Create a Holiday Plan

The holiday season is here! Snow is falling outside my window, I’ve got my desk all decorated with evergreen garland and twinkly lights, and Pandora is playing Christmas music while I work. Gotta admit, I love this time of year. (I don’t wear reindeer-and-holly sweaters or dangly ornament earrings, in case you were wondering. No need to be afraid.)

The hard part is that this time of year can get pretty stressful. And why not? On top of the regular everyday things we need to accomplish, there are all of these extras. (And if you happen to be female, you’ll relate to this far better than many of my esteemed male readers.) During the holidays we suddenly have to find time to:

→ Purchase a Christmas tree or find the one in the basement, then string the lights and decorate it.

→ Decorate the inside of the house.

→ Hang the outdoor lights. (That one’s for you guys.)

→ Write the Christmas letter. (If you’re that type. And I admit, I am.)

→ Choose, buy, address, stamp, seal and mail Christmas cards.

→ Shop for the kids, the spouse, the inlaws, the nieces and nephews, etc.

→ Wrap all those gifts.

→ Don’t forget the kids’ teachers, the hair stylist, the newspaper deliverers, the garbage collectors, and others who deserve our thanks.

→ Put in extra hours down at the shelter or other charity.

→ Attend all those Christmas parties. (Might include shopping for new outfits.)

→ Bake cookies and other treats, if that’s your thing. Decorate sugar cookies and build gingerbread houses with the kids, if you’re that mom.

I could probably think of more, but I’m getting exhausted just typing this. My point is, that’s quite a list. And just where is all that extra time going to come from? It’s gotta come from somewhere, and the sooner we accept this and deal with it head-on, the better we’ll be at coping with the stresses of the season. If you’re a writer with word-count goals, you’re going to want to make sure your goals are realistic. If you’re writing under deadline, it’s even more important to get on top of this.

So I propose that today, or this weekend, we all take a few quiet moments to make a Holiday Plan. Let’s come up with a strategy that will take us through to January 2nd with the least amount of stress possible.

Set reasonable goals for this time period. Is it a word count? Is it simply to have a certain amount of time each week to enjoy writing, without an expectation of results? A good goal for some can be “I will put away my WIP until January 2nd, at which time I will come at it with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of energy.” Set goals that are completely attainable given your life circumstance.

After you’ve set your goals, make a plan of action. Schedule the writing time on your calendar, or put Post-It notes on your bathroom mirror reminding yourself of your writing hiatus.

If you’re contracted for a book or article, you may need to cut back on some activities, or delegate more of your usual holiday tasks—cooking, cleaning, decorating, shopping. Just don’t go into this season assuming that “somehow” you’ll get it all done. Make a plan!

Realistic expectations are probably the best way to beat holiday stress. So let’s create some!

Tell us about your Holiday Plan. How will you handle the balance between your work, your writing and your life? What are your goals? Put your plans in writing and share them here!


Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Deb on December 15, 2009 at 12:26 PM

    >You forgot: lick the icing off a gingerbread house. Definitely #1 on my list of priorities. These kids have got it RIGHT.

    When I was a kid, mom used to make these cookies that looked like a spritz, but shaped like a hallway-runner-rug. She'd dip the ends in melted toll house morsels and then in chocolate sprinkles.

    My evil part was to snap the chocolate part off, eat it, and put the bare-naked rug back on the plate. It drove mom crazy. After a few Christmases of this, she came to expect it, so (of course) I NEVER disappointed her.

    Such are the traditions of a not-quite-conventional Christmas.

  2. Julie'scakeclass on December 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    >First of all, I must say I love the gingerbread houses! As a Wilton Instructor it was the first thing I noticed. I do have to agree with you. My holiday time has been cut short this year due to my family taking vacation over Christmas. I had to skip the holiday cookie baking and do all the shopping early. Making arrangement ahead of time has given me more time to write. Again, you have given some great advice.

