Stealing Time: Writing Through Family Gatherings

                 For those of you still doing NaNo, this week marks the final stretch. Whether it’s a frantic scramble or an easy victory lap depends on how well you kept up with the schedule. Based on those I know, and myself in years past, I’m going to take a wild guess that most of you reading this are in the scramble category. Which means that as you read this, many of you are stuck at home with the family, Thanksgiving passed, wondering how on earth you’ll make it over the 50k line with all these distractions to contend with.

                Deep breaths, I’ve here to help. Working through the holidays isn’t easy, but if you’re set on making it over the finish line then every little bit of writing you can squeeze out counts. So get your laptop, keyboard, or pen and paper if you really like doing the same work twice, and pay attention as I teach you how to sneak in your writing.

1. First and foremost, have a reason for always being near a computer. Here is where a lie usually works best. If you have a job that involves e-mails, just say you’re waiting for something work related that’s “super” priority. If that’s not believable, then use corporate greed to your advantage; tell them you’re waiting for a cyber sale on a great gift for someone. Once you’ve used the word cyber, every family member over fifty will mentally check out and leave you alone. They watch enough terrible crime dramas to know it means working with the computer and that anything more in depth will bore them.

2. Learn to strike when the opportunity presents itself. For example, your uncle’s inevitable racist rants that come out after a few too many beers are golden time for you. Everyone will be so busy squirming uncomfortably in their seats that no one will notice you pounding away on the keyboard. In fact, they’ll think that’s just how you are distancing yourself from the situation. Bonus: If you can flip on the camera function of the laptop without being conspicuous and get the whole thing on film, you might have a viral video on your hands.

3. Start a Fantasy Football team. No, wait, stay with me here. I’m not saying you should actually play that game, unless its something you really enjoy, I’m just saying to have a team. Whenever your family comes by, complaining that you’re spending all your time on that infernal internet device and not enough with your loved ones, pull up the screen and say you’re trying to set your line-up. If you’re in the south, there’s enough reverence for all forms of football to make the would-be-interrupter slink away quickly, lest the gods of the pigskin be offended. If you’re in the north… fantasy baseball? Sorry, I don’t know the culture as well up there, but I’m sure you’ve got a sport that works in this ploy.

4. Offer to run every errand. Someone needs ice? You’ll get it. Uncle has finished all the beer, and no one wants him sober enough to start talking again? Shit yeah, you’ll make that run. Cousin tasked with bringing turkey brought his pigeon hunting spoils instead? Yeah, you’ll head to the HEB for a replacement. Because every time you hop in the car and go, you’ve bought yourself a clean ten minutes in the parking lot for writing. If anyone asks what took so long, you can blame the understaffed store and the sudden influx of other people who forgot shit. Plus, if you can actually take all of the errands, you can bump it up to fifteen minutes, because no one has any actual idea of what the real shopping time is, and you can say it got busier through the day. Not to mention, no one can complain about your being too helpful; it might even buy you a little private time later to squeeze out more words.

5. Speaking of private time… look, there’s no delicate way to put this. Writing is a hard gig, and sometimes it makes demands of us we never expected to have to fulfill. Case in point: You can always spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom. With Thanksgiving behind you, there are countless suspect dishes you can say have settled poorly, demanding that you make routine trips to the porcelain waystation. Should anyone ask why you’re bringing your laptop along, stare at them for an uncomfortably long while before finally saying that you’re going to need something to watch in there. It’s not a quick task. Ask to borrow someone’s Lord of The Rings DVDs for good measure. It’s not the most dignified way to meet a deadline, but that’s writing for you.

6. Use your family’s own gathering against them. Since everyone is all together, it’s a shame to just piddle around the house, you’ll propose. Maybe everyone should go see a movie, or take a walk through a nearby park, or play paintball in the woods (I don’t know what your family is in to). The point is, you consolidate them into one mass, and then get them out the door. Admittedly, this is a risky play, because unless you’ve got a way to extricate yourself from the situation you’ve lost hours of potential writing time. But, if you can manage to peel yourself off without getting the event cancelled, then you’ve grabbed a few hours of good, solid time to race toward that NaNo goal.

7. Don’t try to write. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point this out as an option, because the truth of the matter is that while finishing NaNo can be a big deal, your family is also pretty important too. And come December, you can always keep working on the book. Honestly, it probably wouldn’t be done at a perfect 50k anyway. And if you are determined to push through and hit the goal, why not just pull a few all-nighters over the next week? Sure, you’ll be sleep-deprived at work, but it’s the run between Thanksgiving and Christmas, everyone is half-assing it. They should be glad you’re even showing up. Just saying, there’s more time to work in, so it might be worth carving this little bit out. Breaks help us get clarity.

                Whatever path you choose, I hope you’re riding the heels of a delicious Turkey Day. And if you’re out there braving the Black Friday deals, then may God help you. Strike swift, cut clean, and show no weakness.

                Happy Thanksgiving!