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December 21, 2017

Holidays and Writing: Chaos, Inspiration, or Both?

Gold ornaments under tree with text: Using Holidays for Writing Inspiration

I don’t know about anyone else, but this year’s holiday schedule is messing me up. Christmas coming after the weekend is making it hard for me to plan out how to get my to-do list done.

One second I think “Eh, Christmas isn’t until next week, I’m fine,” and the next second, I’m freaking out about having only a few days left. I’m done with shopping and most of the decorating, but the tree doesn’t have many ornaments yet, and I still have wrapping and card mailing and my epic cookie baking to do.

Hmm, I might be in trouble… *panics*

I’ll be mostly offline for the next week, but before I go, I wanted to thank everyone again for your support. Like last year, this has been an insanely difficult year for me (2 antibiotic-resistant infections, multiple surgeries, and complications at every turn), and I greatly appreciate all the help and understanding I’ve received.

Even with another year of “practice” at accepting help, it still feels odd to me to not be the one helping out. Maybe my stubborn attempts to keep writing new blog posts is my way of trying to balance things out. *smile*

Common Advice: Writers Need to Read

One thing I’ve managed to do “right” this year is get in lots of reading—thanks to lots of waiting (especially in doctors’, dentists’, and surgeons’ offices).

This year, I signed up for a Reading Challenge on Goodreads. At first, I set my goal at 50 books for the year. As I neared that number months ago, I increased my challenge to 60 books, then up to 80 books. Finally, I left it at 80 and didn’t worry about it. *grin*

86 books later, I think this is the most reading I’ve done in decades. And just as I know many romance authors (and readers!) are in the mood for Christmas-themed movies this time of year, I’m often in the mood for Christmas-themed books as well.

I love holiday-themed stories of all types. (I’d love to read an #ownvoices story with Diwali celebrations, for the Hindu Festival of Lights. Please deliver, universe!) And one of these years, I want to write a Christmas story of my own.

Whether we write a whole holiday-themed story or not, we might want to include holiday scenes in our stories.

Why Are Holidays So Powerful in Stories?

Most of us have a favorite holiday (or two). Sometimes we love a holiday because of the meaning behind the day. Sometimes we love a holiday because of the celebrations (fireworks, being with family, wearing costumes). And sometimes we love a holiday for the trappings (music, parades, TV specials).

Do you love holiday-themed stories? How do holidays affect our writing? Click To TweetBut what really makes a holiday special, year after year? Why do we look forward to it?

In a word, memories.

We remember the celebrations of years past and how much we enjoyed it. Those memories are what make us anticipate upcoming holidays.

We’ve lived through thousands of Thursdays, but we probably can’t pick out any particular one unless something unusual struck us about that day. Similarly, the events of a holiday are different from our normal everyday life, so the memories stick out in our mind.

Memories Are Relatable

Christmas always stands out in my memories because there are so many “extras” I love about it. Above and beyond the gift-giving and family time, I enjoy baking Christmas cookies to share, and I get warm fuzzies from Christmas songs.

At the same time, I also remember the stress and chaos leading up to the day (and sometimes the noise and chaos of the day’s events themselves). We might have memories of the desire for everything to be “perfect” or of a toddler getting into the wrapped presents or the cat climbing the tree and knocking it over.

No matter the specifics, those memories are relatable to many. As writers, we can tap into the memories of our readers when we include holidays and celebrations in our stories.

Including Holidays in Our Stories

Like us, our readers probably have strong emotions about holidays, and we can use that to our advantage when we write holiday-themed scenes. Sometimes we might want to play into the stereotypical happy feelings, but other times we could go against type.

Imagine a heroine struggling for acceptance from her overly picky mother. A scene with them arguing about the heroine’s cooking ability could have extra punch if it took place during Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another food-centric holiday.

(Are there any holidays not about food? Not according to my family. *snicker*)

Or imagine a a hero faced with a choice that has been foreshadowed by one of his New Year’s Resolutions. We all know how often those are kept. *cough* So the reader won’t know which way he’ll decide until he acts.

Setting—the time and place of a scene—can be used to increase the tension and emotion for the characters and the reader, and holidays come with inherent tension and emotion. In other words, the next time we’re writing a scene that feels flat, we can see if changing the setting, like to a holiday, improves how events play out.

Other Ways Holidays Interact with Authors

Of course, holidays affect authors not only from the perspective of reading or writing stories, but also due to the extra difficulties of fitting in writing time. I usually don’t plan to get anything done during the month of December because my typical crazy schedule cranks up to 11 on the hectic-dial…and I have a feeling I’m not alone.

As we’ve talked about many times this year, just remember that this chaos will pass. And don’t beat up on yourself if you struggle to keep up with your usual writing schedule.

