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  • Writer's pictureClaire Bentley

24 CHRISTMAS SURVIVAL TIPS FOR BUSY WRITERS

Updated: Oct 25, 2023


In this post I give twenty-four tips for surviving the hectic Christmas and end-of-year period for busy writers, especially if you’re a parent and / or have other complications in your life. Some are directly related to writing, others are related to life in general, and just for fun I mixed them together in the number sequence (because writing and real-life always clash anyway).


WARNING: I may* have ranted a little at points during this post! I love Christmas but I hate all the stress and preparation that goes with it (thank you, society). I don’t always pull my punches!


Some tips may work for you and others may not. Adapt or tweak the tips and strategies that work for you, in a way which suits your individual preferences and circumstances, and ignore the ones that don’t work for you.


*I did. I did rant. Expect more snark than usual.


TIP 01: ‘F*** IT, IT’LL DO’

This mantra helps me in many areas of life, including life admin and writing-related tasks.


Me holding a mug of coffee and pulling one of many faces I might pull when saying 'f*** it, it'll do'
One of many faces I might pull when saying 'f*** it, it'll do'

I’m prone to perfectionism and over-thinking things, and Christmas prep is no different. ‘Will my kids hate the presents I got them?’; ‘Oh no, I haven’t done enough writing this month!’; ‘Do I have enough of [insert random item that no one gives a s*** about]?’


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: doing it all is impossible! Instead, ask yourself: what (and who) are your priorities? What tasks do you like doing and wouldn’t mind devoting time to? What tasks do you hate doing? Could you do fewer of them, or delegate them to someone else? What is the bare minimum level of accomplishment you would feel comfortable with (especially with tasks you hate)?


Perfection is the enemy of happiness. There comes a point during December when you just have to say ‘f*** it, it’ll do’ and move on with an unburdened heart.


TIP 02: ELF ON A SHELF

Pick up your elf, head towards the bookcase, then continue past the bookcase and throw that little f**ker in the bin.

Me holding a small toy elf over the top of a dustbin
Put the elf in the bin

Whoever invented ‘elf on a shelf’ deserves to be slowly tortured on each day of December with a different holiday-related item each day. I’m sure I could think of some interesting effects I could achieve with tinsel. Oh, and an elf would be sitting on the shelf above them, watching the whole thing.


If this is something you felt bullied into in previous years (‘why don’t the elves visit my house? Why are they only at Darcy’s house?’) then place a passport in its arms on 1st December and tell your kid the elf is going on holiday for the month because Santa is a capitalist workaholic arsehole and the poor elf needs a f**king break. A bit like Mummy, except Mummy’s next rest isn’t scheduled for another fifteen years from now… admittedly I may have put too much thought into this.


Regardless, don’t do elf on a shelf. You’ll screw yourself for this year and years to come, and we have enough to deal with. We ain’t got time for that s***.


Plus dolls are creepy.


TIP 03: CAFFEINE, SUGAR, AND POSSIBLY ALCOHOL

Save diets and heathy eating for the New Year. With all the Christmas prep (read: stress) you’ll burn plenty of calories anyway. Especially when, at 10pm on Christmas Eve, you remember the one person you forgot to buy a present for. There’s always one.


Keep these vices around as rewards and treats for yourself, or even as ways to just get through the day. You deserve chocolate even more than your kids do. Infinitely more.


TIP 04: REDUCE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY GOALS

We should always make sure our creative goals are achievable and can be completed within a realistic timeframe. This is more important in December, when many of us are even busier than usual with chores, holiday preparation, seeing family and friends (even if we might not want to), and, if we’re masochists, moving an elf around the house every night.


With the best will in the world most of us just can’t get as much done around Christmas. Instead of beating ourselves up about it, we just need to accept it and adjust our goals and expectations accordingly. Maybe even (gasp) schedule some rest time? (Passes out).


TIP 05: CHARITY DONATION INSTEAD OF CHRISTMAS CARDS

For the last couple of years I’ve taken the money I would’ve spent on buying and sending Christmas cards, and instead donated it to a local food bank. It’s a win-win all round: it helps other people, it’s better for the environment, and it’s less stress for me.


If I want to send ‘Christmas messages’ then I text people. In fact I see a lot of them around the holidays anyway, so why the f*** do I then need to write Merry Christmas on a piece of glittery card and hand it to them when I’m right there in f**king person and can wish them Merry Christmas with my voice? Which, by the way, is free and which doesn’t need to be recycled.


Most people look at a card once then throw it in the recycling or (worse) the bin. Why the f*** do we all still send cards to each other? Other than to keep Hallmark in business?


Even worse, some of the parents at school get their delightful little cherubs to write a card for each member of their class. Why??? Now they’ll expect one back. And I struggle to get my own little cherub to do his reading and homework as it is, so how am I going to get him to write twenty-five Christmas cards in slow, spiky, barely-legible letters? I’d rather stick a cocktail fork in my ear. It’d be less traumatising.