  3. Homemaker, MD on December 10, 2009 at 12:39 PM

    >Wow, now I feel really behind after reading that post!
    My plan: really celebrate the incarnation and what it means for me. Other than that: Get the first pass through my first draft of my novel done, and as I go get each scene listed in my excell scene chart. Also, I want to deepen the characters and conflict. As far as the home and familiy…wow. Lots to do, but lots to enjoy! I'm making my own garlands this year (yea, I know, i'm kinda late on that…), and we're getting the tree tonight. I'll put some easy garland making tutorials us when I finish…

  4. Mechelle Fogelsong on December 10, 2009 at 12:26 AM

    >Three things:

    1. Gonna move the big kid into her new room.
    2. Gonna get a tattoo of Michael Jackson on my buttocks.
    3. Gonna add to the novel I'm already in the process of writing.

    Hang on. Just had a flashback from 1989. RETHINKING #2.

  5. Mary Aalgaard on December 9, 2009 at 1:58 PM

    >Point well taken. We MAKE the time to do the things we deem important. Writing needs to make the priority list. I wrote an article for my local women's magazine on the topic of holiday stress and traditions. Thanks for the holiday help!

  6. CrazySparkles on December 9, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    >I just wanted to take a moment to tell you how much I love reading this blog. I know you are not a fantasy person, but that is what I write (not like Harry Potter fantasy, I write about horses). I respect that decision, and even though that is your prerogative, I can still read this and learn a lot.

    You are very knowledgeable, kind, and even though I don't know you I feel like I could ask you anything or come over for a cup of coffee. I really enjoy the discussions your posts inspire, and it is really refreshing to find someone like yourself who truly loves their work.

    I hope someday I can write a blog like this about something as influential, and really educate people like you do. I think it's really great that if you have a post about something that includes all types of genres, you add a link or tell people where to go if they fall into the "fantasy" category.

    It is evident, even with this personal blog, that you go above and beyond what is required of you to do your job successfully. I wish that you did fantasy, because you would be the first agent I would go to with my novel when it is complete. However, I know you have a lot of connections, and maybe when that time comes you will have someone to direct me to.

    Well, I've rambled quite a while, so I suppose I will wrap this up. I really appreciate you taking the time to write all these entries; your hard work does not go unnoticed!

    Keep up the fantastic, selfless work! I will be following the posts and devouring every word 😀


  7. Susan DiMickele on December 9, 2009 at 7:23 AM


    In addition to all the demands of past holidays, I've now added blogging to the list! But I'll admit, it is addictive. So here's my plan — I'm going to spend less time in the malls, do more Internet shopping, and sleep less! It's not perfect, but it's a start!

  8. Susan Panzica - EternityCafe on December 9, 2009 at 12:04 AM

    >As a Jewish believer, Christmas is very special to me. I do love many of the trappings, but try to keep the main thing, the main thing.

    This year, I developed a 40 Day Focus, a challenge to redeem this time of year. It's not about being filled with the Christmas spirit, but about being filled with the Holy Spirit. I am sharing a post every day (rather than 2x/wk), having wonderful guest bloggers participate, all with the focus of how to keep the focus on Jesus.

    As for gift-giving, my kids, husband and I will be observing the Advent Conspiracy and donating the money we would use for our gifts to buy gifts for people in need from World Vision.

    In the last few years, I sent Christmas cards out after Christmas. It made it easier for me, and people seem to like it.

    Thanks, Rachelle, for this post and Dionne, for the recipe!


  9. Kim Kasch on December 8, 2009 at 10:51 PM

    >You should be afraid, very, very afraid, 'cuz I not only wear those reindeer sweaters, I knit them, and those dangly earrings, I bead 'em.

    My friends need to worry 'cuz I just might give them one for Christmas and no re-gifting here – it's too obvious – or maybe they don't want to be that fruitcake person- oh wait, I think I've got one baking in the oven. MWHA-HA-HA

  10. Christina Davis on December 8, 2009 at 8:27 PM

    >You're smart to plan. It seems if we don't make plans for our time someone else will make plans for us, right?

    I don't have a great plan but I need one! I am behind on my self-imposed deadline and can't feel settled putting the project away until January 2nd. Maybe I'll schedule one hour a day and spend it at the computer NO MATTER WHAT!

    I like Simon's plan.
    Way to go Jody Hedlund!

  11. Lenore Buth at on December 8, 2009 at 2:53 PM

    >Great post, Rachelle. Thanks for giving us permission to back off a bit in this wonderful season.

