Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Writing Around the Holidays: Avoid These Pitfalls

Whatever holidays you celebrate, or even if you don't celebrate any, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's can present challenges for writers. In the hopes that forewarned is forearmed, here are a few of them. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Too Busy or Distracted to Write
So many things keep us from writing this time of year: parties, presents, decorating, baking, and if you have young kids, the sugar highs mixed with anticipation can rob you of even those couple hours during their nap time.

I've heard that, for freelancers, this is a good time to submit articles, just because most people aren't. However, if you write creatively, then, like dieting, you may just want to forget about it until all the hoopla dies down. Many literary publications slow down anyway, and some close submissions. That doesn't mean there aren't things you can do. You can set yourself up for a new year of submissions by researching markets. Reading has the added benefit of helping you to relax. You can also go through your files to get ready for tax time, and, when getting your house ready for all those holiday visitors, why not straighten your writing area too?

Home for the Holidays Whine
Some writers have the opposite problem. Spending time with family or trying to re-create the perfect Christmas can stir up a cauldron of memories we can't wait to write about. Be careful.
This is oft-treaded territory, and, as such, can easily melt into cliche. The picky mom, the distant dad, the favored sister, the ne'er-do-well brother, we've heard it all before. If you must write about these things, try to add a different twist. Also, keep in mind that you need to do more than just tell your personal story. Whether fiction or personal essay, it needs to resonate with readers, and most important, try not to whine.

Avoid Cloying Stories
Seems that during the holidays we all crave sweetness, and I don't just mean the cookies. Movies like It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street. It seems at Christmas everyone wants a happy ending. There can be a lot of money in sweet Christmas stories, but just like other times of year, make sure your piece is a good fit for the publication. Most literary publications will not care for a piece that's empty but happy, even at Christmas.

Watch the Timing
If you are inspired to write about the holidays, keep in mind that these pieces can be difficult to market. Many quarterly publications now go out or go live in the second month of the quarter rather than the first. This means the fall issue goes live in October, moving the Winter issue to January. While readers don't seem to mind summer stories in winter or fall stories in spring, they don't like to read about Christmas or Hanuka when thinking Halloween or right after the tree comes down.

If you submit to a monthly, keep in mind when the piece is likely to be read. You may not be inspired to write about Christmas in July, but you can save a holiday piece to submit at a better time.

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