TIP 06: FINISHING ENERGY INSTEAD OF STARTING ENERGY

I like the fresh start that the New Year brings. I never start a new project in December: I spend the end of the year finishing projects, tying up loose ends, and generally organising my writing and business so I can tackle new projects with a clear head in January. December is also when I tackle the business and life admin tasks I’ve been putting off for a while. Probably since January.


TIP 07: DON’T TRUST SOCIAL MEDIA

This is a double-edged sword because, as ‘serious’ creatives, we need to maintain a social media presence to reach and interact with our audience.


However, don’t trust all those beautiful pictures on Instagram showing happy, smiling, beautiful families in matching Christmas pyjamas, sitting around a perfectly-illuminated Christmas tree in the corner of a tidy and colour-coordinated living room. I feel like my rants are getting scarily specific.


Anyway, they’re lying. It took bribes, baby wipes, and (at minimum) a vacuum cleaner to get that shot. Don’t compare your messy and complicated family life to someone else’s heavily-edited highlights.


The same goes for writing projects. Just because one of the writers you follow on Twitter has just smashed NaNoWriMo and is pushing out a draft of the sequel before Christmas, doesn’t mean you should be. I guarantee that writer hasn’t slept properly in days. And they definitely don’t have kids.


TIP 08: YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO AFFORD AS MUCH THIS YEAR, AND THAT’S OKAY

On a more sombre note…


The cost-of-living crisis is biting most families in the UK (ourselves included), and I know the same is true globally. Many families are struggling just to make ends meet (never mind the extra expense of Christmas) and honestly the whole situation makes my blood boil. We’re relatively lucky compared to many and we’re still having to cut back on gifts and travel expenses this year. Many people are in a much worse position.


I won’t get into a rant on Brexit, capitalism, consumerism, climate change, and rampant societal inequality right now, otherwise you’ll still be reading this on Christmas morning. Or, more likely, not. What I’ll say is, if you can afford to then please donate something to charity. Food banks, homeless shelters, humanitarian aid, Christmas present appeals… whichever feels right for you.


If you’re reading this and you’re struggling with the cost of Christmas, please please please don’t go through it alone. Reach out to family / friends. Contact your local food bank or other organisations which might be able to help. It’s hard to offer specific guidance when I don’t know your situation or where you live, so I urge you to please reach out and don’t go through it alone.


We had some tough times when I was growing up, and the support of our family and friends helped us through it. Stoicism will only get you so far.


TIP 09: DIVIDE TASKS EQUALLY BETWEEN PARENTS

From poverty to misogyny.


Yes, the two are related (in case you’re in doubt), but I digress.


In heterosexual families and couples, guess who traditionally ends up dealing with most or all of the Christmas s***?


Every year I find myself stressed out over Christmas shopping and logistics, wondering why the f*** some imaginary bearded dude takes all the credit for buying and organising Christmas presents (at least in the Western world)?


I sit in a corner of the living room on Christmas morning, grey-faced and haggard because I was up until the early hours wrapping and arranging the presents because the delightful little cherubs wouldn’t go the f*** to sleep, watching said bright-eyed cherubs open their presents, getting up occasionally to fetch them drinks and snacks… and who do the kids thank? Santa.


Why does no one talk about this?


It's up to people of all genders to tackle the blatant imbalance in the burden of preparing for Christmas.


Men: ask what you can take on. Step in without being prompted if something needs doing. Yes, offer help, but please remember the cognitive burden of arranging everything and getting the house in order. If you see something that needs doing then do it (without expecting praise or ‘thank you’ sex).


Women: delegate tasks to your partner. If they ask how they can help then give them a way to help instead of saying ‘no it’s fine’ and then being passive-aggressive about it later (calling myself out now). If they don’t ask then give them tasks anyway.


It’s 2022. It’s not acceptable for women to bear most or all of the childcare and domestic chores. We all need to work to improve the balance (and I’m calling myself out too!)


TIP 10: GO EASY ON THE CRAFTS

If you enjoy craft-based activities then go for it. Have fun.


One of the craft projects I felt forced into doing: making an Easter bonnet complete with feathers and a felt dinosaur with googly eyes. Because of course it's the Easter dinosaur who delivers chocolate eggs
Only do crafts if you enjoy them

If, like me, you loathe crafts and the inevitable trail of glue and glitter they leave through the house, then throw the craft kits in the bin. Preferably on top of the elf so it no longer reprimands you with creepy doll-eyes every time you open the lid.


In all seriousness I don’t actually condone throwing them away, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing elf on a shelf, or making homemade Christmas cards with (shudders) glitter glue sticks, or sticking together random pieces of Christmas bunting (which are mostly blank because the kids got bored partway through). Then you have to deal with recycling them after Christmas, and the resultant tantrum because the crumpled bunting is suddenly their ‘favourite thing’, so then you have to live with broken Christmas bunting in your house for months afterwards.


