Writing Code Is Not Writing Words

So, I’ve been learning to code in JavaScript recently. Before that it was some basic jQuery. Before that it was CSS3. Before that it was HTML5. Wait, I learned some Bootstrap as well…where was that in the order? Sigh, I can’t remember. What I can tell you is this, writing code is not writing words.

It’s not that one is inherently harder than the other. Writing words is easier for me because I’ve had so many years of practice at it. Even if I didn’t, though, I still think writing code would be more challenging for me. Constructing sentences and scenes, deploying alliteration and cadence, these things come with a lot of wiggle room. I can fudge the math, so to speak, and play fast and loose with some of the rules.

That appeals to me, which makes me wonder if there isn’t a more adventurous, anti-authority rebel hiding deep down in my secret heart of hearts.

That wiggle room doesn’t exist in coding. There are almost always multiple paths to a solution, so there’s a little room for style, but you can’t fudge the math. The rules are absolute. Forget a punctuation mark, use the wrong kind of bracket, or forget to declare a variable and the whole thing implodes in an epic fail bomb. Do not pass go. Do not enjoy a working algorithm.

That said, I suspect it’s probably good for my writing to work in a system that is so unforgiving. Having to stay that conscious of the rules in coding has a bleed through effect. I’m simply more conscious of grammar rules and the rules of good writing. I’m also more conscious of the rules that I never really learned. I cannot, to this day, explain pluperfect tense. I’d be willing to bet that I use it in my writing, though.

(Side note: I looked up pluperfect tense, and I do use it in my writing. Most writers do.)

I think the bigger point here, and one I’ve made before, is that writing benefits from new experiences in obvious and subtle ways. That heightened consciousness of rules is a relatively subtle, but very helpful, benefit of my coding experience. The more obvious benefit is that I can now include real-to-life scenes about coding in my fiction.

I probably won’t, except in the most abstract ways, because coding is a lot like writing. It’s someone tapping away at a keyboard, which is difficult to make sound interesting on the page. What I can do now is get the emotional tenor right. I can talk sensibly about a novice coder’s emotional experience. (It’s mostly rage, punctuated by brief moments of relief and happiness bordering on hysteria.) As a writer, that information is worth its weight in gold.

Fear of Failure


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Here’s a universal truth for you: everyone fears failure. Here’s another universal truth for you: failure is inevitable. I believe those two truths are responsible for more people not pursuing their dreams, writing or otherwise, than almost anything else.

We fear failure, rightly, because it’s emotionally difficult. Those sloppy, ill-considered, early attempts at something new don’t seem to measure up. We look at our heroes, compare our work to theirs and are struck by shame or inadequacy. We just aren’t good enough. We’ll never be that good. What the hell were we thinking even trying this new thing?

That negative self-talk leads to one inevitable conclusion. Go back to what you know. Go back to what you’re good at and never try something new again.

Of course, there is also the inevitability of failure. We go into most new things cognizant that we probably won’t succeed the first time or the second or probably even the ninth or tenth times we try. That inevitability paralyzes us because we also know, going in, that we’re going to feel like crap when we do inevitably fail.

The thing about failure is that it’s largely a matter of perspective. The first novel I tried to write…in point of fact, the first three novels I tried to write were awful. I’m talking awful on an epic scale. Aside from a few concept level things that I cannibalized for other works, there was almost nothing redeeming about those books. By my current standards, those novels were failures. The operative phrase in that last sentence is “by my current standards.”

At the time, I was writing as well as I could. From my perspective, then, those abandoned attempts at novel writing were not failures. The words I put on the page were trite, contrived, pretentious, clichéd and derivative words, but no more so than any other novice writer cutting his or her teeth. They were not failures, but learning experiences. Incidentally, if you can avoid being self-critical, all failures are learning experiences in the long run.

Since I took my first swing at novel writing, I’ve had a lot of practice at writing. If I had to take guess, I’d say a couple million words worth of practice. Practice taught me a lot. Study of the craft hasn’t hurt either. I’ve probably read tens of millions of words in the intervening years, which was a learning exercise in itself, as well as reading some excellent and not-so-excellent guides on craft. All of that has given me a very different view of what comprises good writing.

Here’s another truth, the sting of failure fades. It doesn’t necessarily fade quickly, but it does fade. The sting of regret, on the other hand, lasts for a lifetime.

