Guest Post: Making Piñatas and Making Time by Eva Langston

When I was a kid, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas stretched, becoming magical and seemingly endless. Each day my brother and I opened a paper window on our Advent calendar to reveal a tiny square of the hidden picture. We stared at the presents collecting under the tree, our anticipation mounting. The days were cold and dark, but lit by twinkling lights and the flames of the Advent candles on our dining room table.

In middle school Spanish class, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas were always the most fun. We left gifts for our Secret Santas under the waist-high tree in the corner of our basement classroom. A popular gift to both give and receive was a one-pound peppermint stick, bought at the drugstore for eighty-nine cents. We’d suck on them during class then wrap the sticky end in plastic to save for later.

Señora Carper, our crazy, red-lipstick-wearing Spanish teacher, taught us to sing Christmas songs in Spanish: “Noche de Paz,” “Cascabelles,” “Rodolfo, el Reno de la Nariz Roja,” along with traditional Mexican carols. She then told us to “grab our microphones” (the giant peppermint sticks) and follow her. We trooped through the halls, serenading the rest of the school.

This was also the time when we made piñatas in Spanish class. Every day we added another layer of soggy newspaper to our balloons. On the last day before winter break, each student brought their piñata, painted and decorated, to Señora Carper at the front of the room. She would admire the piñata then slam it with all of her might against the edge of her desk. If it didn’t break, we received an A. I suppose this was her way of taking attendance. If you had added a layer every day since Thanksgiving, your piñata held up to the bashing, and Señora Carper would hang it from the ceiling to display for the rest of the year.

It’s funny to look back on this as an adult, now that the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems to fly by. Only four weeks! That’s practically nothing. People (myself included) get stressed at the prospect of decorating and gift-buying in such a short amount of time. And where do we writers find the time to write when there’s shopping to do, gifts to wrap, family to visit?

I often think I need big chunks of time in order to sit down and really focus on my creative projects. And sometimes, perhaps, that is what I need. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and novels can be written a little bit at a time. Write two or three pages a day, and you’ll have a novel-length manuscript in a couple of months. It’s like adding layers to a piñata: over time they add up to something substantial.

Eva LangstonAlthough I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, I still enjoy having an Advent calendar because it reminds me to slow down and enjoy the holidays. Advent is a time of waiting and preparing, which seems appropriate for me since I am currently eight months pregnant. My husband and I are busy taking childbirth classes and reading parenting books and beginning to turn my office into a nursery.

I’m also trying to prepare myself for how the baby – my first – will affect my writing. I know that I will have less time and energy. Not only will I have to adjust my expectations for what I can accomplish and how long it will take me, but I’ll also have to learn how to write in smaller snippets of time – to build my novels page by page instead of chapter by chapter.

I once asked writer Lish McBride, who has two kids, a full-time job and three successful novels, where she finds the time to write. She said she dislikes the term finding time, “because it makes it seem like time is just sitting around for you to bump into it.” Instead, she says, she makes time.

And time is what you make of it. Thirty days can go by fast or slow — it’s up to you. You can choose to schedule a half an hour of writing into your day. You can choose to sneak away from the family for twenty minutes to add another layer to your writing project.

And if it’s too hard to focus on actual writing during the hectic holidays, you can still use this time to prepare – to brainstorm, outline, organize, make notes, or simply read good books and refill your creative well – so that come the new year, you are ready to dive back into your writing life with renewed gusto.

This year, with not only the holidays to prepare for but also a new baby, I am definitely finding it hard to focus on writing. My plan is to finish a revision of my novel draft before the baby comes, but there are so many other things vying for my attention, it can be hard not to feel stressed. I try to work on my writing time in the morning, before other obligations crowd my brain. And I often have to remind myself to slow down and appreciate these dark, magical days: to open each one in turn and admire the picture that is slowly being revealed.

 

Eva LangstonEva Langston received her MFA from the University of New Orleans, and her fiction has been published in many journals and anthologies. She is the Features Editor for Compose Journal and a writing workshop leader at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. A former middle and high school math teacher, she now tutors part-time and writes novels for young people. You can read about her slow journey towards a writing career at inthegardenofeva.com, or follow her on Twitter at @eva_langston.

Eva’s fiction appears in Black Fox Issue 11.

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