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.
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?