Work in Progress #13: Holidays and Writer’s Guilt

CNW Bagel ShopIt never fails. Every year about mid-November, my writing grinds to a halt for about six weeks. Every year, I try not to let it happen and every year it does anyway. In my defense, Thanksgiving is when our children and their families try to make it home. And Christmas is the time when I send cards with personal messages to all the people I’ve known throughout my very nomadic life. These are things I love doing, but, along with the usual cooking, decorating, etc., they take a huge chunk of time.

I’ve tried various strategies to keep the writing going. Gritting my teeth and chaining myself to my desk for an hour or so every day never works. I feel guilty about not being out there getting ready for the holidays. But taking a complete hiatus from writing doesn’t seem to work either, even though I remind myself that I am my own boss and I am giving myself time off. I feel guilty about not writing.

I’ve come up with a sort of halfway solution. As I’m working through my current project, I compile a list of small tasks that can be accomplished in short bursts of time. Right now, for example, I’m setting up appointments with people I need to interview, making travel arrangements to places I need to visit, filing research information, and filling out inter-library loan requests (there are about 50 items I need and our local library only allows 5 requests at a time). All these tasks can be accomplished in a minute here or a minute there but when I’m Really Writing they never seem to get accomplished.

I’ve found that the ability to answer “yes” to the question “Are you writing?” without feeling guilty is a matter of perspective. For ten months of the year, making travel arrangements and filing research material would not qualify as a “yes”. But in November and December, making travel arrangements and filing research material is all the “writing” I can possibly do, so I don’t feel dishonest when I respond to any one who asks:  yes I am absolutely writing.

Writing can be about sitting down and getting to it.  But writing is also about getting through spaces where I can’t write.  Strategies for getting through those down spaces without getting taken completely out of the game are worth their weight in gold.