I’ll Be (Writing) for Christmas
Every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
The holiday season brings a lot with it. Presents, pie, turkey, presents. I like presents, always have. Not just receiving them, though when I was a kid, that was the absolute pinnacle. I also like to give, which is why in this month’s Pep Talk, I’m giving the gift of solace, a little thing called the holiday writer’s blues, or as you might know it in the common tongue, loneliness.
It creeps up on us when we least expect it. Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving. Like a perfect trifecta of sadness and stress, unbidden yet punctual, the same time every year, and it can be a bummer for people who don’t have anyone special in their lives. Most fortunately, and thank God this is the case, I’ve never had to be alone for the holidays. I’ve got a very loving family, a loving wife, but even so, there have been occasions when I’ve had to do the one thing I don’t want to do when everyone else is decking the halls, drinking eggnog, and crushing into department stores to return those awful socks.
Writing is both a noun and a verb, and so, it turns out, is the word writer. If you consider yourself a writer in the subjective sense, you are perhaps the thing not doing the thing, potential energy instead of energy realized. In the active sense, though, you’re a writer who is, you know, as energized as a red-nosed reindeer. Regularly, it is to be hoped. If you follow the Pep Talk, you’re familiar with my attitude toward cutting yourself a break and taking time away from the craft whenever you need it. I hate seeing writers burn out, and I’ve seen it a lot.
If for the holidays you find you have to put the laptop down and decompress after a long year of hard work, I say go for it, no shame necessary. In fact, if a writer feels the need to take months or even years off, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t. We practice a unique and distinguished artform, one which engages the intellect as well as the emotional center. Sometimes you need to feed your creative engine rather than letting it burn, and burn, and burn. If you can do that comfortably, while at the same time allowing yourself the freedom to recognize your desire to write is safe and sound right where you left it, then to my mind you really have the best of both worlds, because you’re the writer who writes, but only when your mind and emotions are strong, fresh, and ready enough to make it possible.
But sometimes we’ve got to work on Christmas, right? Or on any other holiday. If there’s one thing young writers learn pretty quickly, it’s that solitude is essential to the craft. But it can in fact get lonesome. Especially during a time of year traditionally reserved for friends and loved ones. So how do we work when all we really want to do is socialize and rest? How do we keep those words flowing, locked up in our writing spaces with the door closed, about as merry as a stocking full of coal?
It comes down to this: ambition is costly, and sometimes, we must choose our dreams over our immediate desires. Again, if you’re seriously in need of a break, I say take one. In any other case, though, it’s for the best if you can produce every day, or damn near every day. This season is meant to be about love and a deeper kind of appreciation. So appreciate yourself properly. Follow your dreams whenever you can, as steadfast and as boldly as you can, because to do the opposite cultivates regret. I hate regret. It’s like opening a big box with a big bow only to find novelty gas relief pills inside. I did that to my brother one Christmas, by the way. He laughed. Sort of.
The most basic thing to provide yourself, not just in the month of December, but throughout the whole year, is a daily word count limit. Now, it may seem prudent to make that limit high. A lot of writers like to do a bare minimum 2,000 words per day. That’s a great habit to get into if you can manage it, but in the long run, depending on your proclivity for exhaustion, it might turn into a liability. For the holiday season, at least, I’d recommend dropping your daily word count goal to something more manageable.
For instance, in my general daily habit, I’ve started writing a scant 430 words per day. That’s nothing, a half-hour commitment at most. But at that pace, I can lay down just over 3,000 words per week, which works out to almost 157,000 words per year. Now I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a pretty good sum total. In other words, you could literally write two whole standard-length novels in a year if you write for just a half an hour every single day.
Now in terms of the holidays, an easy half-hour commitment allows you to enjoy the festivities and skip the Quasimodo act. Sanctuary! Sanctuary! You could even fit in some revisions or edits between that first football game and the precise hour and minute your uncle starts snoring on the couch. The other good news with such a low word count goal is that it’s common to overshoot the target, which means in a year’s time, you’ll have written far beyond that 157,000 word benchmark. If it suits your needs, just pull back a little. You can still be productive, be the writer doing the writing, the thing doing the thing, without behaving like a hermit.
I can offer another piece of advice here, ironically the exact opposite of what I’ve told you thus far. I know, that tricksy Bowles and his tricksy ways. Yet this might help you deal with unavoidable loneliness directly. I’m not the first guy to suggest it, and I sort of wish it weren’t the case, but it’s possible the only way to combat the holiday blues is to work even harder than you normally do.
Now I wouldn’t recommend this for someone with a lot of family obligations, but look, workaholism is a thing because it actually can be effective on some basic emotional level. To paraphrase the Christian aphorism, idle hands (occasionally) do the work of loneliness. Sometimes it does no good to stay stuck in your head. Maybe try expressing yourself and your feelings on the page. Pour that pent-up stuff into whatever you’re working on, and don’t be afraid to get real about it. As Ernest Hemingway said, writing isn’t hard. What you do is sit at the typewriter and bleed. Now, I’m not suggesting you bleed all over your nice, brand-new, Santa’s workshop custom Dell notebook, but look, people choose to soothe themselves in a lot of ways, some of which are pretty unhealthy. Writing a whole bunch? It’s not the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Loneliness sucks. So if you’re doing it to yourself by working too hard, or conversely, if you don’t have a choice about it because at this point in your life, you really do feel alone, adjusting your regular work routine may be the ticket to feeling a bit more jolly this season. Don’t overdo it. That’s all I ask. Look after yourself first and foremost. I really do mean that. And don’t forget that nice shiny sense of pride and fulfillment. This is a high calling, after all. Maybe not as high as buying Jeff Bowles some presents, but you know, pretty high.
By the way, that’s:
1234 Nowhere Street
Care of the Grinch living on top of the mountain
All right, everyone. Thanks for reading, and Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Now for some John Lennon! War is over, if you want it. The war within yourself, that is. Cheers!
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