Hubris Is Not a Bad Thing For Writers…Except When It Is

photo credit: nWoSyxx via photopin cc

photo credit: nWoSyxx via photopin cc

In most situations, hubris is catastrophic. It leads you to overestimate your competence, which undermines your credibility. This inevitably leads to job problems and, potentially, to problems in your personal life as well. For writers, though, hubris may not be such a bad thing. In fact, it might be essential for aspiring novelists.

Slaving away in solitude for months or years, depending on your process, requires a special kind of arrogance. You need to believe, deep down, almost zealot-like, that you are writing something extraordinary…something people will want to read…something that people will want to spend money on. Devoting that kind of time and energy to a project, especially for indie authors and first-time novelists who lack a fan base to shore up their egos, in short, requires hubris.

You need overweening pride in yourself, in your work, in your imagination and there is nothing wrong with that. Without that hubris in play, most books would go unwritten or unshared. You can’t do without it and you shouldn’t try. The problem with necessary hubris, and you had to know a problem was coming, turns up after you finish the first draft.

That same hubris that let you sustain the work can also lead you to believe that it doesn’t need the attention of an editor, or that the novel doesn’t have structural issues, characterization issues or simple language issues. You are, of course, wrong about that. No matter how well-crafted your novel’s first draft is, it needs work. Always. Period. Do not pass Go; do not collect your Pulitzer.

The hardest part of being a writer is seizing your hubris by the tail and hauling it in once the writing is over and the revisions begin. You need to be able to put away the pride and look objectively at the work. If this sounds a bit schizophrenic, well, it is. You’re a writer. Get used to cognitive dissonance. It’s what you signed on for. Think of your hubris like a tool. Not every tool is right for every job. Hubris is a tool for sustaining the process. Objectivity is the tool for seeing it through to the end.

When Is It Time to Quit on a Story, Character, or Book?

Every writer of books is plagued by stories of how some author submitted a novel to 30 or 40 or 57 agents or publishers before finding it a home, only to go on to experience huge, decades-spanning success. It makes us wonder if we should be submit that story or novel to just one more place, because this next place could be the one that says yes. While I can’t give you any hard and fast rules about this –there is no equation — I do think there comes a time when we need to abandon old projects for new ideas. Here are my general parameters.

You’ve Been Trying for More Than 5 Years

I have this one story that I’ve been going back to, revising, tweaking, and editing for more than ten years. I’ve submitted it to dozens of magazines and it has been universally rejected. I’ll be honest. It breaks my heart a little that I never found a home for that story. I think it’s probably, on balance, one of the most powerful and well-written things I’ve ever done. But, after ten years and so many revisions I cannot count them anymore, I’m retiring that story from active submitting. It will, however, probably see life in some other context.

You’re Bored

Granted, every writer gets bored at some point during the writing process. It happens. That’s not what I mean. What I’m talking about is that moment where you realize that you’re phoning it in because you just don’t care about the story or characters anymore. When you stop caring, it’s time to let that idea go, because reader boredom won’t be far behind.

People Who Know Are Telling You It’s Bad

It’s a hard thing to hear that an idea is bad or a story doesn’t work or a novel isn’t compelling. The only thing worse than that is to push forward with it anyways. If one person tells you it’s bad, you can probably blow it off. If your writer’s group, your friends, an agent and an editor all say it’s bad, put that one in your drawer and forget about it. The odds that all of those people are wrong are infinitesimally low.

There may be other times when you should quit, like if it’s impacting your health, but the above three three are the times that I believe you should always quit and move onto a new idea. Sometimes, no amount of effort or revision can save an idea and absolutely nothing can save a book from the author’s boredom.

Do you have any personal guidelines for when to abandon an idea, book or character? Let me know about them in the comments below.

So, have you written anything I might have read?

Image courtesy of graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of graur codrin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I expect that everyone with the raw nerve to proclaim themselves as writers have faced this question. On the one hand, it’s inevitable. On the other hand, it’s frustrating. If you take the question at face value, the answer should be: “How the hell should I know?” Asking a comparative stranger to judge, based on a few minutes of interaction, whether you might have read what they’ve written is, of course, absurd (unless the writer is Sherlock Holmes).

