I must confess, at one time in my life I was a naysayer, a bah-humbugger, a downright Grinch when it came to Christmas. It was my first years of college- a time when being uniquely tetchy was in, and all of the dark clothed art students along Michigan Avenue groaned at the sight of bows and stringed lights. I use to sit inside the Artist’s Diner between classes, hovering over my notebook and coffee as shoppers passed by- wishing they’d wake up from their commercialized delusion. Luckily, as the years went by, I became less of a…well, dumbass. After a few lumps of coal, I realized that Christmas wasn’t some object of ridicule. It was a window of opportunity. As Fred from A Christmas Carol once said “[it’s] the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
But it wasn’t just my attitude that needed adjusting. It was my writing style as well. Early on, I’d refused to let my work be tainted by the feelings invoked from Christmas. No sir, I was a writer. I was focused and poised- immune to the unabated atmosphere of sparkling trees and jingling bells. If it were a noir piece I was working on, then damn it, I’d commit to my grim mood.
Unfortunately for young Justin, it would take a lot of life lessons to understand that being unyielding was not what a good writer does. A good writer understands how to adapt to new inspirations. They know how to hone creative stimulus and orchestrate it into something innovative. It might not necessary be a chapter that forces a Christmas-peg into a square hole, but it could be a provoked theme or emotion that’s woven into one’s work. It’s a simple formula. Take inspiration and apply it to your craft in order to create a great act, character or story.
Hundreds of well-known authors have done it. Some, like author Jean Shepherd, wrote an entire book based on his cherished Christmas memories as a child in Hohman, Indiana, while others like J.K. Rowling, gave a simple tip of the cap by adding short scenes that celebrated the holidays. But it doesn’t even have to be that direct. Are you feeling a bit of cheer this holiday? Why not return to that optimistic character in Chapter 5 to see if any of it rubs off in the dialogue. Are you mesmerized by the snowy weather? Time to go back to that mountaintop section and see if you can strengthen the description.
Listen, I’m not saying that just because it’s Christmas, we should all write about elves, candy canes and mistletoe. No way. I’m just reminding fellow writers that newly found inspiration is not an enemy. It’s a tool. It could be a book you’ve read, deep thought you’ve pondered or an event in your life that conjures the same emotions. It’s mulishness that’s your nemesis, and it will keep you from strengthening your trade if you allow it.
Happy Holidays to all,
Author of "Consumed" and the upcoming, "The Devil in the Wide City" (Zharmae Publishing Press)