If you read this on the day I’m publishing it, which is doubtful, seeing as how it is Christmas Eve and you likely have a million other things to do, you may be any of many things:
–Snug in the comfort of a family holiday, feeling happy and joyous, or barely surviving the holidays with your family, convinced once again that you were switched at birth.
–Feeling all the feels, or feeling about as blue as a person can be.
–Happy and excited about what the fast-approaching new year will bring, or dreading it.
–Thrilled with what you’ve accomplished in 2017 or frustrated with yourself once again.
–In love with the hoopla of the season or just wanting it all to be over.
Maybe you feel a little bit of all these things—I know I do. But mostly I am feeling the feels of the season and loving it. There are things I didn’t accomplish this year that rile me, and the year itself was awful interesting, but Christmas is a time when we get to pause, at least for a day or two, and forget all that.
So whether you love this time of year or despise it, I recommend that you allow it to take you wherever you want to go. Enjoy the season in the arms of your family or curl up alone at home and binge-watch your favorite show. Celebrate or grumble. Whatever your choice, I hope that writing will be a part of it. Because I know for me, that whatever is happening in my life, good or bad, writing makes it all worth it.
So my wish for you is for a very merry Christmas, if you celebrate, and peace and joy if you don’t. Well, how about merriment, peace and joy for all of us?
It’s a few days before Christmas, and I still have shopping to do and presents to wrap. And cookies to bake. Forgot about that. So what am I going to do tonight? Watch a Christmas movie, of course. Because, Christmas movie. Enough said.
In general, I’m a terrible movie watcher, which is ironic for a couple of reasons.
#1 is because going to see a film at the movie theater is one of the great pleasures of my life. I love every bit of it; buying the crummy popcorn, watching the stupid advertisements, worrying that the people behind me are going to talk all the way through the movie. There’s something about the good old shared experience of watching a film that I just really enjoy.
And #2 is that I often study–and recommend–screenwriting books to apply to novel writing. Those screenwriters, man they have structure down. And structure is one of the hardest things for a novelist to master, at least in my opinion (and I’m fully aware that might just be my issue, though I see it in students and clients as well). And, yeah, I get it, reading screenwriting books without watching movies is sort of like writing a novel without ever reading one.
But for some reason there never quite seems to be enough time to go to the theater. And I’m terrible about watching movies at home. I get antsy, for one thing. But worse is my genetic propensity to fall asleep in front of the TV set. (I can’t tell you how many stellar performances I missed on The Voice this year.) It truly is genetic. My mother was famous for dozing in her chair watching Frazier, her favorite show, with a stack of half-read newspapers in her lap. My sister falls asleep in front of the TV and so does my daughter, who loves to tell the story of how she fell asleep during one of her first dates with her husband. He did marry her anyway,luckily. Putting up with slumbering women is apparently a prerequisite for marrying into this family. To this day, my husband pretends he believes me when I tell him I’m really not asleep and I haven’t missed a thing.
But Christmas movies. They are different. We have several that are required watching every year, and for some weird reason I don’t fall asleep. I could probably recite every line of every scene of these movies, and yet I don’t get bored and pass out. Go figure.
I have no idea why I don’t fall asleep during them, but I have been thinking about what makes them enduring, and that is just plain old-fashioned good writing: characters you care about, plot lines that have some teeth. With the exception of a couple on my list, you could take the background of Christmas out of them and they’d still work.
I keep waiting for Hollywood to come out with a new classic Christmas movie I can add to my list but that hasn’t happened for quite a few years. In the meantime, here are our favorites:
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There’s no better way to start the Christmas movie viewing season than with this classic of goofiness which really does exemplify the crazy intentions we set for a perfect holiday.
Elf. Yes, Elf. Its a great screenplay and a great cast–James Caan (one of my all-time favorites), Will Ferrell, Mary Steenbergen, Zoe Dechamel. At a dinner party a few nights ago, I was shocked to find people who had never seen this movie. It really is worth it. (It is actually showing at the Laurelhurst, if you live in Portland.)
