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An Author's Guide to Surviving the Holidays

10 Dos and Don'ts

Holidays are a time to celebrate, spend time with friends and family, and take a breather from the daily grind. The holidays also come with their share of stress, whether that’s the stress of hosting, of dealing with estranged (or just strange) relatives, or the stress of having to explain why writing is your passion and/or career. 

Maybe you had the best year ever: you won an award, got a book deal, or scored a movie option on your novel. If so, congrats! Alas, most of us probably didn’t have the same banner year. We may be struggling to finish a manuscript, wading through agent rejections, or trying to revive slow sales. 

The holidays can be a tricky time—what with all the small talk over eggnog and nosy family members asking tough questions about publishing. They’re also hard because the busyness of the season can get in the way of your craft. So here are some dos and don’ts to help you gracefully navigate awkward conversations, overbooked schedules, and more. 

1. DO take time away from writing. It sounds crazy, but this time of year, it’s hard to juggle a busy work, social, and writing calendar. (Especially if you’re just coming off NaNoWriMo!) Allow yourself room to breathe, to reflect, and to recharge your creative batteries. When guilt starts to creep in—I haven’t been writing enough; I haven’t been writing well—push it away. January is waiting, shiny and new and ready for many, many words. 

2. DON’T let the dream languish. Just because you’re not burning the midnight oil doesn’t mean you have to abandon your work altogether. Even if you’re not writing a ton this month, you can still research agents and publishers, brainstorm marketing ideas, or read a book on the craft of writing while enjoying a fireside cocoa. Try to accomplish smaller, more manageable goals while your schedule is busy and save the bigger tasks for the New Year. 

3. DO anticipate the questions headed your way. People will ask how your book/writing is going, and they may do so with a hint of amusement or even disdain. Have positive stories ready for them—you went to a cool conference, you joined a writing group like SCBWI, or you had a major breakthrough with your manuscript. And if you do have big news, don’t hesitate to share! We’ll never understand why people think writing is “just a hobby,” but we can work on proving them wrong. 

4. DON’T feel the need to read your third-cousin’s sister’s grandfather’s manuscript. I can’t tell you how many times I tell someone I’m an author, and they immediately say “I have this great idea for a book!” If I were a doctor, would people tell me they have a great cure for the common cold? Probably not. I don’t know why people think it’s appropriate to cold pitch an unsolicited manuscript or try to use you for your publishing contacts, but they will. Unless you see merit in someone’s idea, it’s okay to tell them their request is outside your comfort zone. 

5. DO buy books for everyone. It’s good for them. I mean, try to get them something they’d like, but supposedly the average American only reads between one and four books a year. Let’s fix that. 

6. DON’T forget to treat yourself, too! Head to the library or put a few new books on your wish list. The best authors are avid readers, so the more you read, the better your writing will be in 2020. Plus, you have to keep those Goodreads reading goals on track! 

7. DO bring a small notebook to holiday gatherings. With so many people (and glasses of wine), you’re bound to come across some interesting stories or stumble across a creative spark. Jot them down for future use! Bonus: having a notebook makes you look extra author-y. 

8. DON’T interview people at these parties or hide in a corner all night writing snarky comments in said notebook. It would be fun, sure, but you might not get invited back next year. 

9. DO make resolutions for the New Year. Authorship can be a lonely business, and we hear the word “no” a lot. It’s so important to seize the good and continue to find joy and fulfillment in our craft. Making resolutions helps you set goals so you can celebrate more achievements along the way. 

10. DON’T get overwhelmed or disheartened. If you didn’t make all of last year’s resolutions come true, I’m right there with you. If you didn’t get on a “best of” list, know that your stories will find the right readers in the future. Cheer on the friends and favorite writers who found their personal slice of success, and know that there is always more to come!

And last but not least…enjoy yourself! Have a happy holiday season, filled with wreaths made of old book pages and library-scented candles and Christmas trees of stacked books. For bookish gifts and fun holiday stories, check out the sidebar.

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(This article was originally published in December 2019.)

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Jillian Bergsma Manning is a contributing editor for Independent Publisher. She loves reading and writing but not arithmetic. Follow her on Twitter at @LillianJaine or on her blog at