How to Write When You Don’t Have Time (or have had too much egg nog—or Hanukkah gelt)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? It’s cold, wet, gets dark at 4:30, and most of us have no time or energy to write.

Let me explain. We’re entranced during this season. I don’t even celebrate Christmas, and Hanukkah/Chanukah/Hanukah is technically classified as a festival, and while important, it does not, in any way, have the heft of, let’s say, Passover or Yom Kippur, yet it gets all the good press. I digress. There are lights, food, and happy faces. People want to chat. They want to know your plans, about your kids, about your life (which has given way to those Xmas letters). What’s not to feel good about? Don’t forget Christmas decorations. Because lights. Need I say more?

What’s not to feel good about is falling behind on a deadline or a work-in-progress. It’s not bad to take a break. At one point while writing The Glass Wives (which seems like a lifetime ago) I stopped for six months for some life-tending. But if you don’t want to take a break, but feel like it’s time to spend your time on other things, remember that you can’t really write without living your life.

So go live it!

When people would ask me if the characters in The Glass Wives were based on real people, I answered honestly. Yes and no. Did I know people exactly like the characters? No. But were they snippets or truth stirred with pure imagination? Yes. But one of my favorite stories to tell is how one day I was waiting for my daughter to come out of junior high (she’s a college sophomore now) and I saw another pick-up lane mom get out of her car. She was dressed just the way I’d imagined my character, Laney, to dress. So I watched her. I watched the way she walked in her books and the way her coat swayed. I watched her push her long curly hair off her shoulders then scoop it back again. And, creepy as it may sound, every time I wrote about Laney I thought of this woman, this scene. But at that moment, I wasn’t writing a thing. Nor did I take a note, or record a voice memo. I simply had the experience and used it later.

You know, in my writing.

Nowadays I’m working part-time at a friend’s restaurant. Every day I talk to a hundred people if not more. Most are friendly, some are not. A few are rude. Some are in clothes that tell me what their jobs are, like a policeman or road worker (it’s the fluorescent vest that gives it away). Some are in clothes that tell me nothing except that the person cares about style, or doesn’t. I also know that I don’t know much about any of them but that it doesn’t matter because I write fiction. And when it’s time for me to write about something icky — I’ll likely remember the guy who handed me his credit card after holding it in his mouth.

When I want to write about confusion I’ll write about people who don’t leave a tip (I don’t waitress, but please, if someone is cooking your food, delivering it to you, and cleaning it up, leave a dollar on the table).

When I want to write about entitlement I’ll likely try to channel the woman who is never satisfied, never has enough crackers, or pickles, or mustard, and always wants something free to make up for it.

Maybe if I want a little angst, I’ll write about the bathroom lock that gets stuck every time I’m in there.

Perhaps one of my characters will wear a lovely hat with a purple flower, like a woman I met yesterday. Or maybe I’ll describe the reaction to someone having matzah ball soup for the first time. Or kreplach.

So, in the season of parties and shopping and family gatherings lies your opportunity to gather up all of the goodness and save it for a time when you do have time to write. When you have a character who requires a joyous demeanor, or an overstuffed belly, or even a Grinchy mood. Or a fancy hat. Or food on his face.

The best part is, no one knows what you’re doing. And you won’t be writing about these people, just your experience of them.

Don’t forget about the feeling you get when you wait in line for an hour, or get caught in a two-for-one sweater frenzy. Don’t forget the excitement of seeing someone you haven’t seen all year—or maybe that’s worry.

Whoever you see and whatever you do, if you need to, just pack away the pen and the smart phone and enjoy the season. Take it all in, but don’t take notes.  It will all be there when you need it, ready to be retrieved, and when your belly is filled with food, your calendar is filled with plans, your closets are filled with hidden gifts—hopefully your head will be filling with ideas!

 

 

 

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22 thoughts on “How to Write When You Don’t Have Time (or have had too much egg nog—or Hanukkah gelt)

  1. This is such a useful post, Amy, especially as the holidays rocket toward us and it becomes easier and easier to feel like our attention is fractured and we’re not doing ANYTHING right, because something is always getting left undone. Thank you for the reminder! I love your life lessons about working in the restaurant, too.

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  2. What a wonderfully optimistic post, Amy! I love the takeaway message here, especially since I’m in the same boat and don’t have any time for the actual act of writing right now either! But you’re right–experiencing life and cataloging it away counts, too!

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  3. Love this Amy. Writing is life and life fuels writing and writers are never without noticing what is going on around them. And the woman you saw at PJ High will never know she is in THE GLASS WIVES. But that’s the writer’s priviledge. THANKS, and mazel tov. Beth

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great post, Amy. I enjoyed the examples of your observations and the reassurance that it’s really and truly okay to “just” live our lives for a while. It’s like a sabbatical, I guess (not that I’ve ever had one) — you return to work refreshed (and maybe a little heavier from the latkes). Happy Holidays.

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  5. I love the idea of productive people watching! People are at their “best” at this time of year! I’m actually looking forward to the holiday weeks to catch up on writing I’ve had to set aside to get work projects finished in the past few months. The time around the holidays are my only real vacation during the year, so I’m determined to overcome the weather and holiday craziness to get some creative work done–wish me luck!

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  6. I have to admit the busyness of the holiday season and lack of writing time leaves me a bit frustrated but you have a great take on it. Things seem so much more amplified during the holidays – it’s almost like people turn *themselves* into characters, don’t they?!

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  7. I love this! Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the obligation of writing, I forget to actually live or try new things. It’s such a hard balancing act. Thanks for your insight!

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