Stanley and the Christmas Tree: A Lesson for Writers

A few years ago, Cathy and I bought a flocked, pre-lit, Christmas tree. It’s a beautiful tree, one Cathy had always wanted, and I was glad to be able to get it for her. A few weeks ago, we adopted an orange tabby kitten named Stanley. (I’m sure you can see where this is going.) We put up our tree with the hope that Stanley wouldn’t be tempted to climb it.

How wrong we were.

Each morning, Stanley got into the tree and climbed a bit higher. In the process of trying to get him out of the tree, we dislodged something, and the lights went out on a couple of sections.

Finally, Cathy tired of trying to keep Stanley out of the tree, so we surrendered. “That tree has to come down,” Cathy said.

We took it down today and stored it in the basement where it waits until next year when our optimism will return, and we’ll hope that Stanley, being a year older, won’t have the same interest in climbing. We’re disappointed not to have the tree up during this holiday season, but, alas, sometimes it’s in everyone’s best interest to wave the white flag and then wait for another season.

So it is with writing. Sometimes revision becomes a process of taking a piece apart and checking each section to make sure it’s earning its keep. This may mean thinking about where the piece ends and then asking how each scene, chapter, stanza, etc. contributes to that end. Or it might mean rethinking the arrangement of sections as a way of more fully developing the heart of the piece—a structural fix, if you will. Dismantling a piece might also highlight sections where the voice and the language seem distinctive and alive and then asking what you might do to give the flatter sections more verve. Looking closely at individual sections can also lead to a deeper consideration of character. Why are characters acting the way they do in particular sections? Are there opportunities for the characters to surprise us, thereby further rounding them and making them more memorable? Taking a piece apart can invite us to see it in a new light, to discover aspects of it we may not have recognized.

When Cathy and I took down our tree today, we checked each section’s lights and found all of  them but one to be working. The one that didn’t work may need a new fuse. We’ll remember to put a new one in next year before we put the sections back together in hopes the tree will be lit and without a cat in its branches.


  1. Rhonda Hamm on December 4, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    Sorry about the tree Cathy. That why I have dogs. They don’t climb trees but they do roll in horse manure so there is that. Merry Christmas 🎄

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