Returning to Creative Work after the Holidays

It was December 29. My office, which also acts as our guest bedroom, rotated between these two purposes several times over a single fortnight. 

I liked it better as a guest room. The bed was made, pillows fluffed, and the organised shelves were much more appealing to look in on than my black desk that was usually covered in pens, books, diaries, and teaching notes. I have a ritual of packing up the desk at the end of every workday so that the space is always clean and organised for when I return, but still, the presence of the desk—which can be viewed easily from the main thoroughfare and heart of our home, the living room—is a constant reminder: there is so much you could be doing right now. 

The twenty minutes it took to extract my documents, computer, and desk and replace them with a bed brought several days of guilt-free relaxation.

Make no mistake, my inner-taskmaster frequently popped up to remind me that I should be taking advantage of this ‘non-time’ between Christmas and New Year, telling me I should be getting ahead on my work because 1) I’ll be very busy once the new year gets going and 2) doing more work now will lead to an easier life later. 

Oh, this lie is a seductive one.

I have fallen for it more times than I can count. If you get ahead now, you can rest later. I am yet to experience this mystical later. 

If you plan on having a long, full, ambitious and meaningful creative career, then the work will never be done: completed projects and contracts are replaced by new projects and contracts. (Note, this is a very good problem for a creative to have). 

I used to say that waitressing was a job that had no sense of completion. Every shift begins anew; every day is a clean slate. No matter what happens, the next shift offers a second chance; and no matter how bad a shift is, it always ends. Forgetting to put in a drink order is not ideal, but easily fixable, and it’s unlikely you’ll be serving the same customers the following night. Break a glass? No one will remember tomorrow. Don’t sweat it. 

Creative careers are different. We’re usually juggling multiple projects with multiple collaborators returning to them day after day followed by sporadic breaks due to competing priorities. 

We might take short breaks here or there. A day off on the weekend or no work after six pm, but we spend most of our time up on the balls of our toes, not swinging in a hammock. 

And yet, I hate this narrative. The glorification of ‘busy’: the idea that you have to grind yourself into a pit of dust to be considered a good person. 

There are few times in any calendar year where taking a break is 1) easy and 2) encouraged. That ‘non-time’ between the end of one year and the start of the next is one example. 

So, when my inner capitalist started to pipe up about how much work I could be getting done during this time, I actively chose to ignore them. Rightly or wrongly, it is easier to rest during the holidays because it’s … kind of expected and it’s what most people are doing. 

When the time came to flip the third room from a spare bed back to my office, I was less than excited. The switchback was a signal that the period of guilt-free rest was over and that soon (very soon) I’d be returning to business as usual. 

Returning to any kind of work after an extended break can be tricky, even when you love what you do. 

Today is my first day back, but a few simple strategies made the transition that little bit easier… 

Yesterday, I went for a long walk in nature and took the time to really observe my surroundings. No podcasts. No music. Just me. Then I spent several hours reading invigorating essays about creative writing in a park with a piece of left-over Christmas cake and chai tea. In the afternoon, I watched a brilliant interview with a beloved author. At night, I ordered pizza from the best Italian place in town and watched Dexter. Basically, I stuffed myself with a combination of deep relaxation and inspiring content. 

This morning, I went into my office early (no long breakfast in the attempt to delay the inevitable [which would have only increased my resistance!]), pulled out my new weekly planner, quickly assessed where all my projects were at and made a loose but realistic schedule for the week. I didn’t check social media or my emails. Instead, I begin working on the most important task of the day. 

Three hours later, I was done, leaving the rest of the day for soft research, emails, and writing this blog. 

I could have turned this article into a snappy listicle titled ‘Seven ways to return to work’, but we all operate differently and what makes returning to work easy for me may seem nightmarish to you. This is the process that worked for me today, but I’d like to hear what works for you. 

Do you dread returning to work after Christmas or an extended holiday? How do you make this transition as smooth as possible? 

Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

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