I am not doing that to myself. Don’t let Instagram posts bully you into doing it, especially if you don’t enjoy it.


TIP 11: SCHEDULE YOUR CREATIVE TIME

Hopefully this tip is self-explanatory – if something is important to you then you need to block time in your schedule to dedicate to it, especially in December. Protect that time and treat it in the same way as you would a medical appointment, i.e. turn up on time, turn off your phone, and focus on the reason you’re there.


TIP 12: CHOOSE ONE THING TO ACCOMPLISH EACH DAY

This can be used for both writing and Christmas prep.


Keep in mind one (maybe two) tasks which you must complete by the end of the day, and which you will try your hardest to accomplish. That way, if anyone in the family becomes ill (we ALWAYS get ill at Christmas), or if the cherubs are being… cherubs, or if the day is packed with social activities etc, then at least you did that one thing.

Anything else you manage to achieve is a bonus.


TIP 13: LISTS

Lists are extremely helpful for some of us. For others they are overwhelming.


I don’t do daily to-do lists. However, I find list-making useful for long-term project planning, marketing, and business goals. They are also VITAL for me when it comes to organising presents, shopping lists, remembering who gave what to our children so we can thank them etc. I also make sure to give myself the dopamine hit of highlighting (in pretty colours) all the things I get done on that list.


TIP 14: SET TIME AND BUDGET LIMITS

Work out how much you can afford to spend on food, presents etc and don’t go over the limit you set yourself.


I find budgeting my time helps too. Tasks grow to fill the time allotted to them. When starting a task, set a time when you aim to have it completed. Make it realistic but don’t give yourself too much wiggle room, otherwise it may take longer than you actually need.


Budgeting your time is also helpful when visiting family and friends. In the UK at least it can be difficult to leave someone’s house without a merry-go-round of explaining why you’re leaving, saying goodbye to everyone, rounding up the kids because they hid in the Christmas tree while you said goodbye to everyone, then repeating the cycle an infinite number of times. Instead, agree with your immediate family beforehand how long will be spent at that person’s house and what time you will start preparing to leave. You could even forewarn the host that you will be leaving at X time for X reason.


If you’re the host, subtly stop serving drinks when you reach the point when you would like people to leave your house. It sounds rude when I see it written here, but as a major introvert these strategies are vital. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to see people, it just means I’d like some control over when and for how long.


If they’re people you genuinely don’t want to see, then don’t. Even if you have to come up with an excuse. Life is too f**king short to waste time with people who make us feel miserable (I have an interesting family-tree and can attest to this one first-hand).


TIP 15: LOOK AT PLANS AND GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR

Take a step back and reflect on your writing and your writing business. December is a great time to do this: you can work out how far you’ve come over the last year and what your goals are for the coming year. Is there anything you’d like to alter? Anything that isn’t working for you or that you’re not enjoying? Anything new you’d like to try?

Get some distance from the day-to-day grind and spend some time looking at the big picture.


TIP 16: SCREEN TIME IS OK (SHHH!)

Can we all (please!) stop demonising parents who allow their kids screen time? The existence of TV, tablets and gaming are the reason I can get ANYTHING done (if you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean). If I need to sit my energetic children in front of Bluey to give me the time and space to make food for them, or get some online Christmas shopping done, then that’s what I’ll do!


There is so much great stuff on TV at Christmas. And honestly, some of my favourite Christmas days involve lazing around in Reindeer pyjamas inhaling chocolate selection boxes, playing with any presents we might have got, and watching multiple Christmas films. (No you won’t draw me into the Die Hard debate).


TIP 17: IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THE HOUSE IS MESSY (SHHH!)

On my bookshelf there is a plaque from a German Christmas market. Roughly translated, the statement on it reads ‘Our house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy’. I try to remember this whenever I’m feeling stressed about the state of the house (if you’re a parent you know what I mean).

A pack of baby wipes, a brown teddy bear, and parts of a Duplo train all lying on the carpet
This is what our living room floor looks like

In an ideal world my house would be sparkling and immaculate because I hate dirt and mess. Since becoming a parent I’ve had no choice but to let my standards slide because I would’ve lost my sanity if I hadn’t. I could in theory stay up for hours each night cleaning and tidying, but I’d never do any writing and I’d be miserable. I have to accept a certain level of dirt, mess and chaos to stay healthy and happy.


I try to get the house into a reasonable state before Christmas because it helps me feel happier and less anxious. Objectively, though, I don’t why I f**king bother. By midday on Christmas day the house is covered in wrapping paper and random pieces of plastic packaging, there is chocolate trodden into the carpet, and the boys have emptied their new Lego and Duplo sets into the middle of the floor and turned it into an almost-literal plastic minefield.


