When Writing Just Isn't an Option

writing craft | Writing for Children Blog | craft | time management | writing for children and teens
December 1, 2016


It’s the end of the year when it's difficult to find time to write, and nearly impossible to write every day. Sure, some people can manage it. But if you can't, that makes you just like many other writers. The holidays can be stressful, crazy busy, and filled with things that need your attention. So if you can't write for the next few weeks, what should a writer be doing?

Now Is A Good Time for Your Notebook
If you don't carry a writing notebook around with you, now is a great time to pick up the habit. Holiday time tends to put us into places filled with chaos (like the mall) and that means you can observe things. As a children's writer, it's a great time to see our readers "in the wild." We see them dealing with stressed parents. We see them dazzled by all the temptations of the holiday. We see them experiencing holiday traditions. So when you see these things, it's a great time to jot down what you saw or heard.

Then, when you have your own scene to write with a child in the midst of chaos, you'll have record of what that really looked like and sounded like. It's also a great way to create very authentic holiday stories. (For more on that, listen to ICL’s Writing for Children podcast episode 006, Writing Holiday and Seasonal Material). Many holiday stories feel more than a little idealized. By making note of real kids experiencing the holidays, you'll create your own holiday stories that ring very true.
Now Is A Good Time for Planning
You may not have time to write, but a new year is peeking at us from the horizon so it's a good time to think about what you're going to want out of that year and how to get it. We can't make publishers buy our work. We can't make agents sign us up. We can't force people to read what we've written. But we can think about what things to do that will make it more likely that publishers will buy our work, agents will sign us up, and people will want to read what we've written.

It's time for a courageous inventory of what we do well and where we need to do better. Do you have a flaw that you know needs correcting? Is it grammar? Dialogue? Plotting? Revision? Face your flaws and make a plan, broken down by steps for how you'll tackle that flaw in the new year. If it's grammar, put a good grammar book on your holiday wish list. Check out grammar websites. Buddy up with someone who knows their gerunds from their infinitives and get help. Make this the year that you stop hoping for the best in spite of your weaknesses and start really working on mastery.
Take a Book to Bed
I spend a lot of time looking at screens and that can be hard on my body's ability to go to sleep. I also have extremely busy weekends, and sometimes my body's aches and pains can keep me up. But a little night reading can be very soothing. Plus, if I'm trying to get better at writing a specific type of book (for me, it's books for early readers) then I can get a pile of the kind of books I want to learn (interlibrary loan had been my best friend for years) and I go through them, reading the books fast, then slow, then with notes. I really study how the things are put together.

The books I get from the library are all (more recent) books publishers felt were a good enough example to spend many thousands of dollars producing, so I can use them as an aid in knowing how these kinds of books are constructed, what the range is of things like sentence length, dialogue/action balance, and sentence structure. I can also slip the books into my purse for those frustrating "waiting" times that seem to come this time of year as well. Is it weird to be reading a beginning reader in line for something at the mall? Sure, but it's my profession and I just get over it.
Don't Forget to Enjoy It
Things get a little weird this time of year, but I think it's a good kind of weird. So don't let the bustle keep you from enjoying it. Throw away guilt over how much or how little you get written. Smile at the kids fussing in the mall. Enjoy the sparkling lights and pretty colors. Try to see it with the excited eyes of a little kid, because that joy and wonder is pretty good writing practice too.

Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.


M.E. Mangile
December 2, 2016

These are great ideas. I have needed something like this to ease my guilt when I haven't the time or opportunity to write. I definitely needed a plan of action to fill my void. Thanks so much for sharing. What a great Christmas gift.

Maxine Clark
December 1, 2016

Fiction is good, but I like to write true stories in a fiction way. There are many incidents of my childhood that are worth a picture book.

December 1, 2016

Thanks so much for this! It IS a hard time of year to get anything new written, but these are great tips for doing field research!--And planning for the year to come. Best of holiday to the ICL staff. NM Kuemmerlein

Add Comment

Sign up for our weekly tips & market leads. 

If you write for children, sign up for our ICL newsletter.

Writing for adults? Sign up for the IFW newsletter.