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What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Christmas Decorations

Actually, the title should end with “…from Putting Away Christmas Decorations,” but that would be ridiculously long, don’t you think?

Anyway, this past weekend, the husband and I finally got around to taking down all the Christmas stuff. We don’t usually wait this far into January to get this chore out of the way — but I had the flu for ten days after Christmas, and Ed’s parents stayed with us for a week after that. In the meantime, I’ve started a new blog (see Affiliates links in the sidebar), and we’ve had an unusual number of social activities. So boxing up seasonal adornments just had to wait.

But this past weekend, we finally got a hold on one of those round 2 it thingies. Out came the empty boxes, and down came the festive stuff.

When I take down Christmas deco, I call it “Reclaiming My Home From Christmas.” Now, don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite holiday (though, depending on the year and the goings-on, it sometimes has to compete with Halloween). I love the brightly colored doohickeys (lots of red!), the sparkly thingamajigs, and the homemade whatnots. In our Christmas treasure trove, we have lots of traditional German decor, much of it hand-crafted. My mother has given me a new tree ornament every year of my life, and I enjoy reminiscing over the good memories attached to each ornament as I hang it on the tree. Not to mention the cozy romance of Christmas lights and candles!


The Christmas stuff gets everywhere. We didn’t even unpack all of it this year, and it was still everywhere. We couldn’t trust the kitten to be alone with the tree, so the tree went into the office — which meant shifting around half the office furniture to make room. Every time someone wanted to eat at the table (which was at every meal while we had company), I had to clear it of Christmas table runner and other decor. The traditional German “Schwibbögen” (wooden arches with lights) looked fantastic in the windows but were in constant peril from the cats. Santa took over the coffee table.

I love my Christmas stuff. But after awhile — especially after New Year’s — it starts to become just that: stuff. It turns into clutter, and I can’t see my life through it anymore.

Christmas and Writing and Uncluttering Both

Sometimes, dear inklings, our writing is like that. We get into the joy of our craft. We throw ourselves into the beauty of word and phrase and rhythm. We embellish here, we add flourishes there. We touch-up with elaborate metaphor. Heaven forbid, we start using adverbs and too many dialogue tags other than “said.” We prettify every sentence until it’s a sparkly doohickey.

At first, all of this might seem attractive. At first, it might make readers ooh and aah over what we’ve created. At first, it might make us ooh and aah. It’s so very easy to fall in love with our own ornamentation.


What we’re really doing, gentle readers, is cluttering up our writing. We’re adding so much stuff to it, it’s near impossible to hear our real writer’s voice over the visual noise. Our writing has become so frilly, we can’t see the beauty of simple truth anymore.

The solution — as ever and always — is to kill our darlings, as they say. Pack up the frilly dialogue tags. Box up the adverbial embellishments. Cut out the complex sentence structures. Take the darn jingle bells off the door and just let the door be a door already! It doesn’t all have to be over-the-top drama, drama, drama.

My metaphor breaks down when I think about next Christmas. I’ll be unpacking the deco again, putting out the whatnots, and plugging in the electrical sparklies. That’s okay, though. Maybe it’s like writing a first draft: I can do whatever I want until it comes time to edit, revise, and re-write. But by then, I’ll be ready to reclaim my writing and simplify for the second draft. By then, I’ll be ready for the truth of unadorned, uncluttered beauty.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

2 Responses to “What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Christmas Decorations”

  1. Josh Unruh says:

    I agree with this so much!

    I love Raymond Chandler, really I do. The man drops lines to make a grown man weep. He compares a girl’s crazy laughter to rats skittering around the corners of the room behind the wainscotting. He tells us that dead men are heavier than broken hearts. These phrases positively sing in my soul.

    What I have to remind myself is, one reason they sing is because they were nestled in a lot of very utilitarian writing about breaking into houses and stumbling over clues. The very direct, strong prose makes the poetry stand out all the more. A lesson I’m constantly relearning.

    • I’m constantly learning it, too, Josh! I’ve been exceedingly guilty of flowery writing in the past. I think we’ve discussed (to your dismay) that I have yet to read any Chandler — but I really appreciate what you’re saying about his writing here.

      In some ways, contrast is everything: “high speech” verbs and simple ones, long and short sentences, poetic phrasing and utilitarian. Mix it up, give it variety, and you can definitely get away with crazed laughter equaling skittering rats. (I love that image!)