    You're right, we need a plan. (Even more, we need someone to implement it for us.)

    As for Christmas cards, I wouldn't miss them and that's what I'll be writing this next week or so. We have little or no contact during the year with a number of old, dear friends, because of the distances between us. So this annual reconnection keeps our relationship alive.

    As I scurry around to get everything done, I try to remind myself to let my JOY in Jesus show on my face. Otherwise, none of the rest will matter and I will be a well-organized empty vessel–and who needs another one of them?

  12. GunDiva on December 8, 2009 at 2:52 PM

    >Thanks for the reminders. I've never thought of formulating a list, but it seems like a good idea. I do know that this weekend I'll be doing Baking Weekend – my very favorite weekend of the year – with my best friends. It seems like all of next week is nothing but Christmas party after Christmas party for work. Ack!

    Haven't quite figured out when the tree will go up or when I'll finish shopping, but I do love the last minute shopping frenzy, so I guess that's okay.

    And somewhere in there, I'm going to continue writing and editing and keep up my blogs.

  13. Rebecca Knight on December 8, 2009 at 1:24 PM

    >What a great post, and a great reminder to cut ourselves some slack so we don't go crazy ;)!

    This year, I'm doing a little decorating each weekend (the tree is this weekend), baking before one holiday party, NO Christmas cards, the husband and I aren't exchanging gifts, but are instead going out to dinner (yay!), books for the family as low-key presents, and editing a little each night.

    By keeping Christmas more casual, I feel like it helps my focus on the spiritual meaning. If I'm stressed, I don't feel in the spirit of real Christmas.

  14. S. Dionne Moore on December 8, 2009 at 1:20 PM

    >Okay,I just discovered this wonderful and quick recipe for to-die-for English toffee. In medium saucepan melt 2 sticks real unsalted butter, add 1 cup sugar, 1/8 tsp. salt and tsp water. Boil to 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. In 9×13 dish, line with parchment paper and scatter crushed, lightly salted mixed nuts. When toffee reaches 300, pour over nuts. Immediately sprinkle with chocolate chips. Wait five minutes, then smooth the chocolate with spatula and pop all into the refrigerator to cool.

    Crushed candy canes would make a nice topping for the chocolate.

    Enjoy! And scratch one candy off your cookie/candy list.

    If you can do one cookie a weekend and freeze them, that makes the baking part of the list a little less overwhelming.

  15. Jana Dean on December 8, 2009 at 12:38 PM

    >For the first year since December 2003, I’m decorating beyond a wreath on the door, and candy in my office. A tour in Afghanistan and an overly-extended remodel put us on Christmas-hold way longer than expected.

    After all that it doesn’t matter how much or how little we do—every bit of it is a gift.

    Writing? So excited that time and resources are aligning better and better for productivity. Blooming late, but loving it—Merry Christmas everybody!

  16. lauradroege on December 8, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    >You don't wear the sweaters and earrings, but do you ever wear a Santa hat or reindeer ears?

    For me, I lower my expectations of what I "have" to do each year. We don't do a tree (don't have room), decorations are usually Nativity sets (keep Christ in Christmas!), let my husband shop for most presents (although I like to wrap presents), ditch holiday parties (which I'm never invited to and wouldn't enjoy even if I was), and try to only keep the stuff I really enjoy. Like the Christmas Eve service at church, or the Behold the Lamb concert held at church each year, lighting the Advent candles, taking photos of my daughters.

    I have to lower my expectations of how much I can write each day. If something comes up (like when my grandmother died two days after Thanksgiving and I had to be there for the family), I can't always write each day. Life intervenes and makes certain things seem less important. But those life-intervening moments usually end up being the basis of a blog post, so my writing life is never far away.

  17. Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought on December 8, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    >For some reason every year I end up forgoing writing Christmas cards. It’s my secret management plan. The rest seems to get magically done. I Christmas shop throughout the year and I’ve found that seems to help immensely. I like the idea of writing out a plan.

    Do you think there’s a Holiday Plan to concoct for dealing with family stress? 😉
    ~ Wendy

  18. sexualchivalry on December 8, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    >One of the convenient, if still no fun, side effects of being out of work for so long is that there really is not much of a x-mas budget to stress over.

