It’s that time of the year to get out in the garden, and I’ve been doing just that. We put in a huge vegetable garden this spring, and, at least from what I’ve been told, in the first year, a garden has a lot more grass and weeds with which to contend. I hope this is just a first season thing, because there is a LOT of grass coming up between the vegetable plants. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the midst of a boring, time-consuming, tedious chore, my mind wanders. Yesterday it meandered into the realm of my next post.
Gardening has much in common with writing. It’s hard work. Both start with a blank canvas which will be filled with creativity. Both begin with loads of hope for a stunning outcome. When someone starts a garden, he plants more seeds than will ever be needed in actual plants. A writer does the same thing with words. At first, the words are spread liberally across the page. The idea requires time and space to develop. So the writer and the gardener go about their work – planting seeds and thoughts and expectations.
Then comes weeding. Weeding is not most gardeners’ or writers’ favorite activity, but it is vital to the life of the work. Plants that are growing where they’re not wanted are weeds. They grab the nutrients from the soil which the desired plants thrive upon. Extra words and unclear phrases are exactly like unwanted plants . They obscure the beauty that is sometimes hidden among them. They get in the way of communication. They clutter up the page and make it messy. So, they need to be plucked. In the case of my vegetable patch, most of the weeds are grass. Now grass is a perfectly acceptable plant. It’s beautiful and functional, but I don’t want it crowding out my okra and my zucchini. There is usually nothing inherently wrong with most words. But sometimes, a word is not the best word. A phrase is not the clearest phrase. A sentence does little to further the idea. So, out it goes.
The next stage is stepping back and surveying the whole. When one is picking out small unwanted growth and unneeded words, the focus is very nearsighted. To gauge the whole requires moving a bit away, in order to see the big picture. This is where the eyes and the mind do most of the work. An outsider might see no work at all, but he would be mistaken. The writer reads the piece to look for flow and meaning. The gardener looks for stray plants or signs of disease or dryness. Both practitioners access the fruit of their labors and determine what more is needed to bring harmony to their creation.
I know I have a great deal of more plant editing to do before I can even think about enjoying my first taste of vine ripened tomato. And just like in the garden, a successful article or post or chapter necessitates many more words being thrown out than are kept in the finished piece. Hopefully, in the end, the writer and the gardener reap an abundant harvest, and both decide to make their work into a regular habit.