Sadly, this weekend was not a writing weekend for me, but rather a gardening weekend. (see: The Inconsistent Writer). I did use the time wisely. While planting 320 dwarf mondo grasses with the hubs (yes, 3-2-0, that is not a typo) I used that time to think about what I would have done if it would have rained.
The title of this post is a play on a my favorite gardening phrase, “With every plant I kill, I become a better gardener.” As I tugged on a couple of dying shrubs, I thought of that saying (I think I actually said it out loud to my husband who was questioning the color of my thumb) and how with just a tweak of a few words it would fit perfectly with writing.
I pick on adverbs because they tend to be my crutch, my dirty little secret – sometimes you’ll see me hanging out behind the gym adding “ly'” to verbs – but really there are no such things as wasted words in writing. When I finished Phoenix, I valiantly hit save, then print and then Googled “average length of a novel.” Gulp. I was more than 40,000 words OVER the limit for a commercial fiction manuscript. After a few deep breaths in a paper bag, I opened a new Word document and started over, but it wasn’t a waste. That second draft was stronger, I learned so much while writing the first draft about me as a writer, my characters and the story. Forty-five thousand words were lost in the process, but those words fought the good fight and ultimately took one for the team. We can have a moment of silence for them now …
This isn’t the only similarity between how I write and how I garden (told you I had a lot of time to think). I also believe that in order to create, you need to destroy. Again, something I told my husband while ripping up some boring boxwoods. As writers, we love our characters so much we nearly destroy them. We put them into situations that break them down to the core, only to help them to grow like a newly planted flower reaching for the sun.
Sometimes, in gardening, no matter how much care and love you give a plant, it just isn’t thriving. If you ask me, not thriving is much worse than if the plant would just give up the ghost. Like a sluggish story, there is much debate with a non-thriving plant – maybe if I give it more water, maybe it needs more nutrients, maybe it’s not the plant but something in the soil, maybe I should just be patient and see what happens. With the story, you could keep playing with it, mixing in some tension or sprinkling a bit of internal dialogue, or you could just power through and see if it was just a plateau. You could try transplanting, maybe a new setting could be just what your story needs to grow.
Like gardeners, writers need not be afraid to get a bit dirty, to wallow through the mud to unearth something organic in their stories. When they find something scary lurking beneath the surface, the choice is easy – face it and let your garden grow or turn away and let the weeds take over.
What hobby do you think is most like writing? I’d love to hear.