It’s not that I don’t enjoy the break from routine and the urge that (most) people have to be a bit nicer to each other at this time of year.
No, it’s the excesses that I find a trial: too much spending, present-wrapping, eating, drinking, socialising and TV….and no chance to sneak off to be alone and write.
So, here’s my ‘writers’ survival guide’. Feel free to comment with a few tips of your own and we might all just make it through to the other side…
1. Walk. If you can ‘escape’, consider going for a long walk or two. Think of Dickens! Dickens was a compulsive walker all his life. He once wrote. “I think I must be the descendant, at no great distance, of some irreclaimable tramp.”
Most days he abandoned his desk and took to the streets of London and its suburbs, routinely walking as many as 20 miles a day. All those people and places he saw must have been the inspiration for characters and plot lines. And there’s more to it than that: walking has been scientifically proven to get the creative juices flowing. And if it was good enough for Dickens – whose published works add up to 4 million words – then I reckon it’s good enough for the rest of us.
2. Watch TV! Unless you have a power cut, it’s pretty hard to escape it over Christmas, so we might as well embrace the ‘idiot’s lantern’. There are actually a few ‘writerly’ films and programmes on, so you can watch them without guilt because they count as ‘research’.
For example, on BBC 2 on Saturday 17th December 2016, A Christmas Carol is showing (the one with Jim Carrey). That’ll get you into the Christmas spirit if nothing else will!
On 29th December 2016, also on BBC 1, there’s a new film about the Bronte sisters ‘To Walk Invisible‘ (written by the fabulous Sally Wainwright)
And on Christmas Day itself, ITV is showing Maigret’s Dead Man, starring Rowan Atkinson – an adaptation of the mystery novel by George Simenon.
3. Read. I always feel guilty when I read but it’s just as important for a writer as actually writing, so I’m ditching the guilt and I’m going to try to get through some of the books on my big ‘to read’ pile.
4. Do a jigsaw puzzle. For the past couple of years, I’ve bought us a jigsaw for Christmas and it’s incredibly relaxing! (And feels slightly decadent – it’s not something I would ever normally have ‘time’ to do). While you’re searching for that ‘side piece with some red on it’, it actually frees up your mind to think about other things. Try it and see. And if you want more evidence that jigsaws are good for your brain, read about it here.
5. Learn to Touch Type. If you still use two fingers on the keyboard and you really want to improve your writing speed in the New Year, why not teach yourself to touch-type? I learned a long time ago and it was one of the best things I ever did. I paid to go on a course but you don’t need to do that: there are lots of free workshops on the internet. Try here or here.
6. Tidy up! I know that one’s a bit dull. It’s like, as a child when you complained of being bored and your mum suggested you could ‘tidy your room’ but, if you’re anything like me, you have piles of stuff – magazines, articles still to be read and half-written stories – lying around. See if you can clear the decks, so that you’re ready to start the New Year with a clear desk – literally and metaphorically.
7. Plan For Next Christmas. Get inspiration for some Christmas stories to sell next summer. Cut out clippings of Christmas articles in newspapers and magazines; keep any awful ’round robin’ letters that you receive; have a notebook to hand during obligatory visits to the relatives. Who knows, you might hear a snappy line of dialogue or get a Christmas story idea.
8. Write your New Year’s Writing Resolutions – but be gentle on yourself. And realistic.
9. Play with writing ideas for 20 minutes a day. The Writers’ Greenhouse has got some daily prompts and playful ideas to help you along the way, as part of their ’12 Days of Writing’.