National Novel Research Month

Oh, December. We meet again. In the season of stress and excess, a breezy batch of suggestions for how to keep writing through the holidays might be as well-received as Tracy Flick’s earnest-bordering-on-psycho campaign for student body president in the movie Election.

Life is challenging; why pile onto ourselves? Instead of trying to shoehorn writing time into what is already an inhuman amount of demands on our energy this month, let’s designate December for research.

Think not of manuscripts and word counts but of notes. Use these short days and long nights to observe, consider and experience. Let’s shift the paradigm from Writing/Not writing (also known as Loathing/Existential panic) to Writing/Research. Additionally, this could serve as recovery from NaNoWriMo for those who participated.

The research month is a gift we can give ourselves. And December is easily the most obvious and appropriate month to launch it. A couple of typically nutty December weekends will power 12 months of story inspiration for sure. And seriously, there’s barely time to shower this month, much less focus on writing.

The season is redolent not just of spices but of drama just waiting to be turned into your work. I don’t want to give away all my ideas, but the super skinny friend who presses loads of food on you at every opportunity but never lets a bite of your creations touch her lips? There’s a story there. A quick note to oneself about that irritating wench is a writing prompt when you revisit it next month.

That’s just the beginning. Potential research topics include, but are certainly not limited to:

Cookie-decorating control freaks

The social politics of party invitations

How people communicate their expectations, wants and needs to those closest to them

The psychological warfare inherent in holiday cards (“We’re so blessed to let you know about our new yacht!”)

The consumerism-as-evidence-of-species-in-decline angle

Economic angst

Reality avoidance

The secret language of gifts

Survivor-like games played at gatherings of family and sometimes even friends

Behavioral mayhem exacerbated by eggnog (power-mongers imposing their wills, masochists, wheedling negotiators, liars, etc.)

Societal pressure to get our holidays on regardless of whether or not we want to

Disappointment

How parents screw up their kids

How kids screw up their parents

Miracles and magic

Greed and altruism

Love’s inspiration and limits

Religion-meets-secularity hijinks

This list is surely growing in your head right now. As Nora Ephron said, everything is copy. Go to the parties, visit the malls or artisan boutiques (ideally both), decorate the cookies, talk to your neighbors, spike the hot chocolate, do all the things you want and are required to do.

Try not to do too many things you don’t want to do, because you’re going to be so busy with research. Keep a notebook handy at all times. The Notes function on your phone will do in a pinch. Cameron Crowe wrote parts of Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the high school bathroom on toilet paper, so you won’t be the first if things get to that point.

And what to do if you’re a self-proclaimed holiday hermit, under a blanket fireside sipping your tea in sublime solitude? Cheers to you, that sounds delightful. Solitude, whether voluntary or involuntary, is an interesting subject in its own right, so you’re not off the hook.

This month, save the writing guilt for a more worthy cause, and absorb the season with a writerly curiosity and appetite. In January we can hibernate and write.

If all else fails, curl up and watch Election. So good.

5 comments

  1. Sarah Baker

    I love the way you write. So refreshing. I’m not a writer, but this message applies to everyone caught up in the whirlwind of life. I’ve often thought a life like the Laura Engels would be refreshing now, but then again we would have to walk to school, like off the land and that’s much more work than what I have now.
    Have a calm and stress free holiday.

    • Happy new year, and thank you! When I was in 4th grade Laura Ingalls was my imaginary best friend and idol. I read that series in a continuous loop for years, like my teen read Harry Potter at that age. But when I revisited Laura by reading the first three aloud to my 10 year old I was shocked that what I recalled as field frolic, fiddling and fun was actually a year-round forced march to produce and secure food, shelter and clothing. Year after year. GRIM.

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