The Squint Test, or Tolerating the Imperfect

Through the years my husband has wound umpteen dozen strings of lights around our Christmas trees… and unwound them… and rewound them. It’s hard to tell if they’re perfectly spaced even when the strings are lit up, so he does “the squint test”. Peering at the tree while squinting removes all the visual distractions except the small sparkles of illumination. He likes them to be exactly right.

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This year our tree looked lovely – the treasured family heirloom ornaments glistened among our collection of snowflakes, frosted pinecones, and a few red balls for a festive touch. And then the lights went out. Actually, just one string went out – the new, supposed-to-last-for-years LED’s just faded away and left the top quarter of the tree dark. Drat!!

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So we un-decorated that section, removed the string and replaced it with another, and then redecorated. There. Now it was lovely again… until the next evening when another set of the lights slowly faded out to nothing, this time mid-way down the tree. To replace that string would have required removal of a great number of the decorations as well as the beaded swags, so we did some minor tweaking, rearranged a few nearby lights and then resigned ourselves to ignoring the imperfection, but it’s hard to do. You know how it is. The lights form the backdrop for all the other ornaments. This errant string leaves a darkened gap right in the middle. But we don’t have any family coming to visit this Christmas so no one else will see it.  Later when we’re putting everything back into storage we’ll discard that string so we don’t forget and try to use it again next year.

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It’s a little like my first novel. I wanted it to be perfect but it was written before I learned what writing was meant to be. Peering critically at it reveals weaknesses. There are gaps that no amount of rearranging is going to fix. I know; I’ve tried. The underlying plot is flawed. The story needs a total rewrite but that would be more work than I think it’s worth. So I’m resigned to its imperfection and have stashed it in the dusty depths of oblivion better known as the closet. No one is ever going to see it.

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What do you do with your less-than-perfect writing efforts? Are you able to discard them or do you keep trying to make them better? How do you decide if they’re worth the effort?

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8 thoughts on “The Squint Test, or Tolerating the Imperfect

  1. Hey, Carol! What a great analogy!

    Hmm… it really depends on what the piece is, how important it is to the work as a whole, and how much energy I have. :0) I usually try to keep things, but end up having to toss them anyway. It’s painful!

    Have a wonderful Christmas!

    • I have a file into which I put excerpts that I think I may be able to use in some other piece; but that first novel? Not much worth salvaging, I fear.

      Hope you have a good Christmas, too.

  2. Joanne says:

    I’m with Kristen … I do toss some things, depending. If I’ve tried the different angles that might save it, and still it doesn’t work? Then I might toss. But regardless, we do still learn from it all, even the less than perfect. Or perhaps more so from those!

    Have a Merry Christmas, with best wishes for the New Year!

  3. joylene says:

    I’m in the middle of revamping my fifth book. It took me a few years to realize it wasn’t working as is. But I was busy with book two, three and six, so I kept thinking, “I’ll get to that book eventually.” This year I sold a manuscript. Technically, it’s book 3, but it’ll be my 2nd published novel. Book #5 is its sequel. Have I confused you yet?

    Structure has always been my weak spot. I’ve yet to figure out why. Maybe becuz I like to challenge myself. I jumped around in the first draft. Now, I’m reorganizing and putting it down in chronological order. Hopefully, my publisher will like it enough to publish it a yr after Broken But Not Dead comes out. Here’s dreaming.

    • Dreams are good. I have a few of my own. 🙂 From the perspective of each successive book I look back and frown at my previous ones. I suppose that means I’ve learned things along the way but it keeps me dissatisfied with everything.

  4. Tricia says:

    I’m the stubborn writer. I. will. not. let. it. go. I won’t even toss out short stories that are broken. I can fix them … someday.

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