a topic then free associate with that topic. Use the first words that come to mind and branch off until you have an entire paper full of words and bubbles. That could work for a poem or a piece of fiction. There is bound to be something there you can work with.
3. Lists. This time of year, I think we all make lists of what we need to make for a gathering or what gifts to buy. Take that a step further. When I am really working on a project, I make lists. What do I need to work on specifically? Research specific topics? Focus on characterization? What element of the story needs work? Make a list of what you need to do for your current project, even if it’s just an overview. You can always make detailed lists later. Believe me, it will help you feel more organized. This really helped me when I worked on the sequel to Upon Your Return, which I finished writing recently. I made lists of specific things that I needed to focus on. Most of these lists were research related, of course, because the story is a historical romance. But, I knew which sections of the manuscript needed more detail. If you want to make notes such as “page 25 – focus on this aspect of the character”, that is fine. Whatever will help you move forward should work. I find these lists incredibly motivating. It actually puts the whole project into perspective for me. Instead of looking at the book as this daunting thing, it suddenly seems feasible. The goal is in sight, and you can work on each individual item. Make a list of what you think you need to work on. You may make more lists later; you may not. It just depends on what stage you are at in your project. But, I still find lists to be a pretty effective tool.
If you have not read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, I definitely recommend it. In my classes in college, it was the Creative Writing bible. Goldberg gives you a lot of helpful techniques to jump-start your writing. For me, Goldberg’s words were so inspirational that I bought several more of her books. But, that is neither here nor there. If you can’t obtain a copy of Writing Down the Bones, at least consider the above techniques if you are stuck with your writing.
We all need a little push sometimes. During this time of year, I think we can use all the help we can get. Happy writing, everyone!