Monday, June 6, 2011

Continuing the gardening analogy...

Yesterday, I posted about how writing is like gardening. Today, I'm comparing it to yard work.

The road where we live is maintained by the county. That includes sending huge mowing tractors out in late spring to cut down all the weeds. For weeds, read wildflowers, small shrubs, and sapling trees. Unless the people living on the property keep the top part of their property clear of grasses and vines, the county will do it for them, in order to keep down fire danger and enhance road visibility. I understand all that. I really do.

Until last year, I had an understanding with the driver of the tractor responsible for our stretch of frontage. After he basically destroyed everything in his path, I went out and asked him not to do that again, because we want our trees. He left it alone after that, and the trees and wildflowers I'd sown in a moment of madness flourished. Then last year, he must have retired, because I was waked early one morning by the sound of trees being chewed by machinery. New driver. Once I'd mourned over the loss of the mulberry and the rest of the trees, he apologized, and asked repeatedly if I didn't want it to look better. The problem was, his idea of looking better and mine were miles apart!

Having spotted the mowing tractors on the edge of town last weekend, I knew that time had come again. This morning, I went out as early as I could (which was already too late in the day for the heat), and used my little string trimmer to whack a goodly portion of the frontage. Goodbye, pussytoes, Queen Anne's lace, grapevines! Hello bare ground and stubble. I'm still not finished, and I hope to get the rest of it done before they make their way down the road. I'm trying to keep the lilies and small trees.

The way this relates to writing concerns self-editing. That's one thing most of us writers hate to do, since we love our prose the way some people love children or pets. The unhappy truth remains, however, that unless we ruthlessly edit ourselves, the editor at the publishing house who buys our work will do it for us. And, instead of just taking out the grasses & poison ivy, the wildflowers and small trees may get cut as well.

How can we tell the difference between the good writing and the bad? What does a poison ivy paragraph look like? To learn that, you need to read omniverously. Especially read in the field where you want to be published, but don't stop there. Read other genres. Read books on writing by authors you trust. Stay informed about changes in grammar and usage by checking into books like the Chicago Manual of Style. The more you polish your skills, the less work an editor will have to do.

Once you've established a good working relationship with an editor, you may think you can slow down on the self-editing. Sadly, editors don't always stay at the same publishing house. You may be handed to a new editor who doesn't understand your style or get your voice. The more work you do yourself, before the editor sees your manuscript, the less you'll have to do later!

Happy Writing! And try to do your yard work before or after the heat of the day!

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