A Writer's Life

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good enough

I’m always pressed for time at Christmas, but this past season seemed worse than usual. I ended up with a very small window in which to get my tree up and decorated. That meant I had to skip steps in order to speed up the process.

I dragged the tree into the house without first letting it thaw and dry in the garage, and as I lay shivering underneath it with melting snow dripping down my back (you wouldn’t believe how fast snow melts when it’s indoors), I realized that one of the three stabilizing pegs of the stand was broken. So, I did what any self-respecting woman on a deadline would do; I MacGyvered it. There was no time to buy a new stand.

my daughter remaining calm while I spaz out

Several hours later, covered in snow, turpentine and pine needles, I stood back to admire our work. “Good enough,” I thought.

Four hours sleep and I was up again to wrap gifts. No time for fancy ribbons. Work deadlines were piling up. Do the minimum. Just get it done. Rapid-fire wrapping.

That’s when my cat started to poke around behind the tree.

In two minutes, this six-pound cat toppled a seven foot tree. The MacGyvering job I did to save time hadn’t worked.

Heirloom ornaments were destroyed, the cat was nearly crushed, the dog shivered in the corner and I was was utterly deflated.

Shattered glass was everywhere. Water from the tree was everywhere. Pine needles were everywhere. I had to stop what I was doing, clean up the mess, soothe terrified animals and mourn the loss of decorations my kids had made when they were little. Then I had to go get a new tree stand, upright the tree and redecorate it. It took the whole day.

In my effort to save time, I’d decided to cut corners and told myself that it was ok; that no one would notice. I phoned it in because I’d convinced myself that the half-assed job I’d done was good enough. My cat corrected me on that.

In the end, I lost time and money and keepsakes. Two of those things I can never replace.

As much as I want to forget about it, the lesson from the tree has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been chomping at the bit to start the writing phase of my current novel. It took me 18 months to crack the story I’m working on, and once I did, I wanted to dive right in. Instead, I’ve been forcing myself to take the time to lay the groundwork properly.

A story, like a Christmas tree (like a house, like everything else) requires a solid foundation. Otherwise it will fall apart. If I cut corners or think that it’s “good enough” my readers will correct me on it (as will my editor and my publisher). That road leads to lost time, lost money and if I’m not careful, a lost reputation. 

After three months creating a solid structure for my story, this week I finally get to start putting the words on the page. Now this is the writer’s life. 

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Valerie Francis

make good art

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