Sadly, though, what they are really asking is something more pernicious and, frankly, harder to swallow. The question they mean to ask is, “Have you written something that is famous enough that I might have heard of it?” The answer to that question is, in almost all instances, for almost all writers, “No.”

There are maybe a few dozen writers who have name recognition in popular culture, although sometimes their books or characters are famous when they are not. The rest of us chip away in relative obscurity. The problem with uttering that magical phrase, “I’m a writer,” is that it doesn’t actually communicate what most of us do.

After all, the person writing dialogue for your favorite TV show is a writer. The people crafting the slogans in the commercials that interrupt your favorite TV show are writers. So are the people writing the novels you read, the textbooks you study, the blogs you read instead of working, and articles in your favorite topical magazine or e-zine, depending on your tech- savvy.

This is, no doubt, why so some writers do not self-identify as writers, but as the kind of writing they do. They say, “I’m a novelist,” or, “I’m a blogger,” or, “I’m a journalist,” or, “I’m a copywriter.” Which is all well and good, if that’s all you do. But what about those people who are, at turns, novelists and bloggers and freelance article writers for magazines. By what name should they identify themselves? With no better options, they call themselves writers.

Since we have no better option than to call ourselves writers, I suggest that what we need is a better answer to the question, “Have you written anything I might have read?” Rather than hem and haw and, eventually, admit that the answer is probably not, we should say the following. “I’m not sure, but if you haven’t, you should.” Then, give them the name of your latest novel or offer to send them a link to something you’ve written.

Of course, the odds are good that, even if they agree to let you send them a link or write down the name of your latest book, they won’t read your work. But, a few of them probably will. If they like it, they’ll probably tell their friends and that is how you get some word of mouth moving. Since the thing that most writers lack is an audience and we can’t depend on other people to give us one, we have to take matters into our own hands. This is one way to do that.

Webinars, Writing and Delivering on Your Promises

photo credit: sridgway via photopin cc

photo credit: sridgway via photopin cc

Most of the time, I try to talk directly about things to relate to writing, indie author marketing, branding and so on, but I had an experience watching webinars a couple weeks ago that I want to relate because it’s about delivering on promises. In a roundabout way, though, my experience does relate to the broader topic of writing and marketing because those are also about delivering on promises

So, a couple weeks ago, I watched two webinars. For those of you who aren’t familiar with webinars, they are essentially live webcasts that feature an expert or two speaking on a topic with the aid of slides. One of the webinars I watched was about inbound marketing. The other was about a piece of writing software called Scrivener. The experience of watching these two webinars could not have been further apart.

The inbound marketing webinar, sponsored by Hubspot and featuring marketing expert John Jantsch, was what I would consider a textbook example of how to do a webinar. Jantsch delivered a structured talk with supporting infographics, charts and explanatory slides. He moved smoothly from topic to topic and wrapped up his talk in approximately 42 minutes. For remaining time, Jantsch fielded moderator-selected questions to which he gave very cogent answers.

The Scrivener webinar was hosted by Joel Friedlander. It featured presenter Joseph Michael, the self-styled Scrivener Coach, and a moderator. This webinar was, by most measures, a hot mess. The purported purpose of the webinar was to show people how to write in Scrivener and then export files into ebook formats…effortlessly.

From the outset, it was clear that this webinar was being delivered off the cuff, with minimal preparation or thought given to structuring the content for maximum value. They lost a lot of valuable time bouncing control of the screen between the presenters. The content itself came across as a tour of features that the presenters liked, rather than the promised tutorial.

A major low point for me came when one of the presenters attempted to walk the other one through a new process for saving research material. While no doubt a valuable tip, it could have been shown to viewers in under 60 seconds, instead several minutes, if they practiced it prior to the live webinar.

By then, I was ready to bail and go do something productive. However, at the beginning of the webinar, they promised that 50 attendees who stayed until the end would get a chance at a free copy of Scrivener. So, I stuck it out. I figured that another 20 minutes for a chance at free software was a small enough price to pay. Only, things didn’t work out quite as advertised…

When the “educational” portion ended and the obligatory product pitch commenced, a standard feature of webinars, we found out that the only way to get a “free” copy of Scrivener was to sign up for a $497 training program cost.