    My wife and I were finished shopping for gifts in early November. We decided to not get a tree, either, and we found creative ways to hang our tree ornaments throughout the house.

    But, on Saturday some family anonymously dropped off a tree at our house. That was special. My wife cried. X-mas was her dad's favorite holiday and the tree was one of his favorite traditions. He died prematurely a few years ago, so anything connected to happy memories of him is powerful for her.

    We decided when we were married that we'd never start the x-mas card thing. Once you start you can't stop without raising eyebrows. We're going to keep everyone's expectations low so that we can do what WE want to do!

  19. Laura in Texas on December 8, 2009 at 12:01 PM

    >I love Christmas, but I hate December. I'm a real estate lawyer (and an aspiring novelist), and December is traditionally our busiest month as clients push to get their commercial real estate deals closed before year end. So my Holiday Plan is pretty much the same every year: work my head off, sneak in late to my kids' school concerts and plays, let my husband and kids handle the Christmas decorating, let Mike handle online ordering of Christmas gifts for out-of-state family members, go out on Christmas Eve to find gifts for Mike and the kids still at home, and collapse at home for the week between Christmas and New Years. Writing? What's that? (Not that I like this plan, but it's the only one I've been able to manage for the last ten years.)

    Thank you, Rachelle, for the time you take to educate, encourage, and inspire those of us who read your blog regularly. Merry Christmas!

  20. Sarah Forgrave on December 8, 2009 at 11:13 AM

    >Since I just started a new wip, I wanted to keep some writing momentum through December. But I will be scaling back how much I write. I went through my calendar and put scene goals for each day, based on what my schedule looks like. I've already had to adjust based on family sickness, etc., but so far it's going well.

  21. Rachel on December 8, 2009 at 11:00 AM

    >I need to do one of these immediately. Such a stressful time of year! I never plan correctly for the tons of extra work (I'm a violinist). I'm getting on this today.

  22. T. Anne on December 8, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    >I managed to do quite a bit of shopping yesterday at where else? Costco. I'll have to continue to hit the internet the next few days.

    I must keep editing. I'm hoping I can do two chapters a day. I figure I'll finish the first round by Friday and after that it moves a lot quicker.

    As for wrapping? That's my yearly torture session. I'll need to have lots of chocolate and hot cocoa on hand to handle the task. 😉

  23. Kate on December 8, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    >Good post. My thoughts are :Christmas Eve buy all presents.

    Through the holidays make sure I log on and work every other day so i don't get lazy!

    Kate x

  24. Shmologna on December 8, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    >I just told my husband the other day that Christmas is a woman's holiday. If it gets baked, decorated, mailed, bought, hung, written, sung, wrapped, cleaned, or plugged in, then it falls on a woman's shoulders.

    I can't honestly contribute a holiday writing management plan to your blog. So far, I've failed in keeping up with my word count and editing. *sigh* Here's hoping for a break in the tunnel of red and green. God is more interested in my book than He is in my coordinated wrapping paper so I best get to what's imporatant, don't you think?

  25. CKHB on December 8, 2009 at 9:45 AM

    >Perfect timing: my birthday was yesterday, so now I am free to start the holiday preparations! (Yes, I have a rule that there will be NO Christmasy activities until my birthday has been properly rejoiced.)

    This is the first year (of many) that my daughter's holiday present requires assembly. I have no plan. Wish me luck!

  26. Matilda McCloud on December 8, 2009 at 9:29 AM

    >I love Christmas–everything about it–so I'm trying not to get too stressed out–so far so good.

    I sing in a community choir and our holiday concert is on Saturday so I'm very preoccupied with that and it's a great excuse to avoid doing things I don't want to do. The choir also goes to a prison and a nursing home etc. during the holidays.

    My husband writes the Christmas letter (so far it's 4 pages single spaced–he needs an editor!). I don't bake–except those cookies you slice and stick in the oven–my sons like those cookies so I don't feel guilty and I have very talented baker friends who supply us with Christmas goodies. I live in the city so I don't put lights outside.

    I'm giving bookstore gift certificates with personalized bookplates to keep our bookstores in business!

