Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Prune Hard and Risk Mess: Lessons in Writing from the Garden

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My husband and I moved to a new house two years ago. The first year we were clueless about how to handle the garden. Let’s just say I’m an “indoor gal” and my husband has been termed the “mushroom” for similar reasons.

Now our garden still looks like a mess, it’s a mess in process…

Hmmm…not unlike my current editing project. I like to see it as mess with potential.

Along the way the lessons I’ve learned about my garden could just as easily apply to my manuscript:

Just do something. We spent time formulating the perfect garden arrangement until we realized we were victims of the infamous analysis paralysis. Nothing in our garden was going to look pretty until we started making some decisions.

On a recent loop someone mentioned that they didn’t have time to write at this a stage of life but read many craft books and kept a folder of information. I’ve been there. Its like spending hours pouring through the Harris Seed catalogue while your garden lies untended and neglected.

Its your garden. The former home owner had cultivated an all-white garden. It was beautiful, full of daisies, lilies of the valley, jonquils, and carnations. But it wasn’t our garden. It didn’t fit us.

Likewise, no one else can write your book. Don’t allow yourself to be discouraged. Remember that God gave you this story, not someone else. Likewise, you can’t force yourself into a mold that doesn’t fit who God created you to be.


Mess comes before beauty. Last year we did some weeding, a process that takes continual repeating. Then we covered the ground with mulch. Not attractive.

Think of your first draft. Sometimes we have trouble allowing the ugliness, forgetting that what we are working with is the bare mulch. I let perfectionism rear its ugly head.

Throughout the messy period, keep your vision alive. Without a vision for what your story can be there is little motive to slog through. Think of the finished product. What are you aiming for and allow yourself to celebrate progress along the way as things get less messy.

Be willing to prune back hard. When my husband and I attended a seminar on bonsai, we learned that the best bonsai artists are willing to risk overpruning. They cut back, often until there is only one main branch.

Editing for me has been a heavy rewriting process. So far the removal percentage has been high, higher than what I’ve kept. Attempting edits the first time I was tempted to just ditch this manuscript and start something new.

But I take a lot of hope in the gardening process. Because sweat pouring down brows, dirt-encrusted fingernails, aching knees are all the beginning of what has the potential for beauty. It will need lots of tending and the process of making the garden your own often takes multiple years. As I watch the daffodils and jonquils pop up in my garden I’m hopeful of small beginnings.


What does a season of new beginnings mean for your writing? Is there anything you want to change in your writing life this spring as a writer in process? 




Julia enjoys writing women's fiction whenever she can find a chair free of smushed peanut butter sandwiches and lego blocks. She is a wife and homeschooling mama of two littles. She also enjoys reading and reviewing books for The Title Trakk, a Christian review site. 

15 comments:

Sherrinda said...

I loved your words and they were just what I needed to hear this morning!

"Without a vision for what your story can be there is little motive to slog through." That is such a great thought and it is so true. I think that is what I keep forget while I work on this ms. I am focused on the mess I am creating, instead of the finished "garden in bloom".

Joanne Sher said...

What a fabulous analogy! And I NEED this. RIGHT NOW. Thank you.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Yep, sometimes you just need to stop the planning and start the writing. If all we ever do is think about writing, but never do it, then we are just dreamers, not writers. But when we take on the task of actually writing, great things can happen...and we can learn from our mistakes, even if it's not perfect (and it won't be...just saying!). Thanks for the encouragement!

Keli Gwyn said...

I'm a recovering perfectionist, so learning that messy is OK has been a tough lesson, but it's a valuable one. Expecting a story to pour forth in perfect prose is unrealistic and can stifle my creativity. Giving myself permission to slap it on the page has been freeing.

What's helped me is knowing that I'll get the opportunity during my revisions and self-edits to clean things up. Although I turn in a polished manuscript to my publisher, I'll get even more chances then. In fact, I got three more passes after my debut novel was contracted. It's off to press soon.

Will my story be perfect? Not likely. I know I'll see ways I could have made it better. But it's good enough, and I have to be content with that. I've learned that achieving perfection this side of heaven is well nigh impossible and takes far too much effort. Not only that, but striving for perfection can sap the joy out of the creative process.

Mary Vee said...

What a great post, Julia.
This could be applied to life as well. Many applications to these thoughts.
Thanks!

Jeanne T said...

Good thoughts, Julia! As has been said above, I'm learning that perfection, especially in my first draft, is unrealistic and depressing. I began trying to write the perfect first draft, and I never got much past chapter six, either time I tried it. Finally, I gave myself permission to write an "ugly" draft, and I got 90,000 words written in about 2 months.

I later found that my heroine needs some revamping, so I'm back to the drawing board. BUT knowing that an ugly copy is a good bed of soil for making something beautiful gives me the freedom to plan and then just write, planting words seeds on top of the mulch. :)

Thanks for sharing your analogy. You should post a pic of your garden, once you have it blooming. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

What an awesome analogy, Angie! Especially with all the spring blooms strutting their colors this week. Hopefully all our m/s pruning will result in the same vibrant colors. :)

Ruth Douthitt said...

I love gardening, but pruning is tough. Sometimes it is hard to cut back a gorgeous rose bush! But from experience, I know it only means more gorgeous blooms the following season.

I have had to start over on my latest project. I am weary, but the pruning has helped. I will keep going BUT will also work on other projects too!

Great post!

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Sherrinda,

Yes, yes!! I so know about that mess. Be encouraged that God loves to help through our messes. I can't wait to see what comes through for you!

@Joanne,

I'm glad God spoke to you what you needed to hear.

@ Lindsay,

Thanks for this point. You're so right. We can't become paralyzed over our own lack of perfection.

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Keli,

Wow, I didn't know you get that many extra chances to revise. That's encouraging. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Can't wait to read your debut.

@ Mary,

Thank you for speaking a word of encouragement that I really needed to hear :)

@ Jeanne,

Your journey sounds a lot like mine for your first MS. I had to give myself that permission too, and let me tell you did I write an ugly draft.

Julia M. Reffner said...

@ Sarah,

I hope so. Love seeing those blooms early.

Ruth,

I like what you said about working on several projects at a time. I'm sure that helps with the frustration.

Ashley Clark said...

Beautiful post, Julia! I especially liked the line about no one else being able to write your story, because that's so true! How often do we allow ourselves to believe otherwise? Thanks for writing!

Julia M. Reffner said...

Ashley, I have to remind myself of this again and again.

Beth K. Vogt said...

Hhm.
I don't know which I like more: Your blog post or your question at the end of the blog post.
Excellent insights & a challenging question.
I think one thing I'll change in my writing life (thanks for asking!) is my tendency to complain about a deadline. I'm on several right now. (Not complaining, I'm just saying.)This is actually a good thing, right? Not a bad thing -- a good thing. Deadlines mean I have been accepted -- that I'm moving forward as a writer.
So ... no more complaining. It wastes time and energy -- and prevents me from appreciating my writing life.

Casey said...

Love the metaphor, Julia. There are so many good things within this post that I relate too.