Why do I bother?


When it comes to writing and preparing yourself for the coming year: give yourself permission to prioritise your personal ambitions and dreams over the state of the house. No one ever got a literary award for a gleaming kitchen or for keeping their shower clean.


TIP 18: OUTSOURCE (IF YOU CAN) AND SIMPLIFY

This depends on your personal resources and finances. Some suggestions include:

  • Make regular formal and/or informal childcare arrangements to give yourself time and space for Christmas prep or project work.

  • Where practical and affordable, do your food and gift shopping online.

  • Simplify meals if you’re hosting, e.g. do you really need to make Yorkshire puddings from scratch? Actually, I’m Yorkshire so I’m committing regional blasphemy right now, but frozen ones are an option (cringes in ‘Yorkshire’).

  • Batch tasks, e.g. cleaning, laundry, general meal prep etc

  • Set aside an hour for tidying and do as much as you can in that time (highest priority first)


TIP 19: GIFT CARDS

Don’t know what to get someone?


If you can think of something they need or that you know they’ll like, then great. If not, then don’t spend hours agonising over the decision. Get them a gift card for a shop or a type of product that you know they can make good use of.


I don’t understand why people look down on giving gift cards. It’s another triple win: the person who receives it can choose something they need or would like, it’s better for the environment because you haven’t made a guess and bought something they won’t use, and it’s less stress for you.


TIP 20: ‘NO GIFT’ PACTS

I have these with many of my friends and some of my relatives too. Lots of us have children now and, especially in the current climate, it makes no sense to spend money on gifts for every member of each other’s family.


I’m not saying this to be cheesy: I genuinely would much rather spend time with the people I care about than exchange gifts with them. Our time and our friendship are two of the most valuable things we can share with each other.


Okay, now I’m making myself nauseous, but the meaning is genuine and I stand by it.


TIP 21: NO TO ‘THANK YOU’ CARDS

Every year I make a list of who received what and from whom. Not because I’m petty, but so that I can message each person to thank them for the gift. It means spending a little time working my way through the list and texting everyone, but I want to show that I genuinely appreciate anything anyone does for our family.


However, one thing I will not be doing is writing out physical thank you cards! Not because I’m ungrateful, but because there comes a point during all this holiday chaos when I have to do things like, you know, sleeping. And eating. And showering. Trivial stuff like that.


TIP 22: SAY NO

If you’re being asked to take on something over Christmas, e.g. hosting, sorting out someone else’s gift, driving to the other end of the country for a family party etc, then pause and think before deciding whether or not to commit. There may be some tasks which you feel obligated to carry out for any number of reasons, and sometimes those tasks are unavoidable. However, for each social event, or each request made of you, consider whether it’s something you would enjoy doing, and whether it’s something which could be reasonably refused or delegated to someone else if you didn’t want to do it.


The more demands and restrictions you already have on your time and energy, the stricter you have to be in saying no to things. If you’ve just had a baby, why is everyone piling into your home and expecting you to cook for them? Is there any gift shopping which you could delegate to your partner? Do you really need to go to your cousin’s Christmas party at the opposite end of the country?


TIP 23: IF YOU’RE HOSTING THEN GET OTHERS TO HELP

Rope the family into cleaning and tidying before the guests arrive.


Ask guests to bring side dishes, or desserts, or drinks, or spare chairs, or anything else you might need. Make sure everyone pitches in to clean up afterwards: the work will go much faster with more hands, and you won’t be left with it all to do after everyone leaves.


Don’t feel bad about asking for help. When I’m invited to others’ homes for these types of events I always ask if there is anything I can bring or make, or any other way I can contribute. Even if you’re not hosting, be a considerate guest to others! If more of us did this then this would become the norm (instead of all the responsibility being placed on one person’s shoulders. Usually the mother’s).


TIP 24: AND FINALLY… LOOK AFTER YOURSELF

This is the most important one!


It can be tempting to run headlong into Christmas at full speed, showing everyone your skills and how together and perfect you are at hosting Christmas, while of course completing a first draft of your novel at the same time (calling myself out again).

If you do that, then you’ll spend the holidays stressed and exhausted, and they’ll pass you by before you’ve even had chance to notice or enjoy them. Slow down. Simplify things. Enjoy the time with your family (especially your immediate family).


IN CONCLUSION

If you take nothing else from this post, then I hope you allow time for self-care and personal projects, show yourself kindness and grace, and make time for the things that matter most to you.


Wishing you a happy and healthy December!


BEFORE YOU GO…

What do you think of the tips above?


Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!


Socials: @cbentleywriter on most of them!




Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/clairebentley

I welcome respectful and friendly discussion on the topics I write about, including if your opinion differs from my own.


Disclaimer: generative AI

I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.

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