Every fall, on the day after Thanksgiving, my family and I take part in our annual tradition of dragging out of all of the Christmas boxes, and competing in the, “Who can last the longest at putting up all of the decorations?” contest.
I always win.
On January 1st we hold another competition. This one’s called, “Who can last the longest at putting the decorations away?”
I also hold this title.
Yet today I noticed there is a Christmas poinsettia on top of my kitchen cabinet that has been there since November 26th, 2010.
Now, this isn’t the first time I realized it was there. Just like the inky miniature fingerprints that dot every doorway of my home, I noticed this green and red be-ribboned plant a couple of times right when guests were walking through our front door.
There was also the night I spied it through half-shut eyes as I slowly trudged to bed thinking, I’ll pull up a chair and grab it in the morning.
Once I even noticed it while I was talking on the phone. I vowed to take it down as soon as my call was finished.
So, the days, and weeks, and months passed, and this happy (fake) little plant faded into the background, becoming a part of the everyday scenery. The same thing had happened with the purple streamers that hung from the lights three months after my daughter’s birthday. It had also happened when I stopped seeing the green paint spattered across our ceiling from the afternoon of Spin-Art-Gone-Wild.
But this morning, as I sat on the couch rubbing my eyes awake, I happened to look — really look — around the house, and I finally zeroed in on the target. And, ugh, I wanted to blow it up! How had I missed it for so long?
As a writer, I’m supposed to be observant — stashing away those finer details of the senses which I can later bring to life on the page in a way that makes readers think, “Wow! I understand.”
I enjoy doing this kind of writerly research. Citing the smells at a summer BBQ. Watching the way an elderly man grimaces while taking the stairs at the mall. Noting the pleading whine of toddler who only wants her mom to, “Look! Please look!”
A writer is supposed to soak in the minutia, letting it simmer and grow into something that will help the reader “see” better. A writer is supposed to discover and fix the holes in their story before a reader falls, breaks a leg, and sues for time lost to bad plotting. Yes, a writer should be aware of their surroundings.
And, still — there’s a poinsettia in my kitchen that has been there since November 26th, 2010.
Sometimes you have to remove yourself from a situation to see it more clearly. A fresh pair of eyes can bring things into focus. This is true for writing — what with our first readers, critique groups, editors, and the approval of our spouse/friends/mailman.
It’s also true for life.
We get busy. We take the scenery for granted. We become blind to the little things until they smack us across the head via a “helpful” medium. Like a neighbor who wonders why we still have paper snowflakes on our windows in June.
I’m at a point in my current work-in-progress where I’m adding the dazzle. Fleshing out the bare bones to (hopefully) make the the images, the characters, and the story sing. My eyes are open. Wide.
So I’m staring at this poinsettia, and at the chair that I can use as my step-stool to rectify the problem in five seconds flat. And then I think, Christmas is less than six months away.
I’m leaving it.
What little things around your home do you no longer see? Writers, what do you do to capture the details for your readers? Where do you conduct your writerly “research?”
Find me on Twitter @amandahoving