Turning the Holiday Season into Writing Gold

Thursday, December 15, 2016

A few weeks back, Renee Roberson wrote a great post on how to survive the holidays as a writer, making helpful suggestions like planning ahead, making time for yourself, or working on a fun project. I’m going to piggy-back off that last suggestion and share some ideas on how to find inspiration during this crazy, hectic (and, let’s face it, often exhausting) holiday season.

We’re writers. We have incredible imaginations which work a mile-a-minute. We create characters,  story-lines, and even entire worlds! But when the holidays hit, it’s not uncommon find ourselves lacking ideas. This is when parties with close friends, dinners with kooky relatives, and poignant, quiet moments, which only seem to happen during the holiday season, can become our best friends.

All we have to do is observe and take a few notes.

The Cocktail Party

First, try watching the hostess. She’s everywhere, moving constantly. The kitchen, the living room. Back to the kitchen again. She has a look of happiness mixed with determination on her face. Notice her house. The candles. The tree, twinkling. There’s a red table-cloth decorated with delicate white snowflakes underneath perfectly aligned bottles of wine. The guests, too, are a wealth of writing inspiration. Every time a guest arrives, there’s a flurry of activity and laughter. They form small pockets around the house, telling stories, sharing triumphs. The temperature rises in the room as each friend arrives – maybe because of the growing occupants, or maybe the wine. Or maybe because friendship brings a natural warmth. Some people shine at the party. Others retreat to the couch and sip their beverages alone. A few slip out at the end of the night without saying goodbye.

The Large Family Gathering

Relatives are writing gold. My grandmother has prepared more food than three-hundred people could eat in a week. It’s spread across the table. There's a giant, colorful antipasti, topped with red peppers, black olives, and salami. Fried green peppers hit the table and are gone in five minutes, the relatives forking them greedily and slapping them between two thin slices of freshly-made Italian bread. My grandfather has passed out in his favorite recliner in front of the television by two in the afternoon. Two aunts argue over politics, their voices rising in the living room, while four more relatives arrive at the front door and bustle in without knocking, kissing cheeks, dropping presents at the tree. An uncle tells a war story before pulling off his shoes and socks to show us his massive bunion which he swears is the government’s fault. As the night progresses, and the wine continues to flow, there are roars of laughter while we share old family stories. Each relative talks over the other, and nobody cares.

The Outdoor Mall

Begin by capturing the night. It’s a muted quiet. The air is crisp and cool, and my breath comes out in little puffs as I stroll, shoving my hands into my pockets. People-watching is also key. Couples cozy up together, smiling at one another. Children stare at the ice-skaters, begging their parents to let them skate. The parents shake their heads and tug the children forward, despite their protests. A homeless man shuffles by, and people stare at him – some in pity, some with indifference. You see a teenage girl saunter past wearing a light-up reindeer nose. Her red heels click on the stone. After she passes, you notice she also has on a reindeer tail and antlers. The teenage boy sitting on the bench notices her too.

The holidays don’t have to be a stagnant writing season. I encourage you to jot down the little nuances in each of your holiday experiences, just like I did. While they’ll work well with a holiday-themed piece of writing, there’s no need to keep the characters or the situations in the holiday season. Look at their gestures, their facial expressions, and their reactions to others. You can morph and mold them to work with any piece of writing. Use them to your advantage!

I’d love to read some of your favorite holiday observations. Please share them in the comments!

Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious book-reading nerds. She hopes you’ll join her in this lofty endeavor.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Beth--Thanks for the reminder. I could use some of my family holiday observations if I ever want to write a story about mental patients who are given a day pass and are out and about. :)

You ARE right. If we sit back and observe, if we do a bit of eavesdropping, we can gather some tidbits to make our writing richer and more authentic.

Renee Roberson said...

Beth--Thanks for the timely and helpful post. I'll keep this in mind as I'm attending my husband's work cocktail party this evening, where I know virtually no one! :-)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Beth, beautiful post full of vivid observations! I'm attending a notorious Christmas Eve party this year with a 40-foot Santa on the lawn (that I hope I don't wake up next to), which has been a friend's tradition since the 80s. I will try and stay sober enough to record some observations. :)

Marcia Peterson said...

Love this post, Beth. Great ideas to try that feel fresh and interesting. (Though I hope people aren't studying me as a hostess this year, I would hate that attention, haha)

Mary Horner said...

I think it always helps a writer to take a different view of the events surrounding us, but doing this at the holidays when there more activity and love and drama (and drinking) is a great idea. I'm going to a party tomorrow night and will pay attention to the events of the evening!

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