Love Actually. If I could only watch one Christmas movie, it would be this one. Like all things that have to do with love, it is easy to mock. But I love it. So there. (And if you are a fan, also, here’s a link to some tidbits you might not know about the film.)
Will Watch if There’s Time
White Christmas. I’m not the best for old movies, but I do love this one. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney–what’s not to like? Plus, the ending where the big door opens up and the snow falls down is one of my favorites.
Meet Me in St. Louis. Not technically a Christmas movie, but still. I’m not as big as fan of this as some of the other oldies, but my husband loves it so I watch it. Once in a great while, anyway.
Can Watch Between Christmas and New Year’s
The Holiday. This was a movie that appeared and disappeared in the theaters, but for some reason I love it. In some ways it is tied more to New Year’s Eve and though its set at Christmas, there’s not a lot of Christmas stuff in it.
So that’s my short list of Christmas movies. We’ve managed to watch the first three so far this season. Of course, this year I really am going to the theater the day after Christmas to see the new Star Wars movie. (I don’t even know its proper name. Everyone refers to it as the new Star Wars movie.) And by then I’ll probably be back to my usual falling-asleep-in-front-of-the-TV routine. But I’ll have had my fill of Christmas movies by then.
So, tell me in the comments. What are your favorites? Which movies do you like to watch over and over?
I’ve got a bushel full of links for you today, many of them Christmas-related, because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the big day is only five days away. Awk! Excuse me while I go wrap some presents. No, instead I’ll do what I always do when I’m feeling overwhelmed: fart around on the internet. Here are some of my finds:
If you haven’t seen it yet, this video of Santa signing with a deaf child is worth a view.
Okay, enough of this holiday foolishness, let’s get down to writing.
Like everyone else, I watched the Adele special. (Because, Adele.) At one point she commented that singing is hard. Writing is hard, too, as this post attests. But, like all the good things, it is totally worth it.
One of the reasons it is hard is that as a writer, one must learn to weather rejection and failure. Here’s some advice on how to do this, from one of my favorite authors.
How do you describe your protagonist? Because, when you are writing in their viewpoint, it can be tricky. The ever-reliable Janice Hardy has advice for you.
And, here’s an interesting take on what takes some writers so loooooong to write.
Here is one of the links referenced in the above post. This one is from Joanna Penn on writing fast. It’s a podcast, to which I am morally opposed (because who has time to listen to them) but bless her writerly heart, she’s got a transcript on the page.
Okay, that’s it, that’s all I got. I’m off to In-law Dinner #2. By happenstance, last night we attended a dinner party with the in-laws from my son’s side. Tonight it is dinner with in-laws from my daughter’s side. Lucky for us, we all like each other!
PS–does anybody know of a way to save a WordPress post when you’ve accidentally deleted it, as happened to me the first time I wrote it? You know, like word has the little squiggle icon that you can hit when you want to get something back.
Yes, I know. It is the holiday season, and whatever holiday (Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, a pagan solstice celebration, your own made up day) you celebrate, odds are good that things are a bit, shall we say, busier than usual.
And, if you are anything like me (I presume you are, because we writers do tend to have certain traits in common) when things get busy, what’s the first activity to go? Yep, writing. This is clearly ridiculous because writing is the most important thing in the world to me (besides my family, of course). So why do I let my writing practice lapse at the first sign of being busy? Let me count the reasons:
Because writing takes concentration, and when I’m busy I don’t have enough bandwidth in my brain to work on my project.
Because in the crush of Christmas activities, writing easily becomes the least urgent item on the to-do list, so it doesn’t get done.
Because going out to Christmas parties and staying up late wrapping presents throws me off schedule and it is hard to get up as early as I usually do.
Because people visit from out of town and expect me to be at their beck and call, and really? I want to be. I want to spend time with them.
Because I ate too much sugar/drank too much wine/insert favorite Christmas vice here and now I don’t feel so good. Surely you don’t expect me to write?
