Elizabeth: The Season of Story

Smiling Christmas snowflake ornament on the tree
© Eldridge Photography

As I write this post, I’m sitting in the living room, basking in the glow of the holiday tree that is dressed in its strings of twinkle lights and golden garland.   That cat, of course, considers it to be his own personal giant toy.  I hope I don’t have a reason to regret not bolting it to the ceiling this year.

The holidays have changed a lot since I was a kid, when the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas used to last what felt like an eternity and the tree (at least for some  years) was oddly metallic and sported lots and lots of tinsel.  Now the time seems to be speeding along at an alarming rate and the tree is real and giving off a faint pine scent.

I’ve run out of time this evening, so putting on the ornaments will have to wait until I get home from work tomorrow.  When I pull out the ornaments, I’ll be pulling out memories along with them.  There will be the glass ballerina that I got from my dance teacher the year I went en point in ballet class.  There will be the brightly colored fish made out of ribbons that I got in the Honolulu airport while on a business trip just before my son was born.  There will be ornaments picked up on trips, received as gifts, made in school, and any number that never seem to make it to the tree, but all of them will have some kind of story associated with them.

In some ways, decorating and storytelling have some things in common, which is the actual point of today’s post.

Your voice is your voice, even when you try to change it

Every year when I go out to get the tree I think I’m going to get something different.  I’m often sure the tree I’ve selected is completely different from my usual choice.  Once it’s up and decorated however, 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 so far off, I had to find a new place where the ceiling was higher to put the tree.  This year I did better but more by luck than skill.  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

I have two plastic containers of ornaments.  That may not sound like a lot, but in reality, I 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 I still never get past the first box.  It doesn’t help that I add a couple of new ornaments every year.  When I am all done decorating this time, there will still be some great ornaments in the box that completely forgot 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 favorite 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 lights were on the tree this evening, there was a pile of leftover branches that I cut off the bottom.  I could have thrown them away, but some of them were just right for creating a holiday centerpiece and others, along with some red carnations, were perfect for the vase in the corner.  Even my favorite carved Santa ornament from my brother, that generally doesn’t make it onto the tree, will reside in a perfect spot in the china cabinet, keeping a watchful eye over the dining room.  Though there will be things that don’t make it onto the tree, there may be 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 I started out with was not perfect.  There were gaps here, oddly thick sections there, and it was either leaning slightly to the left or the house has begun to sink.  In reality though, when the tree is covered in lights and garland and ornaments, those “obvious” deficiencies won’t be obvious at all. 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, no one will be searching for flaws.

Good things come to those who persevere

I like having the holiday decorations up.  What I don’t like is actually putting the decorations up.  I started this weekend by bringing out the holiday pillows and throws for the living room, then switching the candles to red and green.  Pretty soon, there was a wreath and garland on the porch, red bows here and there, and holiday cups on the counter.  Getting the tree was the final step, but decorating that had to wait for another day.  I was kind of hoping it would magically decorate itself while I slept, but no such luck.  Guess I didn’t buy the right kind of tree for that.  It’s possible that I may have complained a bit, just a bit, while putting the lights on the tree this evening.  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 your hands are covered in tree sap and the cat won’t stop attacking the lights).  Persevering and winding up with a festively decorated house may not be quite as satisfying as typing “The End” but it comes close.

So, does the holiday season inspire any thoughts on story for you?  Do you have a favorite ornament with a story behind it?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: The Season of Story

  1. Most of the ornaments on our tree are special for some such reason. We have the odd collection of red and gold balls that act as filler for bare spots, but there’s one very large storage container filled with the “precious” ornaments (as in, I’ve told my husband if the house is ever on fire, we have to try to get this thing out of the house if we can). There’s the angel I made out of gold doilies when I was about 6 or 7. The little “bell” made out of an egg carton divot and painted silver, and the handmade ornaments my grandmother gave to me when I was young. We also collect ornaments when we travel, and putting each one on the tree is a mini-time-hop to the trip we took where we bought it. In fact, each Christmas I have to dig through the shelves in our storage area under the stairs for the ornaments we bought that year, which haven’t yet made it into the storage container. This year it was ornaments from Hawaii and Italy, two fun family trips we did.

    As for the holidays and stories, I have in the back of my mind a trio of short stories involving Nate’s triplet sisters. However, due to some story changes in my current WIP, I think Nate’s oldest sister may end up being the heroine in his friend Andrew’s story (they’re SO different and it would be fun to watch the sparks fly as they come together), which sort of kills the whole Christmas Trio idea. We’ll have to see what happens as the story develops.

  2. Congratulations on getting all your decorations up, Elizabeth! Even if not quite on the schedule you’d planned on. I put up about three things, and one of them still awaits its normal placement. I agree with you, though, about mixing things up a little bit. For years, I’ve used a decorated traffic cone for a Christmas tree, and I just leave it up year round because off-season it’s a great light fixture, very cheery. This year I saw a beautiful tree somewhere and thought about how nice it would be to have an actual pine tree (somewhere, I don’t know where) in the living room. Not this year! But maybe next year I’ll be willing to make the jump. And maybe the fresh pine scent will stimulate creative thinking.

    • Kay, I remembering you mention your holiday-traffic-cone. Such a great idea plus not so “holiday-ish” that you’d ever need to take it down. I do like having an actual tree, but it does take more work and has a limited time-span.

  3. What a lovely meditation on Christmas trees and writing! The part about the garland and decorations covering a multitude of sins really resonated with me! (-:. THAT’S how I like to write!

    Last year, I didn’t get the tree up at all. I would like to do something, but the foyer where we usually have the tree is full of guitars and power tools, which is not a good thing.

    In a lot of ways, making space for the tree and decorating is a tricky way to get some New Year’s cleaning in (although, I don’t really know HOW we can get the foyer clear by Dec. 31 this year!). We have to take the tree down basically by Dec. 26, or my mother-in-law gets a bit nervous. No twelve days of Christmas for us. The three days of New Year are the main event for my family. (She’s a sweetheart in so many ways that I don’t want to add to her year-end stress with leaving the tree up until the last minute.)

    I do have a big Santa throw that I got from some online catalog years ago. I usually tack it up on the wall like a tapestry. I could get that done, at least. (-: Remind all of us to be nice, not naughty!

    • Michaeline – decorating here was indeed a tricky way to get some cleaning done, which is why the process took so long. Too bad you don’t have space available for a tree, but your Santa throw sounds quite festive.

  4. Our living room is long and narrow. If you throw in a tree, it’s difficult to navigate the room, watch TV, etc. So I’ve taken to putting it up on December 23rd and taking it down on the 26th. Unfortunately, that’s a huge amount of work to squeeze into 4 days with two days of Christmas hosting and visiting in between. Last year I copped out and went with a little half-size tree, but it felt so Scrooge-y, I don’t want to do that again.

    Unnecessarily long story short, I’m about two weeks out from decorating fever still.

    • Lack of space can definitely impede decorating. Mine makes the living room a little crowded, but it also provides a good incentive to do a thorough clean-out beforehand, so there is as much room available as possible.

      Having a tree up from the 23rd to the 26th is close to the way it worked when I was a kid. Nowadays though, the tree lots are pretty much all empty a good week before the 25th, so you can’t wait quite that long.

      I guess there is always the “decorating” my grandparents did: a poinsettia on the end table with a box of See’s Candies underneath. That’s about as festive as they got. Easy cleanup though.

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