    I plan to go buy some jingle bell earrings I saw in a store the other day, and maybe buy a pair for my sister.

    Keep is simple and enjoy!!

  27. Jody Hedlund on December 8, 2009 at 8:50 AM

    >Rewrites are completely done before deadline! So now I can enjoy the season without THAT pressure! But I'm still giving myself the goal of finishing research on my next book by January 1.

    It is harder this year to do everything I normally do with my family. Even though I still have the time, I just don't have as much energy. I could blame it on my writing, but I think I'm just getting old! 😉

  28. Nathanael Rey on December 8, 2009 at 8:41 AM

    >Hmm… I AM one of those reindeer sweaters and dangly earring types. Lol. Look, proof:

    haha. My holiday plan is finish up my discharge process, get home to my family and friends, perhaps give a few interviews, and finish working on my book for the next month, while packing for the big move to Indianapolis. Oh… and while formulating a plan to TELL my family about the big move.

  29. Shelby on December 8, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    >my plan is to do the best I can..make memories for my children.. spend time with family.. make it about love and not the doing.

  30. Lori Benton on December 8, 2009 at 8:31 AM

    >The cultural trappings of the Christmas season don't do much for me, so it doesn't feel like deprivation to choose not to put up a tree some Decembers, or attend more than one special annual party, or do a lot of shopping, or pay much attention at all to the holiday until our Christmas Eve church service, which I love attending. And Christmas Eve is my husband's birthday, so our celebration has always been a bit different from the norm. I take it year by year and decide… a tree this year? Yes! Cards? No. Gifts? A few. I might reverse those decisions completely next year, depending on what business I'm facing by November's end. Thankfully I have the freedom to do this, without anyone getting angry over my inconsistency. 🙂

  31. Sharon A. Lavy on December 8, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    >New Christmas party outfits= a given.

    In my German Baptist culture Christmas lasts from sometime before Thanksgiving until sometime in January. Depending on the year. Because every one of our children have to juggle multiple family Christmas celebrations.

    Half of my siblings live in the west. My sisters and all Ohio family members usually get together the second Sunday in November. We eat, do shoe boxes, eat, etc.

    Christmas with husbands parents, siblings, and on down, is anywhere from Thanksgiving through Christmas day, depending on the year and who is coming from the west coast.

    Like everyone else we celebrate at various times with neighbors, business acquaintances etc.

    Our Celebration with our own children, in-loves, grands and greats is the second weekend in January when go away somewhere and pay for hotel rooms and catered meals.

    This year I have weight loss surgery scheduled for Dec 22 and the children insist on spending our normal Friday night through Sunday noon- time here in our basement. They will make room in their homes for the ones who do not live close to spend the night. And I can participate as much as I feel up to. They have divided the meals etc. I am looking forward to it.

    Now if I can just get that special dress made before I have the surgery. =)

  32. Heather Lane on December 8, 2009 at 7:42 AM

    >I knew this year would be extremely hectic, so I did an uncharacteristic thing, and already did my shopping. The presents are all wrapped and under the tree. (Now I just have to keep little hands from unwrapping all my handiwork) And, I'm e-mailing our Christmas Card. I just can't manage addressing all those envelopes this year.

    My goal–to finish editing my ms before the new year. But if editing gets lost in the holiday shuffle, so be it.

  33. Heather Sunseri on December 8, 2009 at 7:39 AM

    >Ah, teacher gifts. That didn't make the list I made last night, but should have. Thanks, Rachelle, for the reminder. Fortunately, I already know what I'm getting them.

    You are so right. There are so many things to do during the holidays, and it's easy to lose track of priorities. I have much higher expectations of what I'll accomplish than I should have. Maybe I should lower those. Great post!

  34. Simon C. Larter on December 8, 2009 at 7:30 AM

    >Holiday plan:

    1. Win Sony e-Reader.
    2. Think about whether to give it away as a gift.
    3. Decide not to. 🙂
    4. Do all that other Christmas stuff.

    Or something along those lines. Merry Christmas, good lady. Best of luck with the hectic next few weeks!

  35. Krista Phillips on December 8, 2009 at 7:24 AM

    >Okay, I am SO on this!

