True confession: my writing process involves watching Hallmark Christmas movies, and I’m not ashamed.

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Susan Sontag writes with a felt-tip pen or a pencil, on white or yellow legal pads.

Joan Didion sleeps with a nearly completed book in the same room with her.

Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up, his feet warm and comfy in a pair of worn-out loafers.

And me? As I write, I watch Hallmark Christmas movies . . . and I’m not ashamed.

I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this — watching these movies every blessed day during the holiday season and beyond, if they’re playing. I had no clue it would turn into the writing routine it has become.

Every day beginning sometime in October and continuing into January, sometimes February, and sometimes for a weekend here and there throughout the year — I tune the TV in my writing room to any Hallmark channel that’s showing a sappy holiday movie (and they’re all sappy).

I’m a little embarrassed about this, but there’s a good reason why I watch them.

Here’s how it started.

It was Christmas movie season 2014–2015 when I began working in earnest on the second draft of my memoir, The Grapes of Dementia. It was a difficult writing experience — emotional and sometimes retraumatizing.

Grapes spans less than 6 years — from the time I met my second husband, Alan, through his diagnosis and death from Alzheimer’s disease. It’s about our passionate mid-life romance that was cut short by this horrifying illness, as well as my ensuing grief process. Well, okay, maybe I do write romance . . . a little. Just my romance story, though.

While writing the book, I lived on California’s Redwood Coast, about an hour from the Oregon border. I’d moved from my long-time home in Colorado a few months before with the latest man in my life. Our new home on the coast offered a change of sights and sounds, and my body sucked in the moisture of the coastal air — a welcome change from the semi-arid, high-desert climate I’d just moved from.

I could hear the ocean from my new house, and it called to me often to walk along the shore. At home, I listened to the ribbeting of the frogs that lived by the pond adjacent to the property and watched the comings and goings of the squirrels and the yellow-breasted chats and other bird species that lived in the dense forest just a few feet from my study window. Sitting at my desk, I could look out the window by shifting my gaze slightly to the left, and it was good, sweet, and charming.

As was my habit while writing (even now), I sometimes looked up from my laptop to give my eyes a break from the blue light of the screen. The TV was close to the window, but I had never turned it on while writing because, well, I didn’t want the distraction. I loved watching nature right outside my window . . . until eventually I craved a more varied view.

One day I turned on the TV for a change of scenery. Flipping through the channels for something appropriate, I stumbled across a Hallmark Christmas movie. Which I’d never seen before. Until then, that is.

A beautifully decorated Christmas tree — flocked and glimmering with what looked like hundreds of lights — appeared on the screen. My eyes popped at the sight of it. Thoroughly enchanted, I fell in love with this channel right then and there. Thankfully, I’ve never lost my child-like awe and wonder for the charm, lights, and glimmer of the Christmas season, and here it had been in front of me all along. I’d never known.

But then as I realized I was watching a Hallmark movie (of all things!), my face flushed with embarrassment, and I hoped the birds and squirrels outside my window hadn’t noticed I’d abandoned them and was about to switch my loyalty.

Jeez! It was a Hallmark movie!

What the flipping heck! What’s happened to me!

I’ve never watched sappy romance movies. No thank you. I don’t read Harlequin Romance or anything in the romance genre. Nope. I’m not attracted to predictable, formulaic stories about people falling in love. Life isn’t that simple, as I’m sure you know. Why bother watching a trivial movie or reading a silly book about falling in love?

Yet here I was, watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. Why? Why in the world was I about to start now?

Well, first of all, I didn’t actually watch the movies or tried to pick up on a plot. Instead, I watched the background. What enticed me was looking up from my writing and seeing glittery Christmas lights, dazzling decorations, the actors dressed in holiday attire. And sometimes there’d be snow and mountains that reminded me of my home back in Colorado. The scenery of the movie was the true story for me.

My goal to tune into a Hallmark Christmas movie was simply to have something beautiful on the television screen when I looked up from my laptop, when I wanted a brief respite from writing the world of Alzheimer’s, or when I needed to stare and think before I carried on with the emotionally strenuous task before me. These are all noble reasons.

And in taking a deeper look, this goes further still. It goes beyond the pretty lights and settings and landscapes, past the physical attractiveness of the actors and their onscreen lives.

Simply, these movies invoked joy in me.

Joy is a powerful lightning bolt of emotion. Joy doesn’t stay with us. It visits in bursts. It exults our spirits, gives us a sense of well-being, fulfillment, and contentment.

The joy that came to me through those Hallmark Christmas movies helped me to better accept life as it was — my new life without Alan. A life of finding peace and meaning, a life of keeping Alan in my heart while moving forward with a new man at my side.

The joy I found in those movies sustained me throughout the challenge of writing The Grapes of Dementia. It was joy that urged me on to share my feelings and my story with others who might benefit from hearing it, who might realize they’re not alone in their grief and sorrow.

The thing about joy, though, is that it doesn’t stick around for long. Its touch is deep and swift, its influence temporary. But it always returns. Again and again. And we’re better from each brush with it.

I’m back living in Colorado now, and the movie habit has followed me here. Throughout the five or six years Hallmark Christmas movies have been part of my writing routine, I’ve never seen one from start to finish. I’ve never cozied up to view one all the way through. I’ve only seen bits and pieces here and there. I also couldn’t tell you the title of any one of them. But that doesn’t make them any less special or enjoyable or delightful to me. They were there for me during some rough stretches, and I suspect they’ll continue to be there for as long as I write, as long as there’s a Hallmark Channel while I write.

And in case you’re curious, the answer is yes, of course — my TV was tuned to a Hallmark Christmas movie the entire time I wrote this. It is October, you know.

I designed the cover, Donna Clement took the photo, and Luis H. Ruiz chose the font colors and sizes and placed the text where I told him to. I’m bossy that way.

If you liked what you’ve read, please click on the applauding hands sign on the left and consider subscribing.

And if you really liked it, share it and tell your friends.

And if you really, really liked it, you might want to check out my ebook, The Grapes of Dementia: My Journey of Love, Loss, Surrender, and Gratitude, available through Amazon.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Wren Wright

Writing mostly to heal myself from life; sharing in hopes you’ll find some of it helpful. Also books, personal development, and anything else I’m drawn to.