For my money, saying viewers can get a free copy of something, as a stand-alone statement, implies the free item is a no-strings inducement to stay until the end. What happened was more like getting promised a free Blu-ray player for showing up at car dealership’s event and finding out you need to buy a car to get the Blu-ray player. Maybe it’s not precisely illegal, but it’s not ethical.

The Scrivener webinar failed to deliver on all of its promises. It didn’t show me how to do anything on Scrivener effortlessly. Even listening to the presentation was an effort in trying to discern meaning. It barely discussed, let alone provided a walk-through, of exporting a file as an ebook in any format. Finally, it failed to deliver the promised 50 free copies of scrivener to attendees who endured the whole webinar.

Those failures, particularly the shady advertising, turned me off to any future webinars by Joel Friedlander and Michael Joseph, but also guaranteed that I’ll never buy anything from either one of them. If they play that fast and loose with potential customers, I can’t imagine how they treat actual customers.

All of which brings me around to writing and indie author marketing. All writing, and all forms of content when you get down to it, serves a purpose. We identify the purpose with titles, tags, and category descriptions. We identify fiction and non-fiction and, when people see such identifiers, they expect the content to conform to that.

When I say that my Sam Branch novels are contemporary fantasy with a dose of action-adventure, I’m making a promise. People who read my books know that I deliver on that promise. The books are contemporary, fantasy, and deliver action-adventure. I also like to believe they deliver good writing, but that’s always debatable.

Whether as a writer, someone producing YouTube videos, or someone offering a webinar, we should take those promises seriously. Building audience trust takes time, but one bad experience can destroy that trust forever. The Hubspot webinar promised to discuss inbound marketing and it delivered an in depth and detailed discussion. I’d absolutely roll the dice on another Hubspot webinar. The Scrivener webinar promised much and delivered almost none of it. I won’t be wasting my time with them again.

In Which I Discuss Fiction and the Peculiar Consistency of Voice

photo credit: stephenscottjenkins via photopin cc

photo credit: stephenscottjenkins via photopin cc

A very long time ago, a lifetime ago it feels some days, I got it into my head that I was going to be a writer. Not merely a writer, I was going to be a writer of short stories and novels. So, I wrote short stories and started novels, most of which were truly awful, unoriginal, or plagued with the kinds of mistakes that all writers seem to make in the early days. I submitted the short stories to various markets. In most cases, I received the dreaded form-letter rejection and I still have all of them tucked away in a folder somewhere. Every once in a while, though, I found myself getting a scrawled note of encouragement from an editor.

In those early days, I didn’t recognize the significance of those scrawled notes. Intellectually, I knew they meant that I was getting somewhere. I knew it, but I didn’t feel it. I felt the rejection, of course. The fragile confidence of youth always recognizes rejection and I wrote less. Then life began to intervene. There were deaths in the family, college, relationships and I wrote less and less and less. Until, finally, I wasn’t writing fiction at all.

It was years before I turned back to writing fiction and I went big. I started with a novel and, by and large, have stuck with it since then. It’s been a hobby, a thing done between the paying gigs, and that seemed okay by me. Then, a funny thing happened. The holidays rolled around. Western society all but ground to a halt and I had some extra time on my hands. I had a lot of extra time on my hands. So, I wrote a few short stories. These were ideas that didn’t have a place in my novels, but persisted in reminding me they existed.

I discovered two things as a result of that little experiment. The first thing I discovered or, perhaps, remembered is the correct word, is that I like writing short stories. It’s fun. It’s also demanding. Writing short fiction forces you to excise all of those extra characters and subplots and interesting tidbits you can squeeze into a novel. The second thing I discovered is that voice is shockingly consistent.

In the process of looking for something else, I found an old short story I had written and submitted in the bygone days of 2003, buried in the depths of my email. I pulled the story out of the email and reformatted it into something readable. Then I read it. It wasn’t a great story. I wouldn’t even call it a good story, though it had the potential to be a not bad story. The interesting part about it, however, was that as I read it, I recognized my own writer’s voice in it. I could imagine writing that story, with very similar language, today. There was something in the cadence, in the word choice, in the particulars of description that I recognized as me.

