Surviving the Holidays as a Writer

Writing is not a spectator sport, at least not for me. I can’t write while my wife reads over my shoulder. It makes me nervous. The holidays are a time for family and friends to get together and celebrate the season. Often this entails reacquainting yourself with people you haven’t seen in months or years. In the case of family or relatives, you’re often quickly reminded why it’s been months or years. A crowded house makes writing difficult but for some reason suggesting they stay in the local Motel 8 seems offensive to them. How can you continue to rack up the word count or finish the final edit to your novel while the house overflows with Christmas joy, the aroma of cinnamon cookies fresh out of the oven and the screams of playing children?

I’m lucky in a way. My wife visits her family in Michigan for twelve days each Christmas, leaving me alone except for two cats and the television. Both are distractions but I can handle them most of the time. When a cat wakes me up at four in the morning, it’s a good time to write. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my wife, but Michigan in the winter – Give me a break. I lived in Pennsylvania for four years and Chicago for two. I like seeing my snow up on the peaks of the Catalina Mountains while it’s 65 down in Tucson. Shoveling snow and mukluks are no longer in my vocabulary. I’m basically a hermit by nature. Crowds make me nervous. There might be zombie lurking somewhere among them. In Arizona, you can carry your gun but they still frown on chainsaws and Samurai swords.

If you can’t lock yourself away from friends and family for a few hours, you can always mentally mull over what you want to write while politely smiling and nodding abstractly, letting the others carry on the conversation. Or you can complain of chronic bowel problems and sneak your laptop into the bathroom as often as possible. Both have their limitations.

You can explain that you’re self-employed and don’t get the holidays off. Unlike them, you have to make a living, however meager, and just have to finish the next chapter. You can explain that deadlines are like the five o’clock whistle and you don’t want to miss it, or like the Midnight Madness sale at Macy’s. If you’re late, all kinds of bad things happen.

The next best thing is having your cat bounce on your chest at four a.m., howling like a banshee wanting breakfast. Get up, feed the cat, sneak out your laptop and type away. When your guests arise and ask, “What’s for breakfast?” tell them you haven’t seen I Hop’s menu yet but you’re sure it’s tasty.

Remember, writing is a trade not a hobby. If you want a hobby, take up knitting. You can knit and talk at the same time.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year!

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