Things To Do On Your Holiday Writing Break

More than any avocation I can think of, writers are likely to view the holidays as a time to get more work done, especially if it means they get some time off from their day job.

In theory… could be.  In reality, there are risks.

This plan can be hazardous to your health and your writing if:

  1. You live with a significant-other who ends up doing all the requisite Holiday shopping, wrapping and entertaining work while you lock yourself into your writing closet “making things up,” which is a phrase you’ll likely hear before the season winds down;
  2. You use the season as a sort of deadline, as in, “I want to finish my novel before New Years Day because, well, that’s when I said I’d do it,” because rushing to meet a self-imposed deadline is like taking off the parachute before the pilot solves the engine problem;
  3. You waste the time completely in the name of getting away from it all for a while.

Many writers have discovered that this last one – getting away from it all for a while – can be some of the most creatively productive hours you will retrospectively realize you’ve spent as a writer.  Here are a few things to consider.

Read a Bestseller

The dirty little secret among working writers is that we don’t read as much as we would like to, or that we should.  Find that book you haven’t gotten to, or have in mind, and lose yourself in it.  Go ahead, tell yourself this is your time… but the truth is you’ll be reading to learn how that writer did what they did.

Which is a good thing.  A great thing.  The more you understand about the craft of fiction, the more you realized you can’t “un-see it” when you read it out there.

Catch Up On Your Craft

It can be hard to dive into writing books and websites while you’re in the middle of a project.  And yet, there is so much to learn, so much valuable and immediately applicable information that may contribute to the very project you are putting on hold until the Super Bowl.

This isn’t a long range strategy, more like a steroid shot at halftime to make you stronger when the clock starts ticking again.

Hey, you’re already here, reading The Kill Zone.  Spend a few hours catching up on the archives.  Read one or more of Jim Bell’s terrific new ebooks on craft.  For that matter, read my new writing book on craft, too, which I promise you will take you to a higher level.

Even seasoned pros, upon going back to training camp, see immediate payoffs in their WIP, because no matter how hard you try, it’s never that far off your radar.

Test Fly Your Premise

Chances are most people in your life know you’re a writer.  That doesn’t mean they’ll ask you about your work at the office or neighborhood party – there’s often about a 30-second window for your answer to “what are you working on here?” before their eyes glaze over –but if the opportunity presents itself, pull out your story pitch and let it fly.  Then ask for feedback, assuring that you are seeking brutal honesty.

The look on their face is, by the way, just as informative as the words they say to you in that moment.  They won’t be brutally honest, by the way, but you’ll see it in their eyes. Confusion never hides.

You may find that the plot twist you had planned in the middle – the one in which your hero is suddenly visited by the ghost of their high school creative writing teacher urging you to go plumbing school – isn’t as clearly logical or clever as you believed it to be.

Read From Page One

If you do have a WIP, stop writing it and begin reading it.  Not necessarily editing it – this goes contrary to the common advice to not edit while you write, which isn’t something I buy into but won’t be the nay-sayer here until I get to write an entire post about it, which is forthcoming in 2016.  Find a way to do this away from a keyboard (like, put it on your e-reader or even go old school and print it out), and read as if you are an agent or an editor or someone browsing through Barnes & Noble.

Do this from a story perspective, rather than that of a line-editor.  The payoff may prove to be significant… because if there’s a reason you story may not work, chances are it’s already on the page.  Use this time to find it.

Journal New Story Ideas

The world is your idea machine, if you look in the right places.  Go to a bookstore and read as many hardcover dust jackets and paperback covers as you can.

Got Netflix?  There’s an entire free channel available that is nothing but movie previews, where you can get Hollywood’s best story pitches in two minute bites.  (Notice that every movie trailer shows you five essential things, see if you can find them in each preview you see: the premise and the concept that fuels it, the first plot point, the first half of the character arc, and some hints of the story points beyond the FPP that turn it all into an immersive experience.)

Have a notepad nearby.  Not only will you want to capture those flashes of inspiration.  Trust me, it won’t be ripping off anything you see; what will happen is your brain will take something you’ve just absorbed and send it hurdling toward another story opportunity that isn’t in front of you at that moment… that happened to me watching the preview of the new Netflix series Jessica Jones (killer, by the way), when out of the blue a new thriller landed on my head with an almost audible thud.

Embrace the Siren Call of Your WIP       

Which, if you’ve done this right, is calling to you from behind the closed door of your writing space.  Imagine yourself as Kirk Douglas, roped to the mast of that ship as the sirens wail Celine Dion ballads from the shore, driving you crazy with desire.

Don’t go to her.  Your heart will go on.  Missing your story is healthy.  Being too close to it… that’s the point here.

Wishing you all a very happy, relaxing and productive holiday season.  The best story of all is the one you are living, and like the stories on your hard drive, you have control over what happens next.  Make it count this year.

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About Larry Brooks

Larry Brooks writes about story craft, with three bestselling titles from Writers Digest Books. His book "Story Engineering" was recently named by Signaturereads.com to their list of the "#27 Best Books on Writing," in the #3 position. He also has released six thrillers from Penguin-Putnam and Turner Publishing. He blogs at www.storyfix.com and teaches at conferences and workshops nationally and internationally.

6 thoughts on “Things To Do On Your Holiday Writing Break

  1. I think this is excellent advice particularly when you do get to pursue your writing regularly all year long and need to change things up.

    In my case, however, I’m the complete reverse. During the majority of the year, I have to focus on things that can be done in small snatches–reading that best seller, a little writer continuing education, occasionally pondering new story ideas; writing a few words a week.

    The thing I look forward to most all year is the holidays to get down and dirty and intense with my projects because I have time to actually be and think and have a few creative juices flowing. And this year is great because I will have two consecutive 4-day weekends over Christmas and New Year’s to really hunker down and work. And fall semester will also be over. I can’t wait!

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  2. This is so timely for me. A story I planned a few months back keeps haunting me, calling me, begging me to write it, but I promised myself I wouldn’t touch it till the new year. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore her, though. Some of my best ideas came while reading or, y’know, in the shower where I don’t have access to a pen, but that’s a whole other subject. *awkward smile*

    Happy holidays!

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  3. College professors who are, or should be, researchers and writers also find the holiday seasons most productive. It’s impossible to get much done with the distraction of grading essays and doing course prep. I divide the holiday time between doing work for my “real” job and crafting my stories. But I have to get ready for that next semester too, so it’s all about balance. Thanks for the post, as always.

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  4. Holiday break, holiday break, I don’t need no stinkin’ holiday break! What day is it?

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  5. Guilty as charged, Larry. I do take one day a week off for recharge, though I cheat on occasion. I do think a longer break can help writers from time to time, between projects. But since I’m never between projects, I’m sunk.

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  6. I love to unwind by engaging in Shameless bestseller reading in the genre of one’s current WIP. You find yourself mentally checklists things that work and don’t for future reference. Or they can help you get unstuck from a writing jam.

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