    Krista's Plan:

    Writing Goal: Finish editing my sandwich book (BEFORE the others in our edit race!!!!) by the end of the year. Goal is a chapter a night, but I'm doing more than that right now to allow wiggle room for when I will have almost ZERO time after this week. I use my lunch breaks at work to edit as well, so that is helping!

    Christmas letter/Cards: I don't do them. Horrible, I know, but some day… when I don't have 3 kiddos on top of a demanding full-time job in which Nov – Jan is my crazy, busy time of year (work in payroll = year-end taxes, bonuses, adj), I'll do them.

    Baking: Already did some, but will set aside Sunday the 19th to do this so cookies are still fresh for Santa!!

    Decorating: We do this the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so it's done for us to enjoy the whole month of December!

    Shopping: I have no clue when we'll accomplish the rest of this… Probably this Sunday if I can find a babysitter!

    So that is my plan, in all it's crazy glory:-)

  36. Amy Sue Nathan on December 8, 2009 at 7:20 AM

    >My goal is always to remember that life is what happens when we're making other plans. So I try to put work aside and spend time with friends and family when I might want to finish up a chapter. I also rearrange my expectations for the two weeks my teenagers are home on break — not because they want me to be with them 24/7 but because simply having them around alters my universe (to put it mildly).

    My work is important but not at the expense of my family — especially not when one of the kids leaves for college in 2010. I have to remember that the word count waits — 17 year olds don't.

  37. Flowing Faith on December 8, 2009 at 7:15 AM

    >How can we help you, Rachelle, to get through the holidays? Do you want us to hold queries until the New Year? Blessings!

  38. Timothy Fish on December 8, 2009 at 6:29 AM

    >I scaled back my Christmas stuff this year. There's no tree this year. That was an easy decision, since I started replacing the lights on it last year and it is only half finished. I don't have time to finish it and a half lit Chrismas tree just isn't the same. My Christmas decorations consist of a Frebreze Evergreen candle. The Christmas cantata will be over this weekend and then life should get back to normal. (Whatever that is.)

  39. Jessica on December 8, 2009 at 6:16 AM

    >Wah!!! Seeing that list in writing just put prickled down my neck. *shudder*

    My goals will probably be the same because my days are fairly structured and I usually write in the evening or the kids' naps. Still, I'm sure I'll get less done.
    Oh well. 🙂 It's Christmas!!! I love it too, the music and the tree, and the meaning of course. *happy sigh*

  40. Ellen B on December 8, 2009 at 4:04 AM

    >This is a lovely idea for a post, Rachelle – lists, schedules and plans are among my very favourite things 🙂

    My big goal is to finish my novel if at all possible, and if not, to fully immerse myself in the last few chapters, because I still have a lot to learn about those characters and that could take me longer than I anticipate.

    My Holiday Plan is:
    1. Write something every day, even just a paragraph or two.
    2. Get to know the characters for my last few chapters better, and write as much on this as possible.
    3. Do some final reading for more detailed research into the period I'm writing about.

    I have to do something to prove I deserve that netbook I'm just about to order!

  41. writer jim on December 8, 2009 at 2:42 AM

    >Today is my wonderful mother's 90 th birthday. After the party I'll head straight to my writing, just like I did when Thanksgiving guests left.
    As for Christmas, I have the big part done; I bought my wife a new car. The best thing about shopping for a car, was how God guides me to souls needing help.
    I talked to one salesman about Jesus, and he told me his wife had left him, taking their young child away also. He said it was a hopeless situation. He was distrought, and begged me to pray for him.
    I told him God had surely caused us to meet…I said a prayer for God to intercede. A few days later, I met him walking on a downtown sidewalk with his child. He began crying, and told me that my prayer did a miracle.(of course, it was GOD'S plan)
    Another salesman that I told about Christ and how to be saved…was so seeking God that he continuously asked me spiritual questions. My wife asked him something about the cars, and he said "Cars don't matter; I want to know more about God." He showed NO interest in selling a car. When I finally left he asked me to take his card, and call him to tell him more about God.

    The holiday season to me is like all other times: I enjoy writing about what God does as soon as the guests leave. But my main point is how great it is to see God help others, by USING people like you and me.