Now, if you’re celebrating this week, I hope your plans all unfold smoothly, your travels all go safely, your family members all behave perfectly, and all your dreams for the New Year come true. I’m off to start my annual cookie-baking extravaganza.

If tradition holds, I’ll end up with between 500 and 600 cookies. Want to take bets on how much I overdo it? *snicker*

Speaking of… *passes around platefuls of virtual cookies* Here, take as many as you want—I’ll have plenty. This year I’m making chocolate fudge, fudge oatmeal bars, chocolate bark (Angela James’s Cracker Candy), Russian tea cookies, and two more that have yet to be voted on by the family. (Told you I was behind schedule…)

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not,
I wish you all the best during this season.
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!
And take some cookies… Please! *smile*

Are you ready for the holiday yet, or is this year’s schedule messing you up too? Do you participate in reading challenges or keep track of how much you read? Do you enjoy reading (or writing) holiday-themed stories? Which is your favorite holiday for stories? Have you written any holiday scenes, and if so, did you go with or against the stereotypical emotions of the holiday?

P.S. It’s that time of year to nominate your favorite blog/website for the various “best sites for writers” lists, such as Writer’s Digest or The Write Life. Take a minute and nominate your favorite site!

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9 Comments on "Holidays and Writing: Chaos, Inspiration, or Both?"

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Sieran Lane
Sieran Lane
Jami, my favorite holiday is Halloween. So I LOL’ed when you said, “Sometimes we love a holiday because of the meaning behind the day.” XD But yes, I have generally had pretty good memories associated with Halloween, dressing up and trick-or-treating. I especially loved “surprising” people with my choice of costume every year! I stopped dressing up sometime around my undergrad, but afterwards, I started wearing Halloween costumes again! As well as this, I had always been fond of cartoon ghosts (but not horror movie ones, lol), like cute Jasper, Danny Phantom, and my favorite Pokemon, Gengar. Since ghosts are commonly associated with Halloween, that could be another reason why I feel pleasantly towards this holiday. In my mind, I don’t feel much terror towards Halloween, even though that is the traditional connotation of it; instead, I’ve linked Halloween to fun, happiness, and self-expression. My second favorite holiday is probably Easter, because I like the Easter bunny and finding Easter eggs! Haha, I always have more time to write during holidays, because I don’t have to go to school. Even when I was still living in the same country as my family (lol), we usually didn’t do much other than to go to my grandma’s house to eat dinner with my relatives. Lol, I set a goal of 50 books, but have just reached 46….Sieran’s got to read faster!! I managed to read more than 100 last year, if I remember right, but that’s because I only started school in… Read more »
Aurora
First of all, I want to thank you for your posts on the writing craft which I read as soon as I get my e-mail notification. I’ve been reading you this entire year and your experiences and tips are all welcome and very insightful! Thanks, Jami! About the holidays. I’ve yet written anything surrounding any celebration but I often wonder how would my main characters of my WIP celebrate Christmas or New Year. I write historical mixed with current fiction and alternative universe so a piece of my story is based in the past, good two hundred years ago in Vienna. Just for the sake of finding out as the history nerd I am, I’d write something aside my plot to include a holiday, specially New Year, my favorite one! Only today I’ll go to do some Christmas related shopping and I know I’m late and that shops are a chaos already. I write short stories in my blog and currently I’m working on the second part of my latest one but I know these days people are not really in the mood for reading stuff from the net, and so I plan to post it after the holidays, sometime in January. This tweet perfectly embodies how writers spend different events and I cracked up when I saw it: https://twitter.com/byMorganWright/status/942820942300041216 (It’s no spam but a tweet, I promise!) Happy holidays to you and all your readers, Jami! And thanks, by the way *grabs a couple of cookies from tray* 🙂… Read more »
Clare O\'Beara
Clare O\'Beara

Don’t worry about writing too much during the busy weeks around the end of the year… concentrate on cleaning the house, airing the winter clothes, getting in food and fuel, gifts and ideas. Meet people, share life and love. You will come back to writing in January refreshed and refilled with ideas.

June
June

Had never thought of doing holidays. I’ll stick the idea in my writing toolbox. Hey, that virtual chocolate fudge is good! You must use dark chocolate. Wonder what a bit of dark honey would be like in it.

This is my go-to writing blog because of all the archival material as well as the current blogs. It’s my favorite, so I will let others know on Writer’s Digest.

Laurie Evans
Laurie Evans

I’ve mostly given up trying to write during the day; I’m doing my word count at night. I’m tired, but trying to finish a book that should’ve been out earlier this year. It’s fine…everyone is in bed and I have quiet!

Click to grab Stone-Cold Heart now!
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