In the past I sometimes tried to take off work for the month of December to enjoy the holidays and recharge my batteries, and Publishing generally cooperated because they shut down almost entirely, too. Since going freelance, however, I've chosen to work seven days a week. I do take time for family dinners and events (and I actually gave myself Thanksgiving Day off this year) but other than that I am writing for at least eight hours every single day of the year.
It's no big deal for me; I'm doing what I love for terrific clients who appreciate me and pay me very well for my efforts. That income covers my kid's college tuition, my bills and keeps the pantry stocked. My guy may have to retire next year, so what I can save also will help when we transition to living on his fixed income. It will be another decade or so before I can retire, so I'm determined to make the most of the income-earning years I have left. If that means working through the holidays, I'm on board.
Family and friends with day jobs and/or who aren't writers -- which, let's face it, is practically everyone in a writer's life -- do not always understand a writer's working holiday. We hear things like, "Oh, you can type that up later" or "Shouldn't you take a break?" or even "Can't you get that done already so we can have a good time?" They seem oblivious to the fact that through the rest of the year we face the same harassment from all directions. During the holidays it's also easy to feel resentful because the day jobbers usually do have weekends and Christmas Day to party while we're stuck in our writing space trying to get things done.
Let's remind ourselves of the universal truths about writing:
1. No one but another writer will ever grasp what you do for your job. So why justify it to people who never will?
2. Writers have a long-standing rep as solitary, long-suffering, socially awkward and badly-dressed hermits. I know, you're thinking, "And why is that a problem?" but the nice people who aren't us don't get it.
3. They will never know what goes into the work, and if they did, they might lock us up.
Seriously, you can navigate the rough waves of a writer's working holiday by using your common sense. Unless you're under a crushing deadline, set aside some time for your friends and family. If you can't, make a date to see them after you slay your deadline (for this you will have to apologize, but it's better than a no.)
Send some cards and/or make a phone call. The reason these people bother you so much is because they care about you. Or they want a gift. Anyway, a cheerful card or a quick fifteen-minute conversation may get you off the hook.
Do group things so you can see as many loved ones as possible in one shot. A family holiday party isn't that difficult to throw together -- have everyone bring a dish and make it pot luck; that's always fun -- and you can check off a bunch of names from your to-see list.
Ask for time off from the family fun as a personal favor for you. I have no problem at all saying to my guy "You can handle dinner for the next three days, okay?" or "I'm going to work at the library today; please walk the dogs for me" any time during the year. This week he's been especially wonderful in helping me out around the house and running errands so I can finish a deadline project today.
Finally, put in the time for family and friends when you need to. It's easy to forget the people you care about when you're buried in the work, but it doesn't hurt to make an effort for them, too. For example: I was going to put up another off-to-write post and unplug today, but I haven't been around much. So here you go, fifteen minutes of me. Now I really am off to write.