You probably have a few choice arguments of your own to add to the list. But I’m here to tell you why you don’t want to pay any attention to those arguments and carry on with your writing throughout this season, and how you can accomplish this. First the whys:
Because for me, this is one of the most creative times of the year. The dark days of December engender all kinds of new thoughts and plans and ideas. If I didn’t spend time writing, I’d lose all those.
Because when I’m Not Writing, I’m an anxious, miserable mess. I feel like there is something missing. I feel weird and out of sorts. Now, listen, the holiday season messes with our emotions enough—do you really want to add an additional layer of anxiety onto it?
Because I don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel when I start writing again. I want to maintain the momentum I’ve created by writing every day or nearly every day.
Because it will make me feel better.
Because it gives me an outlet. When Great-Aunt Matilda tells me my hair looks awful for the tenth time, I can put my anger on the page and let it simmer there instead of inside me.
Yeah right. This is all well and good, but how in the universe am I supposed to accomplish keeping up with my writing. Funny you should ask. I have a few suggestions.
Lower your standards. Of course, your writing is brilliant and you must labor over every word to make it so. But cut yourself some slack this time of year. Allow yourself to write crap. Which brings me to my next point…
Do just a tiny bit. So you usually are a writing machine and you devote mountains of time to it every day. This season, write a pebble’s worth. As in, make yourself sit down for five minutes and be satisfied when you are done. Because…
You need a placeholder. By lowering your standards and lessening the amount of time you require yourself to spend, your keeping your hand in. You are maintaining the momentum and upholding your intention to write regularly. This will serve you very well when Uncle Ralph leaves and your schedule returns to normal.
And also bear in mind… One of the things I love most about my Christmas tree this year its color-changing lights. When the push of a button the lights switch from colored to white. This appeals to my fickle nature. And you can make the concept work for your writing, too. How? By switching the lights. Try writing in your journal every day during these busy times instead of writing a scene. Write to a prompt, or write a memory
from your childhood. Let the writing be different and fun for a few weeks and see what comes out.
And please, if you have any of your own tricks and techniques for maintaining your writing, share it in a comment
*My knitting readers will realize that this quote sounds familiar, and it is—I based it on the famous Elizabeth Zimmerman quote, “Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises.”
**By the way, in my last newsletter I offered Complaint Free bracelets to the first 10 people to ask. I still have a couple left. If you want one, hit reply and send me your address!
Took awhile for it to register that it is actually Friday the 13th. I always choose to think of it as lucky day, but today has been anything but. The attacks in Paris destroy me and now there’s been an earthquake off the coast of Japan. But I guess the rest of us have to carry on. And send prayers to those who are suffering. So, here goes with our usual Friday fare:
Who I’m crushing on: Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. I heard her speak on Wednesday night here in town and she was awesome. I’m now reading her book and loving it. Plus, she wrote my name in Arabic in my book and drew doodles in it, too.
What I’m plugging away on: My next novel. I was on a pace of 2,000 words a day, but then my 2.5 year-old granddaughter came to stay and I lost my momentum. Its damn hard to get up in the morning and write when you also have to get a child organized for school. I now understand my clients who complain about this a lot better. But I have managed to get 1K a day done.
What I’m loving: The autumn storms and leaves everywhere on the sidewalks and streets. This has been one of the most beautiful falls I can remember. And what is better than sitting by a fire, as I am right now, on a rainy day?
What I’m Stressing About: Thanksgiving. Love the holiday, but I cook for 14 people every year and it never gets easier. Though I do love making pies.
What I’m Looking Forward To: Christmas. I love it. Love, love it. We’ll go to a tree farm the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cut down a tree. And hopefully it will not take me two weeks to get all the decorations in, as it did last year.
And yeah, there is and will be writing throughout all of this. Because that’s what we writers do, carry on and keep writing. What’s up with you?
I hope you are happily opening presents, snacking on cookies, and enjoying the company of family and friends.
I know you are busy today (me, too) and so I'm not going to take much of your time. But I do have a free gift for you. It is….ta dum….a book of writing prompts, one for each day of January. Download it now and you'll be set to begin a consistent writing practice when 2015 dawns.