It was like hearing a decade-old echo from a younger me that I barely remember sometimes. What I do remember about that much younger version of myself isn’t terribly flattering. I wasn’t an awful person, at least, not any more so than all 20-somethings are raging, self-involved psychopaths that substitute hubris for self-confidence. I’ve just reached a point in life where I felt like that person and the person I am now didn’t share anything. Then I read that story and realized that I did share something with my younger self. I shared a voice. I shared a sense of how language can be employed for effect. I could connect the writer I am now to the writer I was then and, by proxy, the person I am now to the person I was then.

It was a strange realization that voice, less polished and precise, perhaps, but still the same in its essentials, was so consistent. I just assumed that my writing had evolved in the same way that I had evolved as a person. The funny thing is that I was right, but not in the way I imagined I was right. The hardest, sharpest edges that made me problematic as a person were worn down by time and experience. The roughest, most flagrant errors that made my writing problematic were corrected by the same thing. It wasn’t evolution I was experiencing, but a process of refinement. The impurities, the flaws, the blemishes were being burned away, slowly, so very slowly, but they were exiting the picture.

The process isn’t over, it’s never really over until you die, but I can see it now. I haven’t become a different person or a different writer. I have become and am still becoming a purer version of both and that’s okay by me.

Writing Actionable Content

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

(Caveat: This one is mostly for freelance writers and those developing content aimed at professionals.)

Writing actionable content is a radically different thing than writing informational or narrative content. Narrative content can be languid and take its time getting where it’s going. Often, it is the slower pace and length that gives narrative its extraordinary power. Informational content is often, though not always by necessity, dry and slow. It aims to inform, to teach, to explicate and, mostly, to get factual content from the page to your brain. Actionable content, if it followed either of those approaches would fail spectacularly.

Tell Them to Do Something

If you’re writing for an online audience, you get exactly two paragraphs worth of tolerance. Your introductory paragraph and your conclusion can…note that I only say CAN…lack in a thing that the reader can do. After that, you must forgo narrative and pure information and tell the reader to do X, Y or Z. You notice that I just followed my own rule of actionable content. In the second paragraph, I tell you to tell your reader something they can do.

Make the Action Explicit

It’s not enough for you to just put a link into a sentence and assume the reader will click on it. Some will and some won’t. The link is an implicit call to action. If you want your reader to do something, make the call to action explicit. Say, “Click on this link to Basecamp  to learn about their project management software,” or “Write out your top ten concerns on a piece of paper in order of importance.” The difference here is the same difference as your spouse saying, “Remember that the kids have practice after school tomorrow,” and “You need to pick the kids up from practice after school tomorrow.”

Keep It Simple

Unless you’re writing a tutorial for something, keep the actions simple. Giving someone 47 steps to follow is generally pointless, because odds are they won’t ever get past step five. Remember, you don’t need to detail everything and can’t ever really cover everything in a blog post or article that only runs 400-700 words. If you’re talking about complex processes, give the first step and then point them to a resource that details the more complex process or at least expands on it. For example, if you want more information about writing actionable content, you should read Amanda Gallucci’s excellent blog post – “Transforming Content from Lifeless to Actionable.”


5 Ways to Not Suck at Writing

Image courtesy of anankkml/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anankkml/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some new writers buy into the idea that, if they just sit down and start, inspiration will somehow lead to great writing. Wrong! That might happen one time out of every 100 attempts you make at writing, if you’re lucky. If you’re not lucky, inspired writing might happen one time out of every 1000 attempts. The “sit down and let inspiration lead” approach almost always ends with one thing: writing that sucks. Good writing, on the other hand, takes a combination of work and skills. Here are five ways for you not to suck at writing.

Organize Your Thoughts!

That idea you have for an essay, article or story isn’t enough. You need to take that idea and break it down into pieces. Spend some time and figure out what things you must talk about to make your final draft coherent. Some people favor outlines for this process and, for new writers in particular, this probably should be your approach. Outlining forces you to really look at how much effort and space you’ll need to complete your piece as you first envisioned it.

Pro tip: Your initial idea is almost always too big. Cutting the idea down lets you talk about specifics, which leads to better writing.

Don’t Fall in Love with Your First Idea

Your first idea is just that: your first idea. Unlike races, being the first idea doesn’t come with a prize. Ideas can be bad. They can be impossible to follow through on. They can be the wrong idea for what you need to write. Don’t quit on trying to come up with ideas after you get that first one. Think of the first idea as a trial run or a way to warm up your imagination before you get down to the serious business of generating ideas.

