Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Weed the Manuscript, Edit the Garden: Musings From a Tired Writer

Did I say "weed the manuscript?" Yeah, well it's been a long week.

My Rose With Her Rose Many Years Ago
My youngest granddaughter carries the name Rose. She was named after her paternal great grandmother. When our little flower came along, I decided to gift her with a rose bush in honor of her birth and her name. Her father planted it in their front yard. It continues to grow. I have pictures of our little Rose watering her plant when she was two. 

Recently I made the comment that the now seven-year-old plant needs a good pruning. My granddaughter sees the few blooms on it and doesn’t want to cut it at all. It is big now. Too big. 

But for a seven-year-old, bigger is better.

For a 7-year-old, Bigger is Better
This week, as I was weeding my garden, I thought about that rose bush. Weeding out the unwanted weeds helps my tomatoes grow. Now they don’t compete for needed water. The sun can reach the plump skin of the growing fruit, allowing each tomato to turn a beautiful red and sweeten the juicy flesh. Getting rid of the weeds, offering support to my trailing vines, pruning a rose bush? 

If I may, I’ll put it in writer’s terms: It’s all about editing. 

Writers love words. Especially those we put on paper. Sometimes we become so excited to watch our word count in a manuscript grow we hesitate to hit the delete button for any of them. 

For many writers, like many seven-year-olds, bigger is better. 

But is it? Even if we edit the unnecessary words in our story, a tale too long is like an overgrown squash: pithy and undesirable.

“But what about the classics?” you ask. 

Epic novels such as War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy or Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, were well over the 500,000 word count. An “epic” novel by definition is a work of fiction over 110,000 words. 

Do I think Herman Melville could have tightened his rendering of Moby Dick? Absolutely. Did I really need to read the over 200,000 word tome in high school? Obviously not. I’m sure I skipped some of the long narratives in both Moby Dick and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (also more than 200,000 words) and still passed the class with flying colors. I haven’t read either of those books since.

 Margaret Mitchell penned over 400,000 words for Gone With The Wind. I watched the movie.

I meet writers all the time who want to craft an epic novel. They want to be the next Tolkien or Rowling. Tolkien’s largest offering in the Lord of the Rings series was under 200,000 words and Rowling’s only one in the Harry Potter series to exceed 200,000 words was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Quite simply, it isn’t about the word count. It’s the story. Write the story you need to tell. Edit it to until you can do no more then wait a while and edit it some more. 

Pull the weeds out of your manuscript. Pluck off the “deadheads” doing no good to the overall look of it. Pluck, prune, weed, and pick. And when you think your crop is ready, take it to the county fair…or in this case to an editor to judge and give you advice on your next step. Try again or publish. 

I want the fruit of my effort to be delicious. I want to offer my readers my best efforts. 

Of course I can take this editing reference to other areas of our lives. Ridding our homes of clutter, dumping twenty-year-old tax files, and donating those clothes we will never fit into again to charity. We can “weed” our medicine chests, pantries, and storage sheds, trashing out-of-date or dangerous unused items. We can reevaluate our “need” for collectibles.

I can apply editing to many areas, but I won’t. I’ll leave that to Joshua Becker. You can check out his website at becomingminimalist.com. 

Please share your thoughts. I love to hear from my readers.

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