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)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing After a Break

I haven’t done any creative writing for two months.

Why? Because other things became the priority: teaching, coaching, writing my exegesis, helping family, and taking on some extra hospo work. [NB: an exegesis is like a mini-thesis and forms part of my overall dissertation].

I record my habits every day in a tracker because collecting data keeps me honest, but I was shocked to discover that eight weeks had passed since I’d worked on the manuscript.

Now, admittedly, you can’t do everything all the time.

While I was working on the novel, I made the conscious decision to put academic research aside until I was ninety percent happy with the revision.

Once I reached that point, I then put the novel aside so that I could focus on putting my exegesis together.

We’re all capable of focussing on more than one thing at a time, but I couldn’t see how — realistically — I could continue to write every day, plus work on my exegesis, and take care of my responsibilities as a sessional academic and writing coach.

If you’re a frequent watcher of this channel, or a member of my email list, you already know that my regular Thursday uploads have been irregular lately.

I definitely don’t work on everything every day because cognitive task switching drains energy and fractures focus, and I have to work around time constraints and interruptions (just like everyone else!).

I hate studying writing while not writing.

I hate teaching writing while not writing.

I hate sharing writing advice while not writing.

At first, I tried to justify this brief abandoning of the manuscript, and writing in general, by saying that the project had shifted into a different season, and while that is correct, the project is not complete and I wasn’t going to finish the latest round of edits unless I made writing a priority again.

With everything on my plate right now, I know I can’t dedicate whole days to writing, and even if I could, such approaches usually lead to creative burn out.

So, instead, I’m taking my own advice and carving out a little time each morning to work on the manuscript.

The stage I’m at right now is applying the structural feedback I’ve received from my mentors for acts one and two, as well as conducting a general line edit to correct typos and sentence structure.

This stuff is not earth shatteringly difficult, but as the last two months have shown, this edit will not get done unless I actively make time for it.

I considered using writing as a reward; something I could do after I’d completed working on my exegesis or teaching materials, but knowing how draining these tasks can be, I chose to start my day with writing. That way, I’m coming to the page as my freshest, bestest self.

For now, I’m only working on the edits for an hour a day, and I got to be honest, that hour goes quickly, and even though part of me wants to shove my schedule aside and keep writing, at least for this week, I’m sticking to my one hour.

Why? Because I do have to complete other work that isn’t nearly as developed as the manuscript and two, because I don’t want to do one big day and then not touch the book again for another week.

But that’s just my process from many years of trial and error.

It’s only been a week, but because I’ve structured my entire life around writing, everything starts to feel wobbely when that centre is removed.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you ever take breaks from writing, either consciously or unconsciously? Do you feel rusty when you return to writing or does it feel natural? Do you miss writing when you aren’t working on a project? Leave a comment below and let me know.


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

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.