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The holidays are a wonderful time for many people, but for us artsy types they can be an emotional minefield. Even if we have a good relationship with our families, the sheer amount of exposure to people in such a short period of time can be exhausting. And that’s without getting into all the awkward questions well meaning relatives like to ask about our creative hobbies.
I can’t make your family more pleasant, or their questions less awkward, but I can give you some strategies to survive the holidays with your sanity more or less intact.
The Holiday Survival Guide for Writers & Creatives
Follow these steps to make it through the holidays without losing your mind:
1. Commit only to what you’re 100% sure you can do
We all have certain constraints. Our time, energy, and money is limited. Over committing results in one of two things: we accomplish everything but burn ourselves out, or we fail to get everything done and feel guilty about it. Both of these scenarios are awful (guilt is the ultimate creativity killer).
The holidays might be a big deal in your family, but they’re also supposed to be fun. They’re about connecting with your family and creating some joy in winter’s long nights. But you’re not going to enjoy them if you’ve committed to more than you can handle.
Don’t let your family make you feel guilty about what you can or can’t contribute either. Everyone’s limits are different, and that’s completely okay. You are not a bad person because you don’t have the energy to make five dishes or the money to buy massive presents. You aren’t even a bad person if you choose to skip family holiday dinners altogether (we’ll talk more about that in a bit).
2. Make sure you have an escape plan
One thing I struggled with for years was Christmas dinners held out of town. I’ve had a complicated relationship with my extended family since long before I was old enough to drive, and I don’t drive now anyway. That meant getting a ride with a closer relative, and leaving with them. The only problem? Those relatives were much closer to the extended family. I enjoyed hanging out for an hour, but my ride wanted to stay for a few.
This led to many hours of trying to avoid long, awkward and/or boring conversations. So, when I was about fifteen, I decided to stop going to those family dinners. I promised myself that I wouldn’t go to any family dinners if I didn’t have full control of when I left. And I’ve stuck to that rule, because my holidays have been much happier for it. To be honest, I don’t go anywhere without an escape plan anymore–it gives me anxiety.
Always make sure you have a way out if things get unpleasant. If your family particularly likes to dominate your time, consider having a friend prepared to call you with an “emergency” when you need to leave. Your mental health is more important than trying to please your family (or anyone else).
3. Practice your answers to the usual barrage of questions
People who don’t pursue the arts rarely know how to approach those of us who do. They ask the same handful of questions every time they encounter a writer or artist. This makes it easy for you to create scripted responses that help you get through the awkwardness.
What are those questions? Well, you’ve probably heard most of them before, but I’ll round up the most popular ones for you anyway:
- “Are you still writing?”
- “Are you published yet?”
- “Do you make any money?”
- “I’ve always wanted to write a book. Want to help me write a book?”
- “When are you going to get a real career?”
When faced with these questions, you have two choices. You can offer genuine answers, or you can use one of my favorite snarky responses:
- “Are you still breathing?”
- “Are you?”
- “Yes, at my job, like everyone else.” OR “No, my writing career is a non-profit”
- “Want to pay me to take time away from the books I’m already writing?”
- “When are you going to stop trying to dictate other people’s lives?”
These answers are sure to keep your relatives from asking these annoying questions again next year. They might also prevent you from being invited to holiday dinners at all next year, so you should probably use them sparingly.
4. Create a personalized holiday self care plan
Taking time for self care is even more important during the holidays, especially for introverted people with big families. You need a plan to make sure that you get that time–and that you use it to do things that actually replenish your soul.
Your personalized holiday self care plan should establish a few basic rules for your holidays:
- Include sacred writing time – Most of us are writers because it soothes our soul. It gives us a safe place to express our deepest desires, ideas, and curiosities. It nourishes our minds. And all of those benefits are things you need even more during the holidays. Build writing time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes, into your days, and don’t let anyone drag you away from it.
- Only do things you love – Making a proper holiday dinner, or even a single dish in some cases, is a lot of work. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Buy something to contribute to the holiday dinner and spend your time off relaxing and doing things you love. This is particularly important if the only days you have off are the actual holidays. You’ve worked hard all year. You’ve earned those days. You should enjoy them. So make strict rules about what you’re allowed to do–and cross work right off the list.
- Make a strict holiday budget and include some for yourself – The holidays are a tempting time to splurge, and credit cards make it easy to take that splurging over the top. Don’t add to your stress by giving yourself holiday debt. If that means making rules about who you buy gifts for or how much you spend on each one, do it. And make sure to leave a little bit for yourself. Treating yourself (on a limited basis) can be a powerful thing.
You can learn more about how to create a personalized self care plan through my FREE email course.
5. Skip the holidays altogether (or do it with friends)
Do you subject yourself to ignorant, rude, or outright abusive relatives every year because you feel obligated to? I’ve got news for your:
You don’t owe people something just because you’re related by blood. You don’t have to put up with anyone’s abuse. Nobody has a right to treat you like crap.
There’s something to be said for going to the dinner and challenging these people, properly asserting yourself, especially as an adult. But those challenges should be made from a place of mental stability and confidence. If you don’t feel ready to have those conversations, you are 100% allowed to skip your family festivities. Throw something for friends in similar situations, or skip the holidays altogether. As I said above, do what you love–and skip everything else.
You’ll have plenty of unpleasant things to do when the holidays are over.