I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person to compare gardening to writing. It’s kind of obvious. I mean, you start with nothing, a blank page or a blank space. You work it, prepare the soil, prepare the outline or the plot. You plant, water, fertilize, and tend until things grow.
Here’s the thing, though: no matter how you envision the garden, what comes up out of the dirt might not match up. Weeds invade. Some plants die off or send off volunteers in another direction. Sometimes you have to nurse a tender plant along with constant attention. Sometimes you cut a voracious rose bush off at the ground, only to have it sprout up again next year.
With all the rain we’ve had in Idaho this spring, I find myself pulling weeds, and then more weeds, and still more weeds. The things I want to grow are growing, but the weeds get the same amount of water when it rains. So there you go.
How does this apply to writing? I find that often I set off on a new book with one thing in my mind, only to reach the end of the first draft and find it looks nothing like what I imagined months ago when I started. So I go back, ripping out the weeds, planting new scenes, moving things to a better spot. It requires patience, going back many times to fix and revision. I mean that word as RE-VISION. See things anew. In a different way. Not merely tweak and edit, but a total revisiting of the concept, the characters, the problem.
It reminds me how my mother would often chastise me as a child with the words, “Patience, dear.” Like that was going to make me patient–her just saying it. When I first started working the garden, I was not patient. I wanted to plant things and have it all turn out just like I wanted it. It took years before “wait until next year” was a phrase I could utter without deep aggravation. Now, I say it with excitement.
The same is true for novel writing. Beginning authors often have that impatient nature, wishing for the book to be right with just the first draft. I’ve seen them come to critique groups time and time again. They don’t want to hear what needs fixing. They would like the group to tell them it is ready to send off to an editor right away. They haven’t yet learned the excitement of revising, the joy of reworking a plot until it’s airtight or cutting out all the weeds that don’t really need to be there. They might have pretty flowers, but they will soon be dried up, ugly sticks. Those of us who have been around long enough to learn the fun of being patient know that cutting out such unnecessary weeds from a manuscript will ultimately make it more beautiful.
I spent hours this week pulling weeds in my garden, and now I need to go do the same in my manuscript. We’ll what sprouts in their place.