OR: How NOT To Be Defeated By Christmas
Look, you actually already know quite a lot about surviving the holidays. For one thing, you’re here, aren’t you? And that means you’ve survived at least one–and let’s be honest, one-year-olds are a bit young to be self-publishing authors, but we support you too, one-year-olds, go get ’em!–holiday season. Very likely, you’ve survived several.
The thing is, those holidays you’ve survived may not have been, how shall we put it … productive? Yes, that’s close enough. “Productive holidays” may even strike you as something of an oxymoron, each being mutually exclusive of the other. But I’m here to assure you that, in fact, the term is not only literally possible but it can be yours–this month!
No, it’s not too late to get ahead of Christmas 2016. It’s easy to be fatalistic upon entering the second week of December, but I find it useful to remember the wise, wise words one of my coworkers has passed down to me from her father: “It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done.” And a lot of holiday stress? Well, it just goes poof out the window when you apply this idiom to reality. I don’t need to hand-craft every Secret Santa gift or hand-letter every card with fine calligraphy. I don’t need to make a gourmet meal on Christmas where everything comes out of the oven at the same time like it does on America’s Test Kitchen and The Great British Baking Show, and I definitely don’t need to do it all alone, like I have something to prove. But these feelings, this sense of obligation to craft the perfect holiday–they’re real. It’s real. And my friends don’t help at all.
I have friends who are Christmas fiends, bargain-hounds, and holiday maestros. And that’s wonderful, it really is. But in the age of Pinterest and Instagram, those banner apps for the socially and domestically blissful (and skilled), it’s easy to feel like I’m not measuring up–even when I’m racing flat-out just to get the basics covered. I’m 100% certain social media was invented with white picket fences in mind … but most of us don’t have a neatly manicured and curated life! And that’s okay. So the green bean casserole is a bit cooler than the Christmas ham? No big deal! (It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done.)
The real trick to a stress-free holiday, however, isn’t repeating a mantra to yourself every five minutes when the gingerbread cookies catch fire in the oven or the dog pees on the bearskin rug (true story; don’t ask) you just laundered the day before.
No, the real trick is in not forgetting who you are as an author. It’s easy to put your writing in second place during the holidays–second place to everything. Work is busy in preparation for the holidays, the house is a chaotic wreck, and everyone seems to want something from you, if only emotional support. But you’re an author. This is a vital part of who you are. And it’s not a part you can afford to neglect for an entire month during a time of year when life is literally throwing material–comic, tragic, or just plain emotionally rich–at you every five minutes.
So here’s my suggestion: Start a journal. No, it doesn’t have to be a “Dear Diary” setup if that’s not your speed. It’s definitely not mine. I mean, I may have started there–but when things got really tough a few years ago, I simply started jotting down fragments of overheard conversations, things I was grateful for, and things I was worried about. This last one came to dominate, and I called the journal my “Worry Book”–once a worry was written down, it was exorcised. I closed the book each day and wouldn’t allow myself to worry about it anymore, since it was in the book. This may seem like a simple trick, and it didn’t always work, but sometimes it did and I emerged from that difficult year with a record of all of the most important things on my mind. That’s fodder for a book, right there!
You may be a classic journaler, or you might be a “worry booker.” You might take down notes, reporter-style, or you might be more the sort to challenge yourself to write a poem a day. Whatever it is, be systematic. Sit down at the same time every day–preferably early, before the day really gets started–and knock out a few drops of ink from that fountain pen of yours. You can afford to write disconnected and fragmentary thoughts about life in your journal–but you can’t afford not to write at all. Keep that pen in hand, folks, even when life gets busy–and remember what my coworker’s dad said!
It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be done.
Honestly, I’m pretty sure this applies to first drafts and initial thoughts and journals every bit as much as it does to Christmas dinner. Just remember who you are, and what builds you up–what refreshes you and energizes you and prepares you for the day. I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve a pen!
You are not alone. ♣︎