Honesty compels me to admit that I almost forgot it was my day to post again. My muddled sense of time is due, in part, to the fact that I was off work last week and have been home sick with my traditional holiday cold this week (pretty sure that was not on my holiday wish list).
Fortunately I did remember and, since I was staring at the Christmas tree at the time, talking about what holiday decorating taught me about writing seemed like a fine idea. That may have been the cold medicine talking though.
Anyway, without further ado, here goes:
Good things come to those who persevere: We did our holiday decorating this past Sunday, once the Thanksgiving leftovers were packed away. I thought we were just getting the tree on Sunday and then decorating later, but one thing led to another and pretty soon the tree was boasting a multitude of lights, lengths of garland, and an eclectic assortment of ornaments. Shortly thereafter, the holiday pillows and throws were festooning the living room, the fireplace candles were switched to red and green, and a Santa mat was at the door to welcome visitors. It’s possible that I may have complained a bit, just a bit, while putting the lights on the tree. Just like in writing (for me at least), once the initial excitement wears off, it can be a bit of a struggle to keep an eye on the end goal and keep going (especially when you hands are covered in tree sap). Persevering and winding up with a festively decorated house may not be quite as satisfying as typing “The End” but it comes close.
Your voice is your voice, even when you try to change it: Every year when we go out to get our tree I think we’re going to get something different. I’m often sure the tree we’ve selected is different. Once it’s up and decorated and I look at photos from years past, I see that it’s exactly the same. Every. Single. Time. The only thing that varies is how far off I am in my estimation of how high the ceiling is. Last year I was right on target but this year the poor angel on the top has her head wedged tightly against the ceiling. She’s definitely going to need an aspirin by New Years. In decorating, just like in writing, I appear to have a specific voice. No matter what decorations I use each year, the general feeling is the same, just like no matter what kind of hero I start out writing, he winds up a little sarcastic and dark by the end.
You may miss something wonderful if you stick with the usual: We have two plastic containers of ornaments. That may not sound like a lot, but in reality, we haven’t used any ornaments from the second container for years. I went through all of the ornaments several years ago, weeding out anything that wasn’t a definite keeper, but we still never get past the first box. When we were all done decorating this time I looked at what was in the second box and there were some great ornaments there that I had completely forgotten about. Sticking with the same ornaments year after year gives the tree that familiar feeling, but it also means missing out on some great alternatives. The same can be said about going for the familiar or favourite choices in writing. You may miss a really good solution if you chose the first thing that comes to mind.
Leftovers don’t have to be wasted: Once the tree was decorated, there were leftover branches that had been cut off the bottom. I could have thrown them away, but some of them were just right for creating a holiday centrepiece and others, along with some red carnations, were perfect for the vase in the corner. Even my favourite carved Santa ornament from my brother, that didn’t make it onto the tree, found a perfect spot in the china cabinet, keeping a watchful eye over the dining room. Even though there were things that didn’t make it onto the tree, there was a way to repurpose them. The same can be true in writing when you have to cut your darlings or you find a scene that just doesn’t work in the current story. The words don’t have to be wasted; they can often be repurposed for another book or a short story or as a building block for something totally different.
It doesn’t have to be perfect: The tree we started out with was not perfect. In fact, the man at the tree lot said something like “a lot of people would have just passed that one by.” In reality though, once it was covered in lights and garland and ornaments, it looked great with no obvious deficiencies. I feel like that’s true in writing as well. What you start out with may not be perfect, but once you add great characters, strong conflict, and interesting action, it will be great.
So, is your holiday decorating teaching you a thing or two as well or is it just me?