All you have to do is go here to download it. That's it. You can go now and I'll say, once again, that I hope you are having a wonderful holiday. But if you would like to stick around and hear the story of how this book came to be, feel free.
One of my former students, Amanda Michelle Moon, asked me to put together a book of prompts based on my Tumblr blog for the Noisetrade site and I was delighted to say yes. (By the way, you can see the interview I did with her when her book came out earlier this year here.) Noisetrade is a beautiful site, and its a place where you can discover new authors or music by downloading a sample of their work, or a short book, like mine.
My book features a short introduction about ways to use prompts, and then the prompts themselves–31 of them, one for each day of January. And best of all, it is free, free, free! So go download it and tell your friends as well.
Since I have you attention–big news! You can download a whole book of prompts for free, free, free! I wrote the book for NoiseTrade, which is a really cool site. I'll write more about it after Christmas, but for now, go check it out. And don't forget that there are tons more prompts on my Tumblr blog, from whence the following came:
#143 I lost (and found) these things this year: a necklace and a silver fork. Put those words together with tape and bus and write a sentence. Now use that sentence as a prompt.
#144 A man and a woman sit together at a holiday party. Others are up dancing and chatting. Suddenly the woman stands and throws her wine (red, of course) at the man.
What happened? What did he say to her? Are they husband and wife? Or coworkers? What did everyone else at the party do?
#145 I just read a novel in which the earth starts turning slower and slower and days and nights stretch to loooong lengths. What would you (or your main character) do if you had an extra hour every day?
#146 Both gigs were pretty good, but overall he liked being an elf better than a Santa.
#147 Stuffed. She had eaten way too many Christmas cookies at the party. But she couldn’t drink alcohol any more, because, well, you know, and so inhaling cookies was the only way to deal with what happened. Which was terrible. It always was when…..
#148 Last night, after I drank two glasses of wine and ate a meat and cheese plate, I ….
#149 The rain began softly at first, and then it came down harder and harder. Snow melted off the mountain and flowed into the river behind her house. The river became a raging torrent, creeping closer and closer to her beloved home. Soon, it was time to evacuate. She started packing boxes, but suddenly water started seeping beneath the doors. She only had time to take one thing and flee.
What did she take?
And now, just for fun, because it's Christmas, here's a bonus prompt in the form of a photo:
Write about what the scene evokes in your mind. And enjoy!
Oh, P.S., I know this is a busy week but several people have asked me when I was going to write my "three words for the new year" post. Look for it on Tuesday.
Raise your hand if, with 13 days to Christmas you are overwhelmed. Raise both hands if, with all the extra to-dos on your list, your writing is suffering.
I thought so. Me, too. There is shopping to finish, presents to wrap, decorating the house, writing Christmas cards, and on and on. And even if you don't celebrate Christmas I'd wager that you still get caught up in the hoopla. It's pretty impossible to escape.
But this is probably one of the most important times to write. For one thing, this time of year, with its early dark, is always an incredibly creative time for me, with numerous ideas popping up. It would be a shame to waste it. And for another, if you give up on your writing now, all could be lost until the new year. I speak from experience–this has happened to me.
So here's my advice: keep calm and carry on with your writing.
The whole "keep calm" thing has become a cliche, but it has a great origin. Rumor has it that this is what the queen mother said during the blitz of London, when bombs were dropping all over the city every night. Every freakin' night. Go take a look at this map of how many bombs were dropped on the city from July 1940 and June 1941.
And now tell me: does the stress of this holiday season equal the stress (not to mention utter terror) that Londoners felt during this time?
I didn't think so.
But how, exactly, to keep calm and keep writing?
For starters, remember that the calm part is like happiness–a choice. You can choose to get all stressed out and dramatic about your life or you can do what writers have done forever–put all that drama on the page. And remember, too, that throwing words on paper can be an incredible antidote to stress! Write out your anger and frustration. You'll feel better when you're done, I guarantee it.
