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The Squint Test

This is an edited version of a previous post that I thought was appropriate right now as I celebrate finishing my first draft of my 4th novel. I hope you enjoy it…again.

Our Christmas tree went up this weekend. YAY! We usually wait until the day after Thanksgiving, but with Turkey Day being a week later this year, we weren’t willing to sacrifice the extra time without it.

As I was making my zombie lurch from the bed to the coffee pot early Sunday morning, 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 4:30 in the AM after all), begging me to flip the switch and let it become what it was created to be.  So before I did anything else 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, 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 finish off the last couple chapters of my latest manuscript. Whenever I wasn't staring at the monitor or pounding on the keyboard, I'd find myself turned around staring at the tree, taking in its awesomeness.  Of course my affinity for analogies led me right where I needed to go.

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 that makes the tree truly yours.  But the most important part of the whole process is when you give your tree that all important squint test.  You know what I'm talking about, right? When you step back and narrow your eyes, allowing them to go out of focus, so you can see where the dead spots are.  This is a crucial step in tree decorating…and with writing as well. There are other things to consider as well. Is it top heavy…or bottom heavy…or balanced correctly? Does it project enough of a presence, without overpowering the room? Is there a spot or two that unduly draw the eye?      

The squint test is where a lot of tree decorators…and writers…turn to others for help. That’s because we’re just too close to the material to be able to see those glaring issues.  Experience gained from many years of practicing the craft can help us become better skilled at spotting those voids, but often-times distance is the next best club to pull out of your golf bag.

What about you? Do you perform a squint test on your tree/writing?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The Push

Crunch time!

When I was writing the first draft for my three previous books there came a point when I felt absolutely compelled to finish. I’m talking about an overwhelming, OCD equivalent compulsion to – as Larry the Cable Guy would say – “Git R’ Done!” It was almost as if I was pregnant and I began having contractions. My mind…and body…were telling me “This baby is ready to be born and I don’t care what else is happening…we’re going to do this!”

The current book I’m working on is no different. The big push actually started last week when I found myself waking up in the wee hours of the morning (3AM) and couldn’t go back to sleep because my mind was racing. You can guess about what. So I gave in and sat myself down in front of my laptop and got to work. Then four hours later I’d take a shower and go to my real work.  This has been going on for two weeks and I anticipate I’ll bring this baby home in another two. It’s not really surprising that this has become my pattern because the type of books I write tend to build towards a climatic end. As the tension builds in my book and the pace increases to match it…so do my writing habits.

There are a LOT of writers who are experiencing a different sort of PUSH this month, and those are the NaNoWriMo contestants. For the uninitiated, that stands for National Novel Writing Month and it takes place every November. As it states on the website, NaNoWriMo is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel. Many writers use NaNo as a way to springboard them out of complacency, others use it for the structure and accountability it provides, and some just enjoy the camaraderie of the shared experience. Whatever the reason, NaNo has become a writing world staple. Myself, I’ve never participated in NaNo. It’s not my cup of tea and my normal writing style isn’t that regimented.

That is unless I’m about to birth a book. :)


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