Weeding Out the Crap

I spent the weekend weeding in my new yard. Because it rained recently, the softer ground made it easier to yank out all varieties of flora. The overcast skies were also ideal for working outside each morning. It didn’t get too hot, and the only thing I had to worry about was making sure I didn’t push my lower back too hard.

The previous owners had done a good job with the landscaping, but in the time it took for us to close and move in, Mother Nature was slowly but surely trying to reclaim the property for herself. Pruning the overgrown branches was easy enough, same with cleaning out the opportunistic weeds that popped up between the bushes.

But in a handful of planter beds, it was unclear which plants were weeds and which ones were actually supposed to be there. So I started by tackling the ones I thought were weeds. The path of least resistance, so to speak. This also happens when I’m revising my work. I’ll start with the easy stuff: breaking up compound sentences into two or smooshing two short sentences into one, adding in commas for readability or taking them out, simplifying prepositional phrases, refining adjectives, and eliminating adverbs.

These techniques are supposed to result in leaner, meaner prose. And it usually works. Once I clear away all the distracting verbiage, I am better able to see how the story works together as a whole. Then I can get my hands dirty dealing with more fundamental issues.

But sometimes, even after tackling all the easy stuff, I take a look at what I’m left with and it’s not good. Like when I was weeding. By the time I excavated the larger plants and looked them over, I decided many of them just weren’t worth saving. (It didn’t help that I couldn’t identify many of them either.) So I ended up chucking them, thinking it would just be easier to start over come spring.

And sometimes that is what we have to do with our WIPs. After we’ve made all the cuts we can, sometimes we will still be left with misshapen plots and stillborn characters. Nothing we can do but start all over again.

Except we don’t always have to start from scratch. I found a cluster of rosemary that had been nearly strangled by all the weeds in one of the planter beds. I was thrilled because I wanted to plant rosemary, and here it was, already with a tenuous foothold in my new yard. Now that rosemary will set the tone for my gardening plans for the rest of the property.

And to think I had almost missed it in my zeal of pulling every last bit of green out of the planters. I was so engrossed in what to eliminate, I forgot to examine the possibilities each plant could offer. I’ll be more careful when I tackle another section of the yard next weekend. But this also brings up a good point when you’re revising too. You want to tighten things up and cut the fat, but you don’t want to be so heavy-handed with your edits you destroy something useful.

Ready to revise your WIP? Check out Kim Blank’s Wordiness, Wordiness, Wordiness List  and ensure your work is as lean as possible. Then see if your prose passes the Waistline Test, which I originally found through India Drummond’s site. But be careful not to strip out everything… you still want to keep your work yours.

Happy weeding!

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