Just in time for the holidays! Here are some writing lessons from Santa Claus and insights about how the Big Guy in the red suit tackles obstacles and maintains his creative momentum, even during the chaos of the holiday season.
Mr. Claus is a wise man. In fact, when it comes to important things like making toys or writing books (which are almost the same thing, really) he is the head honcho, zen master, Dumbledore and Obi-Wan Kenobi all rolled into one. I myself had the privilege of spending some quality time with him at the North Pole. As we sipped hot cocoa by his giant fireplace, he gave me some secret tips on toy-making, writing and life.
Here are some things he shared.
Writing Lessons from Santa Claus
1) Isolate yourself
The man in the red suit definitely knows something about productivity. Imagine making and delivering toys for all the good little children of the world. That takes serious commitment. The only way he manages to get everything done is because he makes his home on the most desolate real estate the world has to offer. Writers too should follow his lead and engage in some major alone time now and again. It helps us stay focused.
2) Surround yourself with good people
OK, so maybe in Santa’s case these happen be people with pointy ears and twirly-whirly shoes, but they’re still pretty darn awesome. The truth is, Santa would get nowhere if it weren’t for his toy-making comrades, and writers would suffer the same fate if they didn’t have writer friends to help them stay sane. These are the people who read our work, keep us motivated and let us know when we’re being a little bit crazy. We all need them, and need to let them know how much they’re appreciated.
3) Do it for love
No one in their right mind would dedicate his life to making and distributing toys unless he was seriously committed to his mission. I mean, how thankless is Santa’s job? He makes all the loot, flies it around the world in his sleigh and then on Christmas morning, the kids are all: “Thanks Mom and Dad!” Go figure. The only way he can make sense of it all is to do it out of love. The same is true for writers. Write for love or don’t write at all.
4) Sometimes you have to be a little bit in denial
A while ago, I interned at a literary agency because I wanted to understand how publishing worked. After spending several months reading the slush pile, I couldn’t help but feel a little discouraged as a writer. It wasn’t because the stuff I was reading was horrible; actually it was because the submissions I read were on average really gosh-darn good and I still had to reject most of them. I realized that to stay motivated, I had to preserve the illusion that I could make it to the finish line some day. I needed to let myself be a little bit in denial about the publishing process. Just as Santa has to be in denial about certain things (“Yes, I will fit down this chimney”), I needed to give myself permission to be jolly and optimistic or I would spend all my time criticizing my own work and never get any writing done.
5) After a hard day’s work, have some milk and cookies
Santa knows that even he needs a little recharging snack during the long haul of Christmas Eve, so he makes time for milk and cookies after each stop. We writers also need to remember to be good to ourselves. So go ahead and have some milk and cookies. Or give yourself an at-home spa day. Or buy yourself a pair of super-comfy socks. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s something that will make you feel special and cared for.
In the end, I think Santa’s advice applies pretty much to any calling in life, whether you’re writing a book or making toys or trading stocks or building a space ship. It’s all about staying jolly.
But sometimes Santa doesn’t give you what you want. Sometimes you find coal in your stocking. Then what?
When I got home after my visit to the North Pole, I found the stocking I had hung on the mantlepiece and it was filled with… coal. I thought: “Gee, thanks, Santa. Coal. That’s just what I wanted.” But then I remembered that song: “You can’t always get what you want. You get what you need” and I realized that maybe Santa was trying to tell me something.
Sometimes rough patches and unexpected disappointments are exactly what writers need to reach the next level in their work. Sometimes a project we thought was fool-proof turns out to be a dead end. And sometimes Santa puts coal in your stocking instead of that iPod you wanted. It happens. We all have to learn how to deal with disappointment.
Just as I was about to toss the contents of my stocking in the trash, a note fell out onto the floor. I picked it up and saw it was penned on Santa Claus stationary with swirly gold lettering. (Obviously the note was written by Mrs. Claus because the Big Man’s handwriting is disastrous–Seriously, I have no idea how he reads the naughty/nice list with all that chicken scratch). It read:
Two important things about coal:
It can make fire,
And it’s just like a diamond, only not as sparkly.
I pondered the note for a bit and realized that these lumps of coal were the best present Santa could have given me. Let me explain.
1) You can burn coal to make fire
So you got a lump of coal (READ: rejection letter, nasty critique, door slamming in your face). So what? Don’t let it get you down. Instead, think about how you can use it to light a fire in your writing. Don’t let naysayers stand in your way. Prove them wrong. A lump of coal isn’t a sign that your writing is bad, it’s a call to action so you can make it better.
2) Coal is basically the same as a diamond, only not as well put-together.
At the molecular level, coal and diamond are essentially the same, just a bunch of carbon molecules. The difference isn’t what each thing is made of but how those molecules are put together.
So suppose your writing is a lump of coal. What can you do with it to turn it into diamond-material? How can you rearrange those molecules to make that dull lump of junk into something sparkly and beautiful? When you find coal in your stocking, think of it as a BIG fat hint from Santa that you need to get to work. After all, a lump of coal is just a lump of coal until you do something with it, but under the right circumstances, coal can become the sparkliest, most beautiful gem of them all.
In the words of the Big Guy himself: