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: www.deborahleeluskin.com