The Holiday Season brings with it a panoply of emotions. Few people are indifferent about the customary celebrations. For any number of valid reasons, people either love or hate Christmas. As writers, we should do our best to note and harness these feelings to use in our writing.
How often does one experience sheer childlike delight as an adult? Pay attention to how it feels both physically and emotionally. Take notes. Store it away. Love, gratitude, faith, and the darker emotions of sadness, frustration, resentment, disappointment and the resulting anger also have their place. Analyze their causes and how they make you and those around you feel and act. Again, write it down and file it away.
Painters often take photographs to capture objects and scenes for later use in the studio. With the advent of digital cameras and smart phones, writers can, and should, do the same thing. Make a quick note, in a quiet moment, of how the subjects of these photographs make you feel. Write down your similes and metaphors as they come to mind. Don’t forget the sense of smell. It is often responsible for our strongest emotional responses.
Of course, unless you’re already branded as the family eccentric, don’t do all this writing during Christmas dinner. Find a private moment later to make a few cryptic notes. Smart phones have note-taking aps. If you absolutely can’t wait until you get home, use them to discretely record your impressions. You can fill in the details later when you remember the conversations around the table and Aunt Sue’s reaction to receiving a sweater two sizes too small in her most hated color from her sister, who certainly knows better. (Change names and details and you have a perfect conflict or climax for a short story.) Pay special attention to speech patterns and colorful expressions used by family members. Yes, you’ve heard all this for years, but have you ever paid attention well enough to reproduce these idiosyncrasies on paper?
Please remember you cannot publish photographs or names without the subjects’ consent, but you can certainly use them to inspire characters or remind you of details. Another word of caution: do not voice record anyone without their knowledge and consent. Hard feelings, even lawsuits—and, in the worst cases, criminal charges—can result.
Now. Take a deep breath and enjoy the day. No matter how you celebrate—alone with a frozen dinner in front of the TV or in a house bursting with four generations of relatives—take the time to notice the internal and external details of your experience. Your writing will benefit, and you may find yourself looking forward to a celebration you might normally dread.
N.K. Wagner is the Executive Editor and Publisher of Page & Spine.