In many ways, I think they work as a great example of the beauty that can come from writing.
For starters, we reap what we harvest. I know we’ve all heard the concept so many times, and yet it’s so easy to allow time to gradually slip on past. We have to be intentional about claiming our harvest. We have to sow good seed and water it well, and pull up the weeds.
But sometimes weeds aren’t the only things that need pulling up. Sometimes we have to pull up flowers to make room for new growth. So how do you know when it’s time to “deadhead” your writing?
Well, for starters, let’s take a lesson from flowers.
My mom got me a beautiful daisy plant for my four anniversary last month. I love daisies because they grow well in Florida (which you can’t say about many flowers—thank you, ridiculous summer heat) and are easy to care for. Plus, who doesn’t agree with Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail? Daisies really are the friendliest flower.
Thing is, I do not like picking off the kind-of-dead daisies. I wait and wait and wait for these little flowers to bloom after carrying for the green leaves for months, and when they finally do, the last thing I want is to pick off the flowers prematurely.
But the thing I’ve learned is this. If I don’t deadhead my wilting flowers, I prevent new blooms from forming.
Sometimes when we are writing, we become so emotionally invested in our story that all we can see are the petals. One by one, they may be wilting, but we do not want to pick them off the plant because they matter so much to us. What we don’t realize is that by not being proactive about cutting off the dead flowers, we are actually refusing future blooms. We are holding back the life of the plant by hanging on to the dying petals just a little longer.
What we don’t see is the bountiful harvest God has in store with the fresh blooms.
The question then becomes… what ways can we clean up our stories to allow this kind of fresh growth?
- The narrative. There have been so many times I have loved—and I mean absolutely loved—a particular line or passage, only to have someone read it and say, “ehhhh,” or even to later read it myself and think, “Why did I write that?” When we hold too tightly to the story we started with, we can’t grasp the bigger story that might still be forming.
- The plot. Yes, I know this is a tough one. In fact, cleaning up the plot is probably a lot more like pruning than deadheading flowers, but for the purpose of the analogy, it’s really the same. Writing books takes a long time. Often when we finish, we don’t feel like going back and restructuring plot problems. But the thing is, we may as well be leaving a gaping, diseased tree limb in the middle of our favorite tree, just waiting for it to take the whole tree down. When your critique partner or first readers come back to you and say they think a plot point just isn’t strong enough, I encourage you to listen. Brainstorm creative alternatives to what you have written. You may be amazed at what you come up with, and find that your current story is just the starting point for something better than you ever imagined.
- The book. Okay, this is a hard one, but it has to be mentioned. Sometimes God gives us a story for a purpose other than for it to be published. In any other arena of life, we have to practice a lot before we master form and craft. Think of piano lessons, or dancing, or even learning to read. I think we are often too hard on ourselves by expecting our first novels to not only sell, but to sell well. The reality is, sometimes it takes not only multiple drafts, but also multiple novels. It doesn’t mean your novel is dead forever, but maybe God is calling you to put it on the shelf for a while so you can focus on the new bud that is forming in your heart. Currently, I’m doing a total overhaul of the first book I ever wrote, and I’m confident it’s the best story God has given me yet. What may look like the death of a book to you may actually be God asking you to trust Him as He calls you to redirect your time and focus, and allow Him to do the planting. Maybe He is in the process of rooting an old project you have long since considered dead, but is really in a period of dormancy so the harvest will be greater in the end. Don’t give up hope. Follow God, and keep writing the stories He has put on your heart.
Do you like gardening in the spring and summer months? Do you, like me, hesitate to pull off those kind-of-dying blooms? What sorts of blooms are you hoping for in your writing as you “deadhead” the weak areas?
Ashley Clark writes romantic comedy with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blog, Facebook,Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.