Hi, everyone! It’s back-to-school time already. If you need me, I’ll be trying to figure out what happened to 2018.
One of the many things I did over the summer was sort out my garden. My garden isn’t the greatest. A combination of terrible soil, lack of sunlight in key areas, and an owner who knows the square root of fuck all about plants (I mean, what idiot plants mint in a flowerbed?) means that it usually looks like a random mess of vaguely green things that may or may not be there on purpose. Now it looks like this:
Editing’s a bit like gardening. There comes a time when you need to pull out all the dead and dying bits, the weeds that crept in while you weren’t paying attention, and the unruly plants that will take over given half a chance, so the flowers can flourish. Some gardens require a little delicate trimming with secateurs; for others you need to get out the heavy-duty lopping shears.
Mine was edging towards the latter, so I called in reinforcements. My mum and dad came over, armed with tools and superior knowledge of how to bring my poor battered hebe back to life (it never really recovered from the Beast from the East). My mum’s the developmental editor: she’s the one who tells me what has to go completely and what just needs a bit of pruning. She knows what will happen if I hack off all the branches that look slightly damaged (I did not consult her before doing this, and my once glorious ceanothus is now extremely lopsided), and can help me transplant my pieris to somewhere it’s not going to be choked to death by the Japanese anemones.
My dad’s the copy-editor. He likes to get things looking neat and perfect. He spent hours on my lawn, mowing it to a nice consistent length, then tidying the edges until they were straight and pristine, making sure that all my mum’s hard work in sorting out the plants wasn’t spoiled by straggly, unkempt grass.
And then there’s the giant phormium. This lives just outside my garden, in the communal parking area. Like the hebe, it did not enjoy the extreme winter, and it ended up with half its leaves dying, while simultaneously growing twelve-foot high stems that lurched menacingly in the breeze. One day, bored of looking at it through my office window, I decided I was going to sort it out.
I didn’t know where to start. This thing was huge. There were dead bits everywhere. I couldn’t even begin to think about making it look nice until I’d made it more manageable. So out came the loppers, and off came anything that obviously didn’t need to be there. Now I can see what I’m actually dealing with, and as soon as I remember to put my garden bin out so there’s room in it, I can focus on making it look pretty again.
Granted, this is a lot easier to do with a plant than a story. You can see which bits of a plant you need to get rid of by the fact that they’ve turned brown and shrivelled up. Elements of a story which no longer belong there aren’t so easily identified. And you didn’t spend hours of your life slaving and agonising over each bit of the plant (unless you did. Some people are really into plants.). So this is where you need other people to help you wield your shears. Critique partners, writing groups, alpha/beta readers, professional editors – all can help you see what can be so hard for an author to see, that some of your beloved words need to be trimmed. As an author, it’s easy to lose sight of what is and isn’t helping your garden grow.
So, the morals of this blog post are: stories are like gardens, editors can help you prune, and don’t plant mint in a flowerbed.