Every year, when November rolls around, I brace myself. Logically, the holidays really shouldn’t take up so much head space, but the truth is they do. Even with the best intentions (how’s that NaNoWriMo coming, btw?), I find my writing (and my aspirations for a writing career) often gets derailed. And I know I’m not alone in this.
The way I stay sane, when the kids are off for a whole week for Thanksgiving (WTF?), and the family is all coming to town, and I have to buy a few dozen Christmas presents while strategically avoiding the PTA… is to have a list of things I can do in service of my writing, that can be done in small chunks of time.
Here’s my list:
A writer’s favorite word… Submit. Submit to literary journals, contest, residencies. You know they’re out there, and you know you’ve been meaning to send you work out, but you just haven’t gotten around to it. If you’ve got a few minutes between baking cookies for your first grader’s holiday part and wrapping presents, click on over to Submittable and send out a story.
2. Plan to Submit
Okay, so we don’t all have a file of short stories that are ready to go out. If you’re not ready to actually start submitting, make a list of journals/contest/residencies you will submit to when you’re ready. Check out my Submission Spreadsheet if you need help getting organized.
3. Research Your Dream Agent(s)
Much like planning to submit, this is a step toward querying agents when your novel is ready. With just a few minutes of free time, you can grab a book you loved, check the acknowledgements for the part where the author thanks their awesome agent, then take the name of that agent online and do a little cyber-stalking.
Check out the agent’s website, see what they’re looking for, determine if they’re a good fit for your work. If so, add them to your list. I’m trying to get a list of 50 agents on my list by the time I finish my novel.
4. Beautify Your Writing Space
This is one of those things that is kind of always needing to be done, but I can never justify doing when I could be writing. But imagine the kids are home from school and they’re doing some art project on the floor of my office and it’s really distracting, but they’re just too cute to kick out. That’s when I’ll start puttering around the office.
I file that giant stack of papers in the corner. I collect all the things that are in my office but shouldn’t be (legos and dog toys and hot sauce) and move them back to the kitchen where clutter belongs. I will dust the book shelf. Then, when things quiet down and I’m writing, my space feels so nice and clean. It’s important to have a designated writing space that you love.
5. Read Blog Posts by Your Favorite Writers
I keep a little file of bookmarks in my browser window of all the writerly blogs I like to read when I have a few minutes. I always learn something. You can also check out Feedly, and app that allows you to search blog posts by topic and select the bloggers you want to read regularly. And check out my blog roll on the right hand column there for a few to start with.
6. Encourage a Fellow Writer Online
You know you’re on social media, even when you say you don’t have time for anything. So next time you’re scrolling through, take a moment and share a few words of encouragement with another writer. Try the hashtags #amwriting, #writers, #writingtips, and things like that to find the other writers out there. I just consider this good karma.
7. Read, Read, Read
Writers read. Adjust accordingly. Always carry a book, even if you can only read a page or two a day. It is critical for us as writers. Just because it doesn’t feel like work, doesn’t mean it isn’t part of the job. Read, read, read.
8. Do A Character Study
We can think about our characters no matter what our hands are doing. Consider each of yours and ask yourself if they feel like real people. Do you know where they went to school? What they wanted for breakfast? What they actually had for breakfast? If you have the luxury of sitting down with a pen and paper go ahead and write it down, but you can do this just as easily in your mind. Do a little mental interview with your villain, for instance, and see if you know him as well as you think you do.
9. Do Research
One of the things I love about being a writer is that anything can be considered research. Eat a food your character eats in your story. At the mall doing some Christmas shopping? Go through the home section and consider your character’s life: does she sleep on Egyptian Cotton or scratchy discount poly-blend? Does he have a matching plate set? Who gave her the sliver frames for her wedding photos? Go outside after a hard rain and take note of the smells. If you need to entertain the kids for a bit, set them loose in the library and look up a non-fiction book that relates to your story.
10. Make a Dream Board
Okay, I know there will be haters out there, but I LOVE my dream board. I’m a big believer in the idea that if you don’t know what you’re after you won’t recognize it if it falls in your lap. So I maintain a dream board. I update it from time to time when I realize I can be more specific about something. For instance, I recently taped a bunch of Monopoly money to mine, because – oh yeah – I actually want to make money as a writer. I added a little stick figure of an agent saying “I can sell this book” and taped it next to a mock-up of my novel’s cover. Silly, I know, but it helps me to stay focused on my goals. It’s also a fun one to do with the kids, since they can make their own, and it involves cutting and pasting and stuff.
So there you have it. 10 ways to keep working on your writing career, even when the holidays mess up your plans to write.
What did I miss? What little things do you do in support of your writing when time is short and stress levels are high?