Revision: The Parable of the Christmas Tree

Putting together our Christmas tree is one of our time-honored Christmas traditions. The kids help me put up the branches, my husband detangles the lights (because we don’t have a pre-lit tree or a real one), and then I string them as we go. Aside from our first year, when this process resulted in not a few bad words, the process goes pretty smoothly.

This year, however, we had a problem.

I thought I was being careful, as I went, to make sure that each string of lights had two plug-ins, and that the right end was secured in the right spot. (One of the problems that first year was discovering mid-wrap that not all of our inherited strings of lights had plugs on both ends).

Imagine my dismay, then, when I put the top of the tree on, cajoled my husband into wrapping the final bits I was too short for, and went to plug in the lights . . . only to find that the wrong end of the plug was the only end available.

The Christmas music swelled through the room, my kids waited expectedly–and I’d done it all wrong. It wasn’t going to work.

I tried a few quick fixes, but nothing worked. (Turns out, they don’t make two-pronged plug-ins because they’re dangerous. Who knew?)

Finally, reluctantly, I took the tree apart, unwound the lights, and started over.

It was painful and time consuming, but it was the only way to get the effect right.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Sometimes, I think we get so attached to our work that even when it isn’t working, we persist in trying to “fix” the problem.

Sometimes, the best fix is starting over. I’ve seen this in my own writing, and I’ve seen this with students. This semester, I’ve seen two drafts of my students’ big research paper before they submitted. One of the students missed the point of the assignment. When I pointed this out, I also suggested he might find it easier to start over. This provoked a panicked response from the student, and I realized that he didn’t see revision the same way I did.

A fresh start wasn’t a punishment, it was an opportunity.

Don’t be afraid of starting something new. Sometimes, it’s the best way to a terrific story.

Or to a well-lit tree.

What’s your experience with revision? Have you ever had to start over?

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Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. She’s currently working on a YA historical fantasy, set in nineteenth-century England and Hungary.