Saturday, August 22, 2009


One of the features that drew us to our new home was the beautiful backyard garden. Just the sight of it invoked visions of me sitting, feet up, sipping something delicious and writing longhand while inspiration poured into me from my natural surroundings. My own private oasis. A welcome retreat from the rest of the world.

No one told me I would have to take care of it.

I am a reluctant gardener. I’m not sure if it’s from sheer laziness or the fact that I’m a born and bred city gal. Whenever a gardening urge would hit me, I’d buy one of those window box kits – the kind you can grow herbs or wildflowers in – and it would end up collecting dust in my closet. I dreaded the Mother’s Day plant sale at school. I’d politely tell my kids that while I appreciated the thought they didn’t need to get me a plant. Inevitably, a kind hearted PTA member who thought they were doing a good deed would loan my kids some money to buy Mommy a pretty plant. Little did they know, the plant was doomed. I had a decidedly burnt umber thumb.

Then I bought a garden.

Over the last year, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of tending a garden. While there are times it is downright tedious, most of the time there’s a quiet bliss that comes with weeding and pruning. Of all the tasks in my garden that mystify me, pruning tops the list. You mean, I just CUT THIS? And it’s okay? The first time I pruned, it felt barbaric.

Okay Robin, that’s nice, but this is a writing blog…what’s the point? There are so many metaphors that can be drawn between gardening and writing, it could fill a month’s worth of blog posts. Pruning is what I identify with most. After pouring heart and soul into a novel, watching as your word count mounts and your story takes shape,cutting does seem barbaric. Some scenes are easy to cut. Cutting other scenes,those parts of a story that made you laugh or pat yourself on the back at your own cleverness, can bit a bit harder.

Cutting, like pruning, is necessary for new growth. It fosters air (or idea) circulation. And it can even lead to new discoveries about your work. Last fall when I cut back a particularly tenacious rose bush, I discovered a Tom Knudsen Camilla that had been hidden, not getting enough sunlight or attention. Likewise in my own work, when I cut scenes or characters, I’m continually amazed at how ideas seem to come into focus, rearrange themselves and pieces of the puzzle fall into place. It’s a part of the process I’ve learned to love.

So how do you feel when it comes to pruning your work?


  1. You want me to WHAT? *faint*

    No really, it's so hard to go back after you've sweat blood writing something and snip it to pieces, but it's usually so necessary.(9.89 times out of ten)

  2. I'm doing a "serious" outline of a revision for the first time and what a revelation! All kinds of problems are jumping out at me and as a result I'm slashing and rearranging and actually enjoying it because I see how obviously it's needed.

    (I'm a reluctant gardener, too. The plants in the front yard are so parched they're drooping and I just wish they'd water themselves.)

  3. Aaahhh. . . Robin, I knew we were kindred spirits, even if you do love the Jersey shore!

    I hate gardening, but where I live it's why bother because the deer will eat it even if it's deer resistant. Maybe I could get the deer to come and prune my manuscripts??

    Actually, I did some pruning myself today - completely rewriting chapter one. So I suppose it was more than pruning, it was more like transplanting. But now I don't know where the old chapter one is going to get planted - maybe bits and pieces scattered around, but most will be fed to the deer.

  4. Meg brings up another ideal writing/gardening analogy and that is transplanting.

    I've critiqued lots of novels where I've suggested transplanting the backstory crammed into the first chapter. Let's see the characters live their lives from the beginning and not have their actions obscured by the weeds growing in front of them.

  5. When I'm revising, I find it easier to cut than add...mainly because of helpful suggestions for cuts from my critique group...many of whom are also avid gardeners. Coincidence?

  6. Meg, I hear you on the deer. This year, they even ate my marigolds, which they ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO!

    But as to the gardening analogy, I'm an opposite writer. I love to plant in the Spring. The weather is beautiful. You lay down the topsoil, plant the flowers and mulch. Everything looks great...for a while. Then the muggy, steamy months of summer come along and you have to weed, prune and water. I hate that.

    In writing, I'm the opposite. I find it torture to write a first draft, questioning myself along the way. "Oh, this plot line is stupid." "You're making her stupid! Don't make her stupid!" "Too many adults -- that's really stupid!"

    But once I get through the first draft, I get to prune the stupid, snip off the slow, transplant scenes , and even reseed where necessary. I'm much happier, much more confident, in rewrite mode.

  7. I love pruning... love cutting out sentences that dribble on and on. Cut through the unnecessary, the banal, the tedious. Love it! Ending up with something good and strong. Um. I hope.