Surviving the Holidays

Here it is, that time of year again, when it seems to take all our fortitude to avoid holiday hype, eat reasonably and actually enjoy our families – and yet somehow not lose the thread of our words.

There was a time, when my kids were young, when I would squander all my childcare hours sewing clothes for my daughters’ American Girl Dolls. In hindsight, I would have done better staying at my desk, not my sewing machine. Yes, the kids played with the clothes – for a day or a month or a year, who remembers? I wonder, now that my youngest is twenty, if I wouldn’t have been wiser to spend that time writing and therefore been less cranky when the daycare hours came to an end.

My holiday crankiness persisted, even as my children grew. With the pressure I felt “to make Christmas,” I put baking and decorating and gift-making and shopping ahead of my writing – and this at a time when I was working for pay in an office and getting up early to write.

Ironically, now that I am able to write for as long as I can sit at my desk, I’m also able to keep writing during the holidays, even with a dozen guests in the house. It helps that I have a separate space to retreat to – a room of my own where I do nothing but write. It also helps that I’m an early riser, and can sneak off to my desk while the household snores.

This past week, with anywhere between twelve and twenty at table starting Tuesday and lasting through the weekend, I was still able to put in one to two hours every morning, and arrive in the kitchen just as the second pot of coffee was brewing.  An hour or two isn’t much – but it’s something. It means that I was able to hold on to the narrative thread I’ve been knitting, and I’ve returned to my desk Monday morning without having to unravel chapter after chapter to pick up a dropped stitch.

Staying in touch with my characters and the alternate reality of my fiction for even an hour a day was soothing, and I found myself enjoying my children and our friends as never before. With a chance to visit my imaginary universe every morning, I was able to be the gracious hostess afternoons and evenings. Despite so many people in the house – and so many meals to prepare – I never resented the onslaught of visitors who stopped by or stayed over. It was perhaps the first time I really enjoyed my own house party. And I credit it all to staying in touch with my prose.

Being able to return to work on Monday without having to backtrack is an added bonus. I was able to sit down at my desk Monday morning – and stay there till lunch time. After lunch, I returned, putting in my first full day of work in a week. Instead of an interruption, Thanksgiving was a hiatus, filled with good food and good conversation, a few leisurely walks, and the annual bonfire.

Not everyone will be able to sneak away for an hour on holiday mornings – and not everyone will want to. But for those writers who are anchored to the world by their words on a page, I highly recommend figuring out a way to write – for five for fifteen or fifty minutes – even with a houseful of guests or a young family or at your in-laws’. It’s the habit of writing that matters; it’s the habit that keeps us toned, so that we can break out in literary flourishes when time and circumstance allow.

I’d love to know how other people maintain their writing selves during the upheaval of holidays from the end of November through the end of the year. Please let me know.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website:

17 thoughts on “Surviving the Holidays

  1. Absolutely right and like many people i am going to tell you that this message is a timely reminder for me, I am not distracted by people as much. But i went away for a few weeks and lost my rhythm even though i have been back for almost a week. So to work for me! Though i am going to be looking for that lost stitch first! c

  2. I write everyday, no matter what day it is. Like you, I am an early riser (I’m frequently up by 5 AM) and early morning is my most productive part of the day. But as a former child I have to say that children do appreciate the holiday efforts their parents make — you never forget them: my Mom used to take part of the roll dough and make us cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning when we were too excited to eat anything normal for breakfast. We all remember and talk about it.

    • My kids assure me they had good childhoods and magical Christmases. Maybe I’m still chasing after Super Woman – you know, the one who gets dressed before she starts writing and has a clean house. Maybe in another life.
      All best,

      • Getting dressed before you write is highly overrated, as is cleaning the house (in my opinion). I stumble to the computer in my jammies and get going as soon as my eyes are open — later for coffee, breakfast and daytime clothes.

  3. This past week, every time I sit down to write, the phone rings, or someone needs something. I can’t get any work done. Today on facebook, I am posting that my phone is lost in the house. It’s like when my children were little; they would be perfectly fine until I closed the bathroom door. Suddenly, everything was an emergency.

    I feel disrupted. I hate it. I have so much work to do, an article due tomorrow, and other work that is haunting me until I cannot write what I want. Today I will get all that work writing out of the way. Tomorrow, I will write for me, and no one else.

    • Oy! I know just how you’re feeling. I hope tomorrow is the quiet, centering day you long for, and that you can find a way to practice that centering daily – if even for just a short while. I’m learning that even a few minutes helps.
      Good luck, Deborah.

  4. Deborah, I can relate to your dilemma! I, too, try to wake earlier than the family to get a few precious minutes of “me” time, whether it be writing, blogging, reading…anything to keep my mind in the zone. I do pine for more time. Maybe for those of us with young children, it is knowing that the time will come, keeping our big toe in the writing world, until that day when the kids sleep past 6:30 a.m.!

    Great post!


    • Tonya,
      I now think that my major professional accomplishment during the baby years was simply keeping the desire to write burning (or in the case of your metaphor, keeping your toe submerged). Don’t give up. The kids do leave home – and we do eventually find out own quiet minds again.
      Thanks for writing – and best of luck,

  5. Thank you! This was a great post, that I could relate to.

    It was my first Thanksgiving that both kids were away, came back, and went away again. I have been cranky around the holidays since the mess of seperation, divorce, and death almost 8 years ago. I finally felt like I am coming back to myself during the holidays.

    It was the intentionally acts of taking time for me that made it all work. Making myself take a walk on Thanksgiving morning. Making it a priority to do the things I enjoy while still being there and being grateful for everyone who showed up. And getting back to journaling! I think it made me a better person to be around (or at least I thought so) 🙂

    • Isn’t it amazing ( and maybe ironic) that we can teach our children to be centered and independent while we’re dizzy and off kilter? I’m glad you’re writing your way back to center and health.
      Thanks for your note,

  6. You’ve made me think about altering the post I was going to make later today or tomorrow! But unfortunately my schedule does get busy this time of year. You are absolutely right, though. We have to find some time to spend with our characters and their worlds. Even if it is only five or ten minutes on those days when our world makes too many demands on us. Now back to my day job….!

  7. It made me smile to read your comparison of writing with knitting! Wish I hadn’t forgotten my knitting bag this weekend. I’m glad, too, that we had such a good time!

  8. Everyday is a new day and I write daily (thanks to the Post a Day) but when it happens is left up to fate. I would like to write early in the morning but usually I find myself writing way past midnight. *sigh.
    Thanks for the enjoyable read.

  9. Pingback: Update to “Just Write It” | Military Retirement & Financial Independence

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