Writing more is always a challenge. You wish you could write more—but the holiday season might be the worst time to think about productivity and your writing. Many writers crash and burn over the holiday break. Not only do they frustrate their paying clients and editors, they may well destroy their careers.
Many of my writing students, and my colleagues, find the holidays a challenge. They’re not writing more; many aren’t writing at all. Some kill their careers.
So think carefully before you take a long break over the holidays.
If you’re taking a break from writing, be aware that the break may cause problems you can easily avoid. It all comes down the the writing process and the way your mind and memory work.
If you’re not aware of how your memory and writing work, chances are that you’ve given up on projects which would have succeeded. You took a break. The material dropped out of your working memory and your emotions took over.
Your emotions told you stories about the project: “it’s junk”, “it was a silly idea, no point in wasting any more time on it,” or “I don’t have time for this now. I’ll backburner it until next month…” And so on, and so forth.
Who knows how many viable projects you’ve discarded, simply because you couldn’t remember them in detail?
Let’s look at writing and your working memory—and why “taking a break” can be treacherous.
Writing more: consider the writing process and your working memory
When you’re writing, you’re subconsciously aware of 101 things about each project. Your mind stores information about your current projects in your “working memory”. This is short-term memory; it doesn’t last much longer than a day at most.
(BTW, if you’re interested in memory processes and writing, this study: “A capacity theory of writing: working memory in composition” offers intriguing insights. A free PDF of the study is available in Google Scholar.)
In a sense, your brain and your computer work similarly.
Much like your brain, your computer has short-term memory: RAM (random access memory), and storage. When you’re at your computer and open a program it’s loaded into RAM (short-term memory.) When you close the program, it drops out of RAM.
When you work on a project (like a novel, or an article, or a client project) regularly, you retain much of the information in your working memory (your RAM, if you like.)
If you take too much of a break, there’s very little information about the project in your working memory. Moreover, it’s likely that you remember the project’s challenges, rather than your enthusiasm for it. Getting up to speed on the project feels like work. You procrastinate.
When you’re on deadline, you don’t have a choice. Like it or not, you need to complete the project. So you do.
Once you’re aware of your working memory and its effects on your writing, you can avoid destroying your writing when you take a break over the holidays.
Here are a couple of easy ideas which are simple to implement. They’ll ensure that your current writing stays in your working memory.
1. Aim to write something every day, no matter how short that something might be
Is writing a habit for you?
If it isn’t yet a habit, write every day. You’re a writer. To coin a cliché, writers write. As soon as possible, writing must become a habit for you. So write every day. No breaks, not even for the holidays.
It doesn’t take much. Write 30 words in the Notes app on your phone every day. Although this may not seem much, doing it is immensely powerful. You’re writing. Every day. Every word you write is building a writing habit.
A digression. IF you can build this habit, you’ll succeed at any form of writing you attempt. If you don’t, you won’t. In almost 40 years as a professional writer, I know that this is the truth.
So please don’t think your paltry 30 words “don’t matter.” On the contrary, they will ensure your success.
2. Review your active writing projects each day, or every second day
Remember your working memory. It’s ephemeral.
Your projects will drop out of your working memory to be replaced by:
- Worries about how many followers you have on Instagram;
- A “must watch” series on a streaming service;
- Your Christmas gift list and who’s coming to stay for the holidays. What will you cook? How will you entertain them…
- Where you’re going on New Year’s Eve… Maybe you should…
- Etc, etc… An endless stream of trivialities.
Every minute, every hour and every day crams your working memory with new thoughts, ideas and powerful emotions.
Your writing projects don’t have a chance against this onslaught.
The solution? Review your writing projects regularly over the holidays. It needn’t take longer than 15 minutes per project. This may not seem like much, but it will help immensely once the holiday madness is over and you’re focusing on your writing again.
Remember your working memory. Once you know how your working memory works, you’ll find yourself writing more, easily and effortlessly.:-)
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.