The Unlit Christmas Tree (or The Squint Test)












This is an edited/updated blog post from 2010 which is still very relevant.

As per our family’s tradition, our Christmas tree’s started going up the day after Thanksgiving.  Yes, I used the plural because we put up as many as ten tree’s (eleven if you count the one I erect at work).  Of course there’s one main tree in the living room, but various sized specialty tree’s also spread throughout the house.  There’s the cute and cuddly teddy bear tree in the sun room, the eclectic world travel tree in my wife’s office, the reverential LSU tree in the playroom, and other creative interpretations scattered here and there.

I think I mentioned before that we get into Christmas around here.

Early this morning as I was making my zombie march from the bed to the coffee pot, I paused and admired our behemoth twelve-foot centerpiece tree.  Even in the dark, unlit, it was a vision of holiday warmth that filled my heart with pride & joy.  Truly an impressive sight.  In the back of my mind I heard it whispering to me (it was 6:30 in the AM after all), begging me to flip the switch and let it become what it was created to be.  So before I went any further I sent currents of electricity through the miles of intertwined wire and awakened the hundreds of slumbering crystals.  The tree came to life with an explosion of twinkling lights and reflective shimmers of all shapes and sizes, lifting the corners of my mouth along with my spirits.

When the coffee was brewed and the morning paper retrieved, I settled down at my desk to check emails and catch up with goings-on in the blogosphere.  Whenever I wasn't reading a page or staring at the monitor, I'd find myself turned around staring at the tree, taking in its awesomeness.   At one point when I swiveled back to my desk I happened to catch sight of a few pages from my most recent manuscript.  That's when my affinity for analogies led me right where I needed to go.

For the past month I’ve been dragging my feet as far as my most recent project is concerned, trying to muster the energy for the next round of revisions.  As I stared at it there collecting dust, I realized that my manuscript was not unlike an unlit Christmas tree.  Impressive in its own right, but begging me to flip that switch and send it out to realize its true potential, what it was created for.  An ornament here, some tinsel there, and it would be ready to dazzle.  And like a Christmas tree, no two were alike…but all of us are drawn to certain types.  Even Charlie Brown’s tree had its admirers (I'm one).

To take the metaphor even further, putting up a Christmas Tree (especially an artificial one) is not unlike writing a novel. First there's the frame, then adding on the branches and filling out the foliage needles, and finally layering in all of the various adornments in your own special way that makes the tree truly yours.  But the part that I'm really talking about is when you give your tree that all important squint test.  You know what I'm talking about, when you step back and narrow your eyes, allowing them to go out of focus, so you can see where the dead spots on the tree are.  This is a crucial step in tree decorating/writing, where a lot of people turn to others for help.  We are just too close to the material to be able to see those glaring holes.  But I believe that as we grow as writers and practice our craft, we will become better skilled at spotting them ourselves.

So what about your unlit Christmas tree, how close are you to flipping that switch?  Have you performed a squint test yet?







22 comments

  1. Haha I love this (because it's true).

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  2. I did the "zombie march" while putting up our ONE tree. Ten? Wow.

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  3. Yup, my WIP is at that point. Thanks for the analogy - after Christmas, I'll turn those literary twinkle lights on!

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  4. Ten trees? Wow! I'd like to have a house where I could put up several trees. If I ever get my dream house, I'll have a Christmas room. Some years we get the tree put up right after Thanksgiving, while other years it can be mid December. This year we aren't putting up a tree because we got a new dog and we are in the adjustment period. Too many new things for him to deal with, without adding a decorated tree to the mix. : )

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  5. We have a little Charlie Brown tree we always put up somewhere in the house along with our other decorations. Love that you have so many trees!

    Definitely hoping to give my current MS the good ol' squint test over the holidays :)

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  6. I love all of the trees! How beautiful and festive is that? As for my MS, I haven't even gotten close to the squint test yet... still wrapping it with tinsel, but I know I'll get close to flipping the switch over the holidays! And I hope you can squint at it and tell me if it's crooked.

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  7. Oh my I am still stuck on the eleven Christmas Trees! I can barely get one decorated. I also like your analogy! Great posting and Happy Monday!

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  8. Think it's passed the squint test.

    We have two trees at our house. I think my husband would kill me if we had more than that.

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  9. Excellent analogy. But, wow, I'm a little tired after decorating 1 tree yesterday! We get very into Christmas, too, but more with activities and music and church than with decorations, I guess. :) I have more energy when it comes to writing than decorating!

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  10. Critique partners can help with the squinting as well.

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  11. My unlit tree is with the first round of critique partners :)

    We haven't put up a Christmas tree yet :/ (Don't hate me). It's just that the toddler loves breaking things so much ... plus, we'll be going to my parent's house in just a couple of days, and I didn't want to go through all the work to have my kiddo break it and then have to take it down ... I must be a grinch :)

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  12. I love your comparison about building a Christmas tree and structuring a novel. Very, very true.

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  13. My 18 month old decided to put the "shatter proof" ornaments to the test. They passed... but not before spreading their glitter all over the entire house. Now all ornaments on the tree are at least four feet from the floor. It's unique if nothing else. Definitely wouldn't pass a squint test, though. My analogy for our tree: You've written a comprehensive synopsis, then converted exactly HALF of it into a written book.

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  14. Love your comparison. We flipped our switch yesterday.

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  15. For me, there is nothing like being the first one up in the early morning and turning on just the tree. I can stare at it with my cup of coffee and just enjoy it.

    I don't know if I could handle numerous trees.

    Great job on this post, DL.

    Heather

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  16. We're barely able to get one tree up and decorated before Christmas. Ours only had lights on it for a solid week. My novel is sort of like that - half done. It's a good day to work on finishing it.

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  17. Great analogy! I'm putting the finishing bits of tinsel on my manuscript right now.

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  18. I love Christmas trees too. Ours goes up the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
    As for the analogy,it can also be applied to the finished product...some people hate fake; some hate real; some like white lights; some colored...there are all sorts of trees to suit all sorts of people. What one thinks is perfect, another sees flaws.

    My son is attending WVU, so he'd have little love for your LSU tree.I graduated from Marshall, so my son already knows I think he's a traitor. :)

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  19. Great analogy. Plus, I can't wait to tell my husband that I found someone who has more than our three trees, which he thinks I'm a little crazy for wanting. LOL.

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  20. I really enjoyed this analogy, DL. Thanks for always sharing such wonderful posts. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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  21. Love your Christmas trees and your comparison to writing. So true! So I'm looking at my Christmas tree right now, squinting and I think it needs more....of everything, lol!

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  22. Based on my love of Charlie Brown, I have to go with the skinny tree.

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