Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How beginning a new novel is a lot like decorating for the holidays

By Julie

Last week, after hemming and hawing and procrastinating for weeks and weeks, my family and I made our annual appointment to buy a (formerly) live Christmas tree and decorate it Saturday afternoon. The appointment was necessary – I have teenagers.

After hemming and hawing and procrastinating for months and months, I make an appointment with myself to start a new novel. NaNoWriMo seems like as good a time as any.

Friday evening, after not really being in the mood this year, I was finally feeling a little festive. But in typical Kibler fashion, we puttered around an extra hour Saturday. Finally, we started out with little enthusiasm for the task ahead.

By the end of October, I'm finally feeling a little enthusiasm for my new story after spending too long revising my old one. Still, I putter around, not writing my first words until November second.

It might surprise you that in our group of three females and one male, the females agreed on the first tree we propped up, while my husband wandered around a bit, saying, "Are you sure this one isn't better?" and "I think this one is straighter." But, nope, we girls are usually pretty good at making a speedy Christmas tree decision.

The subject is easy to identify. I've been thinking about it for months. Others say, "Why don't you write about this?" Or "That would make a good story." But I know the one. We writers are usually pretty good at identifying our next story topics.

We dragged the tree on top of the old SUV we keep for exactly that purpose (well, okay, it's also paid off!) and tied it down. Though they never let me do much of the tying. I like to practice my lasso skills, and the others get bored while I miss nearly every throw over the top of the vehicle.

I create a beautiful, clean new file, nail down a working title and tentative outline, and spend far too much time selecting character names and songs for my writing soundtrack.

All this seemed very idyllic. Such a happy family occasion! We will get home and get this done before we know it! And have fun, too!

All this new writing is kind of like a honeymoon! The words fly onto the page so fast! My fingers can hardly keep up with my brain!

Then the fun began.

Let the fun begin.

We got the tree home, argued over who held the thing up and who got to cut off the net. Who put on the lights and who untangled the beads. Whether that strand went here or there, and whether to wind it around or up and down. Whether the sixteen-year-old was really helping by sleeping on the couch, or whether it was even too much to ask the twelve-year-old to let her sister help her. I tried to stand back, to allow the kids to learn the art of tree decoration by trial and error instead of by Mom's Exact Plan.

The characters start preening for attention. "Pick me! Pick me!" one says, begging to tell all her back story at once, while the quiet one in the corner is obviously hiding something big. I can't get some of them to open up at all. I try to stand back, allow the characters to mold themselves, to find their own paths in my story instead of forcing them into my preformed direction.

I wondered if it was all worth it. Whether, in the interest of family harmony, we should have given up on Christmas this year.

I wonder if it's all worth it. In the interest of sanity, should I forget my dream of being an author and find a day job?

After an hour or so, we were about ready to call the cops to solve our domestic squabble, but then something began to creep in, to take us by surprise.

After a few weeks, I'm about ready to call a therapist, ask what kind of crazy I am for thinking I'm capable of writing a story anyone in their right mind would read—much less
pay to read. But then something begins to take me by surprise.

We got to the good part. Unwrapped the ornaments, laughed at the awful school pictures on the handmade ones, oo-ed and ah-ed over the delicate heirlooms, shed a few tears over the ones that wouldn't make it many more years unless we bronze them. We hung the stocking holders and the stockings sewn by my mother and grandmother. Cheered up drab corners with the freestanding decorations and rediscovered ones we'd forgotten.

I'm getting to the good part. Unwrapping my characters' secrets, giggling at the ones who shock me with their humor in the midst of depressing predicaments, dropping my jaw at the serendipity I'm seeing in the scenes I wrote earlier that perfectly set up later ones I didn't even see coming, shedding my own tears when my characters grieve. Embellishing the scenes with all the senses. Prettying up drab dialogue with a clever turn of phrase. Rediscovering layers I've almost forgotten to include.

Before long, the house was filled with a different kind of oxygen. It was a little brighter, a little cozier, a little more ... peaceful.

Before long, my manuscript is filled with something new. It's a little more dynamic, a little more promising. A little more ... alive.

For a few hours, life seemed just right.

For a few weeks, the story seems just right.

Of course, this doesn't take into account how we had to do it THREE times. Yes, the stand was cracked. The water leaked. We had to buy a new stand, take off the most delicate ornaments, and transfer the tree. Then, the next morning, the tree was leaning at a scary angle. The new stand didn't work and the tree wasn't sucking up water, so we bought a new new stand. Took the ornaments off. Propped the tree on the vee of a ladder. Sawed off more trunk. Moved the tree. But the last time seemed to stick.

Of course, this doesn't take into account that by the time I'm ready to query my novel, I'll have done ninety-nine revisions. The glaring plot hole. The entire point of view I have to remove. The chapters I have to rearrange. The whole new dimension of conflict I add so the story doesn't fall flat on its face. But eventually, it's a wrap.

Oh, yeah, and the dog ate a hand-sized hole in the tree skirt my mom sewed by hand fifteen years ago.

Oh, yeah, and the hook I think is so unique? Something eerily similar will inevitably show up on Deal Lunch before I write The End.

But still, it's our home, our unique decorations, and our one-of-a-kind method of getting it done. And it began to look a lot like Christmas. Finally.

Still, it's my story, my unique spin, and my one-of-a-kind way of putting the words to paper. It's beginning to look a lot like a novel. Finally.

Happy Holidays and Happy Novel Writing!


  1. LOL! That was a great analogy!

  2. Thanks, Jennifer, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to write. More fun than decorating the tree. :)

  3. That was so fabulous, Julie! Loved the comparison between the Christmas tree and writing! I also realized how your writing/blogging style reminds me of YA author Barrie Summy - so funny sharing family anecdotes. You'll be published soon!

  4. Thanks, Kathy. Funny, I just read a guest spot by Barrie Summy today on the Divining Want. I've heard Barrie's name (maybe from YOU!), but I haven't read her books yet. Will have to check them out.

  5. Brilliant post, Julie. I'm not even going to mention the day you take the tree down and drag it to the tree graveyard. . . (Don't hit me!)

  6. Oh, my gosh, Diane, were you a fly on the wall the day a few years back when I heard the dead tree truck coming and dragged mine out to the curb, complete with stand full of water spilling all over the carpet as I went? :) Perhaps that will make for a good New Year's post ...
    Thanks for reading! :)

  7. enjoyed finding this blog... cheers


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