Hark, Another Deadline Looms – A Writer’s Guide to Holiday Stress
By Joanne Rock
There are a few times of year where I don’t feel like writing. Okay, maybe more than a few, but I can count on two for certain. I don’t want to write during the kids’ summer vacation and I don’t want to write during the holiday season when I could be shopping, baking, decorating or, well, shopping.
Of course, time off during my two favorite times of year isn’t always possible. Ideally, I’d schedule all deadlines around December fun and frivolity, but sometimes when I’m psyched for a project (or a paycheck) in August, I squeeze in just one more work commitment that ends up stealing away coveted time off.
Not to worry. You can work through the holidays and maintain your sanity if you’re prepared to manage your stress level and fight the inevitable frustrations. The tips below are relevant for any time of year you need some stress reduction, but I find they’re most valuable during the holidays.
Organization – If you’ve ever watched a cleaning show on television (can you believe there are shows about cleaning?) you already know that physical clutter creates mental clutter. So while I’m not a neat freak, I do try to keep my work space and my life as stream-lined as possible. During the holidays, the kids bring home extra projects from school and there are boxes lined up with items we plan to donate to good causes. Gift stashes fall out of the hall closet and the laundry room. And my office can become a catch all for baking and decorating projects if I’m not vigilant.
Try to keep your work space for work. On December 1st, devote an hour or two toward clearing the clutter and organizing your desk. Backup your hard drive, file old paperwork, delete ancient emails, swipe the cracker crumbs out of the keyboard, clean your monitor and your desk. Organizing sets the stage for a productive work space and helps you feel more in control of the work.
Finally, plot a schedule for your production over the next few weeks. Don’t ask yourself to produce ten pages on the day of your kids’ school play or when you have to plan a family holiday party. Give yourself light work days balanced by days of more intense work, but be prepared to follow through on the days you’ve slotted for really getting down to business.
Physical Environment – Once you have your work and your workspace organized, give some thought to enhancing your physical environment in a way that will soothe your stress. Consider the five senses and how you can please each of them. Is there a way to reduce noise pollution or create a quieter work area? Is your office far removed from the busiest hub of the house or can you invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones to create the quiet you crave? If you prefer music, load a new round of CDs and cue them up when you’re ready to work.
Many writer friends have found increased productivity through the purchase of lamps that utilize a full spectrum of natural light, the kinds of lamps sold to chase away Seasonal Affective Disorder. Or check out salt lamps that emit positive ions and see if that sounds like something that would soothe you as you work. You can write off the purchase of office items and it can do double duty as an early holiday gift to yourself. Once you’ve mastered the light and the sound, think about the scents, the feel of your chair or your keyboard. Last but not least, stock up on your favorite teas or another treat that will help make your work time more enjoyable.
Performance Anxiety – Still stressed in your beautiful new environment? Remember that there’s no cure for work-related stress like losing yourself in the work. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true! Fiction writers don’t become fiction writers for the sake of a paycheck. We’re in it for the love of it. Find that love for your work with your WIP—get into your own writerly zone—and you’re golden. Stress falls away and you’re thinking about your story and your characters instead of word count and deadlines.
Likeminded Writers – One of your most powerful tools is your bond with writers who are also stuck in the holiday deadline crunch, so don’t forget to tap this resource. Chatting with a friend who shares your dilemma is a good way for you both to de-stress and possibly recharge for another day at the computer. After you’ve allotted some time for mutual griping—and yes, a little venting can be cathartic!—try discussing your works-in-progress to see if you can help each other on sticky plot points or stubborn characters slowing you down. Your friend might have a fresh perspective that sets you off and running to get back in the Writer Zone tomorrow.