Weeding is a tiresome business. The sun blazes against your hair, and neck and burns through the shirt on your back. The plants prick and irritate your ankles. Sand burrs and thistles surprise your fingertips. Rashes appear where your bare arms encounter the raspy bean or cucumber leaves. The work seems endless. The rows to be done are endless. Once you are convinced you have successfully cleaned out the unwanted growth, smaller, and overlooked weeds parade maliciously. You didn’t see them your first time through, but there they are, jeering at you with persistent determination that thwarts your efforts. Your back hurts from bending too long at the waist. Squatting helps, until your calf muscles cramp. Though the sky is cloudless, you pray for rain. You hope your light headed state will result in a dramatic faint and your father will excuse you from further agony. You don’t and he doesn’t. The afternoon drags and you cheer yourself with the uplifting thought that you are not a slave and you will not have to repeat the same task tomorrow. It is little consolation, but it helps. Weeding is a tiresome business.
I was a child then, now I weed because I choose to do so. The flower garden invites me to participate in its growing by clearing it of weeds. At times it is a pleasure, at times nothing but a chore. The results of my labor held no interest for me as a child, now the results are my motivation. (Incidently, as I weeded diligently last summer, my father watched from the screen porch above me. After half an hour he advised me to stop. He suggested I had worked hard enough and needed to pace myself, rest and come back to it later. I laughed as I continued to weed. Where were those words forty some years ago?)
Gardens are not all that I weed. I am learning to weed words. Actually, I am learning to see the unwanted growth of words that clog my manuscripts. Obsessive verbiage smothers the tiny blooms struggling to be seen. The message gets lost in the mass of words.
When I began writing in earnest two and half years ago, my first goal was quantity. Until then my inspired writing had been limited to three, perhaps, four pages or poems, short of lines and few of verse. It was my intention to sustain a story beyond that. Not three pages complete, but I must produce three pages a day, twelve to fifteen a week. It was a mural when I was accustomed to doing a postcard. The undertaking was immense, but successful. Forcing pages of manuscript is behind me and the goal of quantity has turned to quality. I must learn to weed.
I learned quickly to weed out repetitive words, they were easily spotted as were the cliches. Beyond that I was blind to the details. It frustrated me terribly. I wanted someone to take me by the hand and say, ‘See that? It’s a weed.” No one did, at least, not blatantly. However, several things happened.
I decided to prepare a short, short, story for a contest. The word limit was 1500 words. I had several stories that might fit the limit, it was what came naturally and I was ready to let the book rest and do something slightly different. At first I was dismayed, as the story I chose was over the limit. It was short already, so how could I make it even shorter? What would be left? The pressure to evaluate each word enabled me to distinguish more clearly the unwanted and weedy words and those that were truly blossoms. I got it, at least in part. Eagerly I went to work.
An astute observation by a fellow aspiring writer helped me further. Her concrete and detailed advice helped me distinguish what must be kept and what could be eliminated in content.
The first reduction was fairly easy, painless and obvious. The second time took more thought. I began to look for shorter ways of saying the same thing. Where was the repetition tiring? Where should it be left for the effect I was striving to achieve? Which facts were essential to advance the plot and which only cluttered it? The questions began to formulate as I tiptoed through the short story. It was the beginning of a new understanding of the writing process. It was not a smack myself on the forehead, ‘of course, you idiot’ moment. It was a process, a learning process. I was excited and thankful for it. The story was weeded, even pruned, perhaps too much. The word count went from 1520 to 1450, and downwards until the final version leveled at 1193. It made me nervous
I showed the story to two of my sons, my husband and several friends. One son understood and appreciated the surface level, one got pulled into the undercurrents. My husband was caught in the undulating emotions that were woven throughout. A friend sensed the loss and heartache I had endeavored to embed. Their comments reassured me that the story had survived the weeding.
I would be thrilled to hear it placed among the top twenty-five of the competition, but if not, the value is in what I learned. It brought the weeds to my attention. I am beginning to see details I previously missed. I wish for a stern command to reduce each of my chapters by x number of words. A concrete goal would assist in my editing. Still, I have a better insight into what must be done and my writing has improved. I also know I have a ‘fur piece’ yet to travel.
When people ask about the progress of my book, I tell them I am weeding. For the third time I am picking through the blooms for the weedy words that would obscure them. I do not kneel or squat in the hot sun. No rashes plague my arms or legs and I do not despair of the endless rows yet to be done. It gives me satisfaction to view the sharpened pages I leave behind me. Now I edit, avidly, feverishly, agonizingly, and joyfully.
I could hope that my meltdowns are a thing of the past. Ha! Somewhere in these yellow woods is another snag or snarl waiting to entangle me. I am a novice, there is much to learn. I can only hope that I can be patient and open to another timely suggestion or opportune comment that will nudge me onward.
To illustrate my point, I jotted down the word count on the first draft of this post. It stood at 1015. The second, edited draft totaled 1103. Ooops. The final count for the posted version is…..1141.
As I stated, I do have a ‘fur piece’ yet to go!
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