by Michael Bedford
Published at 2022-11-22
Although the holiday season is meant to be a festive diversion, for some writers the holidays serve as yet another roadblock on the journey to publication: festive visits with family and friends, decorating, and hosting parties—all these merrymaking activities one would otherwise enjoy can sometimes feel a bit like distractions and scheduling conflicts if you’re trying to finish up a project. Because many writers set their own hours, the idea of taking time off for the holidays might seem frivolous. But in an effort to avoid being called a grinch, or, much worse, burning out, even freelancers should consider booking some time to enjoy the festive season, or they run the risk of getting visited by three ghosts.
Of course, dropping everything and choosing to get back to it later comes with its share of problems, so here are some friendly tips on how to put a pin in your writing projects until after the frenzy of the festive season.
To avoid thinking about your writing duties while making merry, consider the different ways in which you might bring your current project to a close.
If you’re only halfway through your manuscript, no need to worry—try to think of a spot that would be a logical stopping point for you to step away. Are you in the middle of a chapter? Or coming towards the end of a section? Or, if you’re a fiction writer, are you close to wrapping up the final plot point in the climax of your book?
Whether you’re finishing up one chapter of your book or nearing the end of your entire manuscript, closing the project down at a point that makes sense for you will make it easier for you to get back to work in the new year. Even if you choose to rewrite the last few paragraphs of that chapter once the holidays are over, you’ll still be better off than if you hadn’t tried anything. Sometimes making any choice, even the wrong one, is all you need to kick-start your creative side.
So, figure out what you need to do to finish up that chapter, the section, or the whole project. Do you need to tweak your writing outline? Or create an entirely new, more detailed outline just for the chapter you’re working on? Having a road map can be very helpful when you’re trying to finish something up, so add as many details and steps as you need!
If it’s going to be impossible to write everything you need to close a section or project down, or you have lots of ideas for what you want to do later in the book, consider drafting an outline or a few outlines of the way(s) you’d like your project to come to a close.
Be as specific as possible—include as many details and clearly explained points as you can. Ideas that seem crystal clear now can often get a bit hazy after some time away from the project, and you want to be able to dive back in as soon as you go back to work. So, in addition to any outlines you’re making about any unwritten plot points or arguments you’re planning on returning to in the new year, leave yourself detailed notes on settings, characters, plot points, and project-specific jargon.
Try to approach these notes like someone who is just a reader of your manuscript—don’t assume you’ll remember everything you’re thinking about now! After working and writing for weeks or months, you more than likely know your book inside out and sideways. However, a couple of weeks off might make it hard for you to return to that headspace when you sit back down at your desk. You might find it difficult to collect all those details again.
Leaving yourself detailed notes about why you did certain things the way you did, why certain things happened the way they did, and how you want to move forward now that you’re back at work is the best way to ease you back into that writerly mindset.
If you’re a non-fiction writer, make sure you leave yourself extra-detailed notes about where and how you want to pick back up again once the holidays are over. Step-by-step instructions are your friend! Include point-by-point steps for what you want to include in the next chapter’s introduction, in the first major chapter section, and so on. And if you’re only on chapter 4, but you have a great idea for tweaking the structure of chapter 8, make sure you write that down before you step away for your break. Don’t assume you’ll be able to remember it while you’re away—it’s always better to write things down.
If you’re a fiction writer, including a short write-up of what your characters’ arcs are up to the point you left off can be helpful when you return to the book. Notes on motivation, important points of view (does your main character have a secret that only one other character knows about, for example?), and relationships will help you quickly reorient yourself when you sit back down at your desk.
If you have notes that you’ve been scribbling throughout the writing process, it’s also good to make sure you’ll be able to understand them when you come back from your break. You might know what your shorthand means now, but when you return in two weeks, will you be able to understand what exactly you were referring to? Make sure you have everything you need to reorient yourself to exactly where you need to be to pick things up efficiently.
If you’re still stuck, otherwise incurable cases of writer’s block often clear right up after writing the pertinent information down and walking away for a couple of weeks. Taking a break from a project allows writers to recharge their creative batteries so they can return to work with fresh eyes and renewed energy. Sometimes forgetting can be a blessing in disguise, if you forget what exactly you were stuck on!
One key element to taking time off from a project is to use that time to its best advantage. Some authors take great solace in their literary work, so these writers shouldn’t feel pressured to take time off from writing completely. Instead, they should focus solely on the therapeutic side of their writing, rather than trying to slog through the parts that feel like work. Breaks should always be taken on one’s own terms, otherwise they’re not really breaks at all.
In the same vein, don’t consider your manuscript forbidden material during your break. If you’re struck by sudden inspiration, grab a notepad, and scribble down that idea. You might also consider checking in on your project halfway through your break. This check-in serves two purposes: seeing your detailed notes allows a certain peace of mind about returning to your project after your break, and a quick review will help jog your memory in preparation for your return to work.
However, don’t think of this check-in as mandatory. Your number one priority should be to take a break, so if you’d rather not look at the manuscript until your break is over, then don’t. Your notes and outlines will set you up well for your return to the project.
Above all, stay positive about your unfinished projects. The flashing cursor and the blank page are hard enemies to face, but struggling authors should remember that all books started out as ideas once. And, although it takes a great deal of hard work to turn an idea into a book, it isn’t work one can force or rush, so go easy on yourself and enjoy the holiday season. Now that you’ve set yourself up well for your return to work, you’ll be able to say, “I’ll finish this one next year,” and actually mean it this time.
Happy holidays everyone!
Michael Bedford is a freelance editor, copywriter, and performer living in Stoney Creek, Ontario. He can be reached at https://mgb-editor.com/.