Making the most of your December writing time


I sympathize with anyone who has a January editorial deadline, because there are so many December distractions. These last two weeks of December are probably the busiest time on our calendars. No matter how we celebrate Christmas (or don’t), there is so much to do as another year draws to a close.

And even when we’re caught up and the schedule is clear, we’re often too tired to do anything more than pour a glass of wine, collapse on the couch and maybe reminisce a bit in front of the fireplace. It’s not a good time to expect creativeness to emerge from our depleted minds.

If we’re staring at a deadline, however, something has to make its way from brain to page. At that point a glass of wine is more likely to put us to sleep rather than stimulate thought. So what to do?

My recommendation is to first commit to the task, kick procrastination in its derriere, and carve out a block of time, preferably a minimum of an hour, to work on your manuscript. Set a specific starting time, write it large on a sticky note and plunk that somewhere obvious, like on the fridge, your bathroom mirror or the television screen … or on the cover of the book you’re tempted to pick up in isolated moments. (Trust me, that book will become the worst procrastination or escapist mechanism around, if you let it.)

When the allotted time arrives, spend the first five or ten minutes in preparation:

  • Open a window, stand in front of it (or stand outside the patio door) and do three or four minutes of exercise in the cold air – jumping jacks, jogging on the spot, knee bends, or just deep breathing and stretching if fitness isn’t your thing. You may be breathless and shivering when you’re done, but you’ll have increased the flow of oxygen to your brain.
  • Hit the kitchen and collect something that will provide more stimulation. For me it would be coffee or chai tea, but a few sugar candies to suck on (or c.h.o.c.o.l.a.t.e) would work, too. As much as wine seems to be a popular choice for some writers, this is not the time for alcohol. While acting as a temporary stimulant, it’s actually known to be a depressant.
  • In your writing place of choice, set a timer for fifteen minutes and settle down to write. Even if you’re not feeling inspired, write anyway. Keep writing until the timer sounds.

If you’re anything like me, at that point you’ll look at what you’ve written and toss it into the virtual garbage can! But persevere.

  • Set the timer for the remaining thirty minutes and carry on writing. You may be starting from scratch again, but I’m willing to bet my second chai latte that the quality of writing will be respectable and you’ll finish your session feeling encouraged. In fact, if time permits, you might just decide to carry on writing. Go for it! Remember, there’s a deadline looming.

What other methods do you use to psych yourself up for a necessary stint of writing when you’re not in the mood or circumstances are helping you procrastinate?


~  ~  ~

* Calendar photo by Renjith Krishnan

Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

8 thoughts on “Making the most of your December writing time

  1. I was in the dollar store last week with my three closest friends, we call ourselves the 4 Musketeers, when I noticed a timer. My old one is starting to crash. I had already gone through the till and when I glanced over my shoulder I noticed a long lineup, plus two of my friends were already at the door waiting. I put the timer back. A lady about my age, Metis, said, “I bought one for my mum and she loves it. I think I’ll get one.” I agreed, but explained that I’d have to come back another day.

    I had parked my SUV right outside the door. I was standing at the back loading my friends’ parcels when the lady came out of the store with her friends and approached me. She handed me a timer and said, “Merry Christmas.” Huge smile.

    I stuttered, managed to say, “Thank you” before she was gone.

    Your story reminded me of how wonderful life is at the most unexpected moments. Like the fact that I read Kittie Howard’s post this morning about Darfur, then I jumped to you and your tried and true advice. My little world is a much better place because of bloggers like Kittie, friends like you, and strangers who think nothing of giving.

  2. Sorry to have been scarce around here. Have been enjoying Noni Grace (thanks for the introduction). Your advice is very good – but what is one to do when the household doesn’t respect the timer? Always another problem.

    Wishing you all the joys of the season and the grace and peace of our Lord.

    1. So glad you’re enjoying Noni Grace’s blog, Judith. I’m sure she appreciates your visits there.

      I know trying to carve out that hour can be frustrating when you’re surrounded by a busy household. I’d have to say you need to be realistic in when and where you choose to write. As Norma (Noni) says below, an hour before the rest of the family awakens, or after they go to sleep (that’s what I’m doing right now … I surprise myself by not missing that hour’s sleep), or arranging a sitter or caregiver for an hour’s respite so you can go to the library, coffee shop or even the basement to write — sometimes it takes ingenuity! Then too, you prioritize, and maybe writing isn’t your biggest priority right now. Each of us has “real life” to deal with, and we deal with it in different ways. Just don’t give up on the writing if it nourishes you.

  3. I’m afraid that I’ve been letting too many things distract me this month. I may just have to get a timer. It’s a great idea, Carol. I wouldn’t have thought of it. Maybe because I’m too!

    I’m looking forward to the New Year and back to my regular writing time.

    1. Distractions are an inescapable part of life, aren’t they?! Unless you’re facing an immoveable deadline, part of your writing plan may be to schedule in a break to accommodate holiday activities. The big question is, when the New Year arrives will other new interruptions continue to distract you? Somehow I think you’re too self-disciplined for that to happen. 😉

  4. When my three boys were little (they were close in age) there didn’t seem to be time to do things for me, things that I wanted to do. I solved the problem by getting up an hour earlier, and spending that hour for myself.

    1. It sounds like motherhood was training you to be a writer even then! I know of several writers who regularly get up early to do their writing before the rest of the household wakes up. It’s an excellent suggestion … at least, it is if you function well early in the morning. I’m so NOT a morning person, but I stay up at night instead. I’m also lucky in that often I can have whole mornings, afternoons or evenings to use for myself.

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