The Big Day is fast approaching and I’ve come up with a ‘survival guide’ for those of you, who, like me, find the whole Christmas festivities An Ordeal. (Bah Humbug and all that).
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, there’s a 3-part adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starting on 22nd December and an adaptation of Wurzel Gummidge, based on the classic children’s books by Barbara Euphan Todd and from New Year’s Day, the BBC has a 3-part adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
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’.
10. Chill – and give yourself some time off. Treat yourself to a gift here or here... (well, why not, it is Christmas!)
I can’t do 5 – I haven’t mastered 2 fingered typing yet.
Happy Christmas, Patsy – thanks for dropping by!
Thanks for the tips, Helen. There are some I hadnt thought of there and that Writers’ Greenhouse site looks good. I don’t like jigsaws though. I prefer a bit of Sudoku and differential calculus to sharpen the mind.
Merry Christmas and a creative New Year.
Keith, I’m sure Sudoko and differential calculus have a similar effect. Whatever floats your boat, as they say!
A great list of tips, some of which I’ll certainly be doing!
Thanks Rosemary! Happy Christmas to you.
If you don’t fancy a jigsaw, I recommend an old-fashioned colouring book.
Ooh, Julia, I really fancy doing some colouring! Next time I’m passing a stationery shop I’m definitely going to go and stock up. Thanks for the tip!
I agree Helen. Walking and reading are on my ‘to do list’. I got another rejection letter yesterday but my resolution is to ‘just keep on trying’. I also want to get a magazine subscription TABFF looks good to me. Hope you have a good break and all the best for the New Year. I am so glad I found your blog this year; it has been inspiring X
Thanks Ali! I subscribe to TABFF and it’s been really worthwhile. I only started getting stories accepted once I had a subscription and made a point of reading and studying the stories each month. Good luck – and let us know when you get your first acceptance!
Great post, Helen – really enjoyed the read. I’ll be following your tips too. Well done on all your successes and great published stories this year – I enjoyed reading them all. Hope you and yours have a very Happy Christmas and all good things in the New Year, Good wishes Kate Hogan
Fab tips, Helen. Thank you. I’ve had a jigsaw at Christmas since the year dot. It’s absorbing, gets you away from the telly and is very satisfying when you slot in that last piece. Much obliged for the info about Salmon Fishing In The Yemen. Have always wanted to see that and now have it recorded on the TV planner. Also a big fan of Call The Midwife. Merry Christmas, Helen and a Happy New Year. Hope we can get together soon.
Happy Christmas Clare and yes, we must get together in the New Year and catch up!
Some great ideas here, Helen – especially ‘walking’. I go stir crazy if I don’t get out of the house and walk every day (luckily I have Bonnie). I’m not sure about eh tidying up part… can I miss that one out? Have a very lovely Christmas whatever you end up doing, Helen.
Wendy, you are probably super-organised and don’t need to tidy up but I have piles (!) (of papers, magazines and stuff like that) lying around. I need to get sorted! Have a great Christmas! Love from our Bonnie to yours! x
Very good list of tips Helen, especially since xmas can be a tricky time of year: you can end up more overstretched than at any other time. I actually beat the pre-xmas stress this year by having to work right up until the last minute. I was then on a high from having finished a long long translation, and floated round the shops on xmas eve picking out presents and food in a zen state of mind, which has mostly stayed with me over the festive period so far. So I suppose the tip I’d add to your excellent list would be, undertake a big challenge just before the festivities to make it all seem like a doddle in comparison… 😉
Happy holidays to you and all my fellow followers of your ever-lovely blog, I hope everyone is having a relaxed, greedy and creative time.
Thanks Philippa – I trust you enjoyed your well-earned rest!
11. Eat chocolate. Please?
Great tips Helen. Just to say, despite the festive stress, I hope you and your family and all the writers here have a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Thank you, Sharon. Same to you too. Have a good break and Happy New Year!