On deadline and on holiday?  How is a writer to cope?

Thanksgiving is here and my desk, which is usually covered with story notes and research books is now also covered with cookbooks and shopping lists.  My laptop windows range from comic book scripts to “how to cook a turkey in 45 minutes” articles.  Needless to say, it is a confusing time for a writer.  When you are on deadline and on holiday, how is a writer to cope?

First off, take a step back.  Plan your meal or your trip or whatever holiday obligation awaits.  Scale back on the last minute panic that avoidance will trigger.  And then do your shopping.  Set the turkey in the fridge to thaw and, while you prep, contemplate your story.  It has never occurred to me to imagine my characters’ Thanksgiving traditions.  Probably because I’ve not written a “Thanksgiving” story.  But imagine what you can learn from sitting down to someone else’s table for the holiday.  Who shows up?  What do they eat?  What are the stories behind the dishes (both food and actual flatware—my dishes were handed down from my mother’s wedding china)?  Do they have anywhere to go, or food to eat?  Why not ask them as you work?  From cleaning the house (which rooms of theirs are the dirtiest) to how the day goes (who fights over what?  Who watches the game?), you can learn something. 

Even if you are writing speculative fiction, there’s no reason you can’t apply the same questions to an analogous holiday in your created world.  Human or humanoid, the rituals still evoke the same echoes.  In fact, it might make them even more relatable to your muggle/mundy readers.

And memoir?  Don’t get me started!  Every family meal is a rich opportunity for memoir writers.  The expectations around Thanksgiving only thicken the sauce.

For screenwriters and graphic novelists, take a moment to turn on your mental camera.  Snapshots of unexpected beauty—from the way the soap bubbles catch the fading light in a crowded sink, to the way the sunlight limns the side of a loved one’s face—grab it and put it in your kit for future reference.

In short, pull up your writing mind to the table, and let it feast.

And that night, when everyone else is sleeping it off, or the next day while the hordes attack the Black Friday sales, use the quiet to write down what you remember most.  That’s all.  You’ll feel better for it.  Come morning, visit your favorite independent bookstore for Small Business Saturday and make sure they get to know you.  You’ll be signing your own book in that store someday.  Do you know how I know?  Because you worked on your writing this holiday, even if you never wrote a word.

Enjoy Thanksgiving.  We’ll see you in the new year.

Happy Thanksgiving

Photo by Liz West

On Deadline and On Holiday
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Sherri L. Smith is the multiple award-winning author of YA novels Lucy the Giant, Sparrow, Hot Sour Salty Sweet, Flygirl and Orleans. In October 2015, she made her middle grade debut with The Toymaker’s Apprentice. Her books have been listed as Amelia Bloomer, American Library Association Best Books for Young People, Junior Library Guild Selections and appear on multiple state reading lists. Flygirl, a WWII novel about a light-skinned black girl who passes for white in order to join the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, was the 2009 California Book Awards Gold Medalist and was named a best book of the year by the Washington Post. In 2012, Sherri made her first foray into speculative fiction with the “cli fi” novel, Orleans, a book dedicated to her mother, who survived Hurricane Katrina. The Toymaker’s Apprentice, a vibrant retelling of the story of the Nutcracker, is a Southern California Independent Bookstore bestseller. She has just sold a graphic novel, and is writing her first nonfiction project. Sherri has worked in film, animation, comic books and construction, including stop-motion animation on Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, and spent three years at Disney TV Animation, helping to create stories for animated home video projects. She was a 2014 National Book Awards judge in the Young People’s Literature category. She is a three-time writer-in-resident at Hedgebrook retreat in Washington State, as well as a resident at Wassard Elea retreat, in Ascea, Italy. http://sherrilsmith.com/

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