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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!


  1. Hi Don .. that's a wonderful tree - full of glitz and glamour ... and yes, it is a joy to see the tree in all its glory. Great analogy too - squint test ... I shall enjoy others' trees this year ... take care - and Happy Thanksgiving to you and the family .. cheers Hilary

  2. What a pretty tree! We don't have space in our house for one, so we have to go to the grandparents to enjoy a Chrissy tree.

  3. I haven't had a tree up in a few years. My cats always tear it down. I do have others look at my writing before considering it publishable though.

  4. Your tree is great!

    I completely agree with you about needing to take a step back and look at your story from afar. That's why I find it very effective to wait a while after finishing a draft, or finishing a revision, to go back and look at it again.




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