It might also help to take the time to meditate, or walk, or do yoga or Qi Gong–whatever it is that calms and centers you. It is very easy to not take the time for these activities when you're in the midst of an especially busy time. (I'm writing to myself at the moment, I'll confess. I had a great meditation routine going but its been a week a few days since I've done it.)
Creating calm is often a matter of making time for it.
Ah, but you say, how can I take time for creating calm when I barely have time to write? The point is, you'll be better able to focus and get your writing done if you've spent a few minutes sitting quietly or taking a walk around the block.
And now, about that writing….um, yeah. Do me a favor and keep in mind one thing: you don't have to write 5,000 words a day to make progress. Perhaps it is time to lower your expectations for yourself. Instead of 5,000 words a day, aim for 500. When you're in the thick of it, maybe 500 is even too much. Go for having the time to look over your work and maybe make a note or two.
The point is, be easy on yourself. Put it all in perspective. Remind yourself that this too, shall pass. And if things get really overwhelming, go look at that bomb map again.
How do you cope during the holidays? I'd love to hear. Please leave a comment!
For as long as I can remember, December has been a creative time for me. This used to puzzle me. Why would the darkest time of the year be a rich, fertile period? For so many, the gloomy short days are depressing and anything but creative. Wouldn't it make more sense for my wildly creative time to be in, say, mid-summer, when the days are long and gardens (and life) is fully abloom?
But then I remembered the season of Advent. For many in the Christian tradition, the month of December signifies a period of waiting. A time of preparation. A run-up to the big event–the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. (Never mind that even the Pope himself says we got the actual date wrong.)
This realization helped to explain things. No matter what faith you practice, or whether you are religious, or spiritual, or agnostic, this time of year is imbued with the energy of preparation. And preparation can be crazy creative.
Coincidentally, however, it's also a crazy busy time of year. There are trees to decorate, presents to buy and wrap, family dinners to arrange. So how best to balance a need for creative preparation with the demands of the holiday? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Take time to make time. One of Mahatma Gandhi's forms of meditation was spinning (yarn, not partaking in aerobic activity). One day when he had an especially busy schedule he told his aides, "It's a busy day. I better take extra time to spin today." (This is a paraphrase. I have searched and searched for the exact quote. If anyone knows it, I'd love to get it from you.) It can be counter-intuitive, but taking time to meditate or journal might well be the best way to fly through your duties. Such activities center and calm you and enable you to release your worry and angst over getting things done, thus giving you extra time to work on creative projects.
2. Simplify. I'm crazy about Christmas traditions. Probably a bit too crazy. I love the holidays and put a lot of pressure on myself to do them up right. But the last few years I've realized that what I love most about the holidays is spending time with friends and family. And so I've allowed myself to keep some of the holiday decorations in their boxes. And I buy far fewer gifts for people. I enjoy the holidays a lot more and as an added benefit, I actually have time to write during this season.
3. Dive in. Or, make every minute count. Whatever you're doing, do it well. Do if fully. Do it with a whole heart and a whole mind. (Except for those times you're standing in line at the post office or the grocery store. Then, do this.) Chunk your creative work down into easily doable sessions. You can get a ton done in a few minutes if you are focused!
4. Remember who you are. Who are you? What's most important to you? 2013 is my year to be a novelist, the job description I've wanted all my life. But as I get wrapped up in my teaching and blogging and other duties, a day or two can go by without me participating in activities related to writing novels. At this time of year especially, I can forget who I am. Remind yourself of who you are often and that will lead you back to your center.
5. Bring love to it. You've got two choices in how you can respond to a given situation–with love or with fear. Though it's not always easy, responding with love is far and away the better option! It is that difficult and that simple.
What are your strategies for remaining creative during this time? How do you enjoy the gifts of the Advent season?
**If you're having difficulty finding time to write this holiday season (or any time of the year) why not consider the gift of coaching for yourself? There's no faster way to make progress on your writing than to work one-on-one with a coach. Learn more about my coaching here.