Thursday, May 10, 2007

Weeding my garden, er, manuscript!

The other day I was pulling rotten bulbs from my flower bed, disheartened that so many had been destroyed due to our erratic midwest winter. We had 70 degree weather in January and a snowstorm in April, thus the reason for having to remove bulbs that didn't make the transition.

As I dug and pulled, and rearranged the existing bulbs, I also extracted several scragly weeds. The process felt very familiar. Yes, I've weeded my garden many times, rearranged the plants to make the foilage more aesthetic, but the real similarity came to mind about weeding my manuscript of deadwood, cliches, and over-used words. The average person might not notice a weed or two, but that doesn't mean they don't need pulling.

So I wondered what tools do we need to weed our manuscripts? When I tackle a job in my garden I have a whole shed of tools at my disposal. I don my work-worn gloves, grab a trowel or spade, have my flower feed close by and the water hose ready for a good dousing when I'm finished.

If only it were that easy when it came to weeding our manuscripts. Actually it's easier than you think. The best way to weed, for me anyway, is to let things set awhile. Pretend if you will, that your manuscript is like the plants growing. When you look again, the weeds nearly jump off the page. They look out of place, just like the withering bulbs or the dandelion flouncing its brilliant yellow bloom. Your delete button is the best tool for this problem. Simple, easy and nearly painless.

Then, and this is a big then; then there are the words that aren't right, but when you try to pull them, the entire sentence structure comes up too. Don't panic. The best gardener will tell you that sometimes the ground around a bad bulb or weed has to come up too. It's the same with writing. Many a writer has had to bury a wonderful sentence that just wasn't right where it was planted. The best defense is breathing. Yes, take a deep breath and pull. It may leave a hole and that's okay. Actually that's wonderful because now something new can be planted. Something fresh and invigorating. It's called new life! And every manuscript needs several doses of this through it's growing stages.

So, you say, what about the over-use of your favorite words. My first drafts are always peppered with similar words because I write in sprints. I get as much down as I can, going with the plot or scene and not worrying about finding that perfect descriptive word. That will come later. When I come back to fix them, the tool I use first is my imagination, then the thesaurus. I let my thoughts drift, not rushing the re-write. Hurrying through this process is worse than not fixing it all. Time is another tool; if you use it effectively, you'll actually gain time by not having to go back over it again and again. I tend to use colored pens when I edit or re-write. First I use a red pen, adding or deleting, rearranging and then let that set for awhile - days usually. Then I go over the same passages with a green pen. For some reason this system works for me. It's like working a garden, the big plants in the back, the flourishing foliage intermixed in the middle, and the border plants filling in those nuisance type holes. Once all that is inserted it makes for a well-diversified garden, er manuscript!

Just like a good watering, I run all my re-writes through the computer and then look at the fresh new pages. I marvel at how the additions have rounded out my work. The deletions aren't missed, and I learn all over again the vaulable lesson that less is more.

I have several flower gardens around my yard. I never try to work on more than one a day or I tire too quickly and do a bad job. I use that work ethic with my rewriting as well. I don't try to do too much at one time, usually only a chapter or two. So the process is on-going, evolving, growing and developing. At some point, I promise, the work comes to a halt. And if you have maintained a steady, but thorough doggedness, you will have a flourishing manuscript, er garden when you're done.

til next time ~

Deb (DL Larson)

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