Pro tip: Looking at the way other people have handled a similar topic can help to spark your own thinking, but make sure you don’t unintentionally steal their idea.

Stop Editing While You Write Your First Draft

Writing your first draft has one, and only one, purpose. Its purpose is to get the big ideas down on paper. Editing while you write your first draft does nothing but tack on extra writing time. No matter how much editing you do while you write that first draft, you will always need to revise and edit it. You will. Accept it. No one gets it right the first time.

Pro tip: Stopping to revise also leads to stilted writing because it disrupts the flow of your thinking. Writing that flows well is better writing.

Stop Guessing about Grammar and Punctuation

Remember when that elementary or middle school teacher told you to put a comma into a sentence wherever you would pause? It was bad advice then and it’s bad advice now, because it means you’re guessing. If you don’t know when it’s appropriate to use a comma, or a colon, or you scratch your head every time people talk about subordinate and independent clauses, it’s time to learn. Get a style guide. They explain those rules, at great length and in sometimes excruciating detail. If you’re a student, go and talk to the English department staff. Ask questions. You can also make use of the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), which offers extremely comprehensive guidance on most things writing-related.

Pro tip: I write for a living and I still consult style guides and ask experts to clarify usages I’m not clear on. Knowing the rules makes your writing better. Period.

Don’t Use Blogs as Your Examples for Good Writing

Blog posts and, in point of fact, much of the writing you find on the Internet is writing that sucks. Blog posts, in particular, offer very poor examples because blog writing has its own conventions and some of those conventions violate the normal rules of good writing. Of course, some bloggers break those rules on purpose and with a goal in mind, like making the post easier to read on screen, and other bloggers never knew the rules of good writing in the first place. In either case, don’t look to blogs to show you how to write well.

Pro tip: You should read high quality newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and The Atlantic, and high quality books, such as the ones found in this Salon.com “The Best Books of the Decade” article, to find your examples of good writing.

It’s easy to produce writing that sucks. People do it every day in online forums, comment sections and amateur articles. Good writing isn’t easy to produce. It takes time and effort. You need to be willing to organize your thoughts, reject bad ideas, and learn the basics of grammar and punctuation. If you are willing to put in the time, read good writing and accept the reality that you’ll need more than one draft, good writing is within your reach.

Note: This post may be used in educational settings without seeking permission, as long as it is properly attributed to me.

Being a Professional Writer When Christmas is Coming

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The grand tradition of Thanksgiving has come and gone. If you’re like me, you probably ate about three times as much as was healthy. After which, you stared around in a gluttony stupor and vaguely wondered why you couldn’t find the energy to do anything. It’s been a few days, though, and most of us have probably shaken off the aftereffects of our collective gorging. Now we find ourselves at an interesting time of year.

Despite what retailers would have us think, Christmas isn’t here yet. This is that awkward, pre-Christmas period where everything seems to be on hold while we wait for the arrival of the holiday. As a writer, it can be easy to get a little lazy at this time of year.

You’re surrounded by food of a decidedly sugary persuasion. You’ve got a house or an apartment that needs decorating and maybe some kids who are lobbing Christmas lists at you; lists that they filled with this year’s must have (read deathmatch in the aisles) items. Your family starts calling you and visits must be planned or avoided.

It’s hectic.

It’s time consuming.

It seems more immediately important.

Bu the truth is…

It’s not more important than your writing, especially for those of you who write for a living.

This time of year is often a barren stretch for professional writers. Clients are going out of town. Budgets for things like buying freelance content are starting to wear thin. The people you work for are just plain distracted.

What that means for a professional writer is that early-mid December is a stretch where you need to be devoting more time and energy to writing and business, not less. You’re probably going to have put in extra time to pin down clients on work, send extra reminders about unpaid invoices, and work twice as hard to drum up new business.

This doesn’t mean you can neglect obligations to family and friends, but it does mean you’ll need to manage your time more efficiently and stick to your guns about your hours. Tell your extended family when you’re available to talk and make it clear that calls during working hours need to be emergencies/highly important. Remember, this is your job and the people around you should respect that fact as much as you respect the fact that they have working hours.

Why should you do all of this? While Christmas might be fun and festive, January is right around the corner. The last thing you want to be doing in early January is trying to drum up work or, worse, killing yourself